Any Tourism that Doesn't Bring Benefits to the Local Community is Useless: K J Alphons

As tourism promotion has been on top of agenda by the Indian Government, BW Hotelier was honoured to speak to K J Alphons, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism, to know the major achievements of the Tourism Ministry over the last four and a half years. In an exclusive tête-à-tête, K J Alphons talks about his vision towards the changed idea of tourism in India.

FROM THE snow-capped peaks of the Himalaya to the sun-kissed beaches of the south, India has a bounty of attractions. One can scout for big jungle cats on mesmerising wildlife safaris, paddle in the gleaming waters of coastal retreats, take blood-pumping treks high in the mountains, or simply inhale pine-scented air on a meditative forest walk, India has so much to offer. And among all these natural treasures, is a wealth of architectural gems in the form of serene temples and majestic forts. India is indeed an incredible country and leaves every visitor mystified by its beauty and splendour.

Driven by all these factors, tourism is increasingly becoming a growth engine of the Indian economy, contributing around $250 billion or 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The catalyst behind the change is the Ministry of Tourism, which has transformed the idea of travel and exploration from plain sightseeing into an experiential one. In an exclusive interview with BW Hotelier, K J Alphons, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism, talks about his idea of India which goes beyond physical statistics like 36 UNESCO World Heritage Sites or 3600 ASI protected monuments. “For me, tourism to be meaningful has to be a transformative experience. Anybody who comes to India and leaves should have a spiritual experience, which will bring out a new outlook towards the world. The fallout of all these are, people will stay longer, our rooms will be occupied, they will go out for shopping, hire taxis which ultimately will create jobs,” he started with.

The ministry has evolved tremendously over the past few years and is now focusing on conveying the message of Indian philosophy to the world through six elements divided into Yoga, Ayurveda, Wildlife, Cuisine, Luxury and Buddha. The ministry promotes India as a holistic destination among the discerning domestic and international tourist of today. “The five promotional movies, each of 60 seconds, have been put across social media platforms. Three out of these five movies got 193 million views in three months’ time. Over the past six months, our promotions have been ranked number one consistently by the CNN. We are doing fantastic work on marketing the whole idea of India,” the Minister stated.

Alphons believes in promoting the six elements which will ultimately make people stay longer. He wants travellers to soak in the spirit of India. Adding more to it, he said, “People who will come for Yoga or Ayurveda, will stay for 10 or more days or if someone comes here to see the wildlife, they would stay at least for a week. Any tourism that doesn't bring benefits to the local community is useless. Tourism has to generate employment, it has to generate money for the people.” The tourism industry is one of the biggest generators of employment in the country. The industry employs 81.2 million people which is about 12.38 percent of the total jobs in the country. In the last four years, 13.92 million jobs have been created by the tourism sector, among which, 10 million jobs benefited the lowest rung of the society.

As per the latest World Tourism and Travel Council report, India was ranked third, behind China and the US, in revenue generated by the sector. With proceeds from tourism exceeding 234 billion dollars a year, the sector makes a substantial contribution to the economy. “What is wonderful about this whole revenue part and the statistics is, out of 234 billion dollar income, 87 percent comes from domestic tourism,” Alphons told us. According to the report, Indians embarked on 1.8 billion domestic trips last year. Over the past four years, the ministry has been trying to build remarkable infrastructure for the tourism sector. The rate of construction of national highways has jacked up to 29 km per day from 12 km per day earlier.

Not to forget about the airports, some of them like Indira Gandhi International Airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and Kempegowda International Airport are among the best in the world. “The country is beautifully networked and there is still a lot more to happen. Like on the Buddhist Circuit, the roads are still not very good and work is to be done. But, across the country we are trying to connect these tourist destinations and create world-class infrastructure,” the Minister commented. Under the UDAN scheme (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik), the Government of India, with the objective of "letting the common citizen of the country fly", has made air travel affordable and widespread. Alphons informed us that under the scheme, 71 lakh fresh seat capacity has been created. “People are now able to fly for nothing. The whole ideology of the Modi government is to promote people across the country to travel,” he added.

Ensuring the safety and security of tourists, the ministry is taking several initiatives and huge priority is being given to law and order by deploying tourist police in 14 states of India. The security of tourists is a state subject, but the ministry is proposing to set up tourist police units at prominent tourist spots in the country. “You need to have tourism police in all the states with all the necessary powers. The kind of people to be manned in these stations should speak fluent English and a few other languages. They should also know how to behave politely and courteously,” the Member of Parliament added. Citing the example of KUMBH ‘19, he told us about the positive feedback given by the tourists. “People were so happy with the polite gesture of policemen,” he rejoiced.

Stressing upon the hospitality sector, Alphons feels that the sector should be given individual industry status, considering the amount of contribution it makes for the Indian economy. According to him, a much bigger amount of investment should be made for the hospitality sector so that more infrastructure can be developed. “This is essential because we have an amazing multiplier effect in this sector,” he added. When asked about the need of single-window time-bound clearance for the commencement of a hotel, Alphons replied that all these approvals are not a federal subject and thus not controlled by the government. However, he suggests that land parcels must be given to the budget hotels on a long term lease. “Through this person will be able to build affordable hotels which are very important,” he added.

Alphons also spoke about Swadesh Darshan and Prasad Scheme which is helping in connecting the destinations of India. Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, the Ministry of Tourism is developing critical tourism infrastructure in the country in a sustainable and inclusive manner to make India into a world-class tourist destination. The focus under the scheme is to develop public facilities like last mile connectivity, tourist reception centres, wayside Amenities, solid waste management, illumination and landscaping. Rs 6121 crore have been sanctioned in this scheme with 77 ongoing projects. 

Under the Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spirituality Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) scheme, twelve cities namely Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh, Gaya in Bihar, Dwarka in Gujarat, Amritsar in Punjab, Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kanchipuram and Vellankani in Tamil Nadu, Puri in Odisha, Varanasi and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in Uttarakhand, Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, Parasnath in Jharkhand and Kamakhya in Assam and few more places have been identified for development. INR 832 cr has been sanctioned for this scheme with 23 ongoing projects. Alphons ensured that these projects will be completed soon.

Giving credit where due, the Minister called people like tour operators, travel agents, hotel owners, taxi drivers and guides the building blocks of the tourism industry and coined the term “ambassadors” for them. “All the work is actually done by the hospitality sector. These people do the real job for me,” Alphons signed off.

From the architecture of Khajuraho, the history of Ellora Caves, the temples of Odisha, the luxury of Rajasthan, the backwater of Kerela, the Runn of Kuchh, jungles of Jharkhand to the entire North East, there is so much to explore in India. There is enough scope of tourism in this country where every city of every state has a unique experience to offer. The soil of India, makes every tourist feel welcomed because let's not forgotten- Atithi Devo Bhava!

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