In which trupz and ankush discuss post COVID the future of tourism industry in India

The tourism sector is congested and unorganized. The structural transformation will provide tools for global competence and long term impetus to Indian tourism. Some suggestions of structural transformation include, Tourist information centers (TIC), well operational and fully functional bus stands, expanding the tourism sector by encouraging museums, planetariums, and science centers.  

Tourism information centers 

For any tourist coming into India, the availability and access of a TIC will make a big psychological impact. It can generate awareness about the destination and will enable ease of travel. In a big country like India, information asymmetry makes travel a problem, especially to remote parts of the country. In such a situation, an effective decentralized TICs administered and run by locals would solve several related problems and also generate employment for locals, when it is run by them. 

A 2018 WTTC report stated that India is set to become the 3rd largest economy driven by tourism and that it would create 10 million jobs by 2028. It is touted to be one of South Asia’s fastest-growing tourism economies right behind China. The growing emphasis on improving infrastructure will further aid in realizing this potential. Compared to its other Asian neighbors India has work to do to develop its infrastructure as well as accessible tourist information services to boost tourism. Tourism as an activity can optimize a country’s resources and realize its potential through the economic activity generated by it.

In the post COVID world, the tourism sector will require structural add-ons to rejuvenate the industry and attract tourists domestic and foreign. The structural changes we propose include overcoming information asymmetry, decentralization, capacity, and infrastructure development aided by technology in different areas related to tourism.

The policy directives given by states such as  Himachal Pradesh will lead towards a confused tourist not wanting to return back. The tourist information centers (TIC) can play a role in streamlining information provided to the tourists. These centers will act as a visible hand guiding and meeting the needs of the tourists. The present average tourist in India is concentrated on the regular spots of a destination and often returns without utilizing the destination’s potential. 

The knowledge and information about local cuisines, places of significance apart from tourist attractions, textiles, and small industries like handlooms, etc are slowly getting wiped out. According to some reports, there are still 45lakh artisans in India who depend on handicrafts and textiles for their livelihoods. Many such textiles and handloom artisans find it impossible for their art to be sustainable because they don’t have visibility. The locals are disadvantaged in marketing these skills and in making it lucrative for themselves. Providing skill development opportunities like internet education can open opportunities for the local artisans to become digitally literate and bring forth their skills and products to the world. With tourists seeking information via the internet, it is possible to attract more tourists to visit the region for handloom, textile,s and handicrafts. This will also increase the demand for handloom and handicrafts.  

Skill development programs that are aimed towards building language skills and anthropology will go a long way in aiding the tourism sector. Local tourism guides, who have completed such programs and are armed with authentic information about the history and past of a destination can serve foreign tourists better. There is an opportunity to create more jobs for tourists guides to become well informed, multilingual domain experts in the tourism sector. This will encourage local capacity building and contain the problem of touts. The information or booking of such guides can be handled through the TIC, which then becomes like a one-stop-shop for a city or a destination.

India, an emerging economy should aim to compete at the world stage by realizing the necessity of critical infrastructure. TICs can be organized as a national network as in Britain and specialize in promotion and information. A standard TIC will provide an incentive that will align with the objective. While setting themselves up they should be mindful of their location, administrative and technical facilities, staff training, and opening hours. They will be able to contribute to tourist circulation and sustain local tourism. Going ahead TICs can customize the trips by analyzing tourist preferences and in turn promoting local events. The preferences can be reported back to the concerned authority in improving the services of the destinations and real-time improvement. With information asymmetry reduced, credibility, and value addition to a destination will give the destination the required space on the itinerary.

Operational Bus Stands

Coercing private bus contractors with directives like price capping will result in shortages. The time is ripe to leverage the private players in the market. The government currently isn’t allowing the bus operators to increase prices. This will result in crowding out of the private players as they won’t have the incentive to operate. In the current scenario, the government should reimburse the private bus contractors if they operate below their operational capacity. The next move is to allow more private entities to enter the market. This will take care of the prices without hurting the pocket of the tourist. 

The one thing no one wants right now are long queues and wait time at a particular location. Most of the private buses in almost every city operate without a functional bus stand. A tourist has to board and alight a bus at a location that is unrecognized and scattered. Under the public-private partnerships, a functional bus stand can be built where all the norms of the post-COVID world are followed.  

Traveling shouldn’t be reduced to major cities due to connectivity. The capacity and infrastructure improvement in Tier II and Tier III cities are critical. Considering the demand, private players can penetrate into respective cities which are identified with tourist potential. This will bring more diversity to the itinerary and add value to these cities. This requires a quick and robust agreement of reimbursement mechanisms. The cost of operating a bus stand, standardization, and performance indicators can be worked out between the government and the body representing private operators.

Museums, Planetarium and science centers

Apart from bringing in revenue in the form of foreign exchange, the tourism industry has been instrumental to India’s development. At present tourism accounts for 12% of employment through direct and indirect means and contributes 5.2% to the country’s GDP. India, though widely known for its rich heritage, history and culture has not been able to capitalize on its science, tech, and historical information.

The representation of museums is very poor in India, in contrast to the cultural and historical wealth they house. This problem can be fixed by using technology. The problem extends from incomplete information with tourists to these establishments. Taking a cue from several museums and art galleries from around the world who have seamlessly integrated Augmented reality and Virtual reality to give a better experience to museum visitors. The advantage of using technology is multifold. Several apps now allow users to access information in their local languages, innovating the tourism experience, and bridging the language gap. Also, there is a lot more information that can be distributed via apps and other technologies than simply printing them on exhibits. 

The national museum of India garnered only 0.28 million visitors as compared to 7.4 million visitors in the National Museum of China. The managing capacity of the state-controlled museums is limited. They grapple with basic amenities like sanitation and hygiene. Overhauling the administration and operations of museums can discipline their daily functions. This will transform the visitor experience. Improving information asymmetry bundled with better operational capacity will lead the museums to gain traction among new visitors. The government can relinquish control of the museum to private operators. 

The museums give a peek into the nation’s consciousness. Their well being and attractiveness can be packaged as a must-go destination in the city. By putting Indian museums on the world map, gates for niche tourism will open. India can tap into the USPs of different states, cities, etc. An eco-tourism museum or a mountaineering museum will interest different kinds of tourists and provide variety. Operational museums will open employment opportunities for specialized guides who could be locals. They will help build connections between different communities and the people which will also promote trade collaborations.

India now becoming a part/leading player in the global space race, our planetariums and science centers also are in need of an overhaul. Piquing the interest of young minds for science and technology-based tourism and study tours is an area that can be explored. Piggybacking on the space wave with Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan, the planetariums and science centers should be equipped with 3D technology. We can expect that it will encourage education-based travel. The planetarium and science centers can put India on the educational tourism map of the world.

It is a worthy investment, India set up its first 3D planetarium in Mangalore at the cost of only Rs. 36 crores. This cost is nothing compared to the mammoth costs of erecting monuments, like the Statue of Unity which costs Rs. 3000 crores.

Written by Ankush Mahendroo and Trupti Mulajkar Deshmukh. Ankush likes to describe himself as a permanent procrastinator and a Fellow of the Royal College of Mistakes, you can follow him on Medium