2023 actually started on a very positive note for the travel industry. The flights are full, trains have more than they can handle, travel by water is slowly taking root in the country and hospitality is booming both by increased occupancies and a substantial uptick in the rates… Its a V shaped recovery…whatever be the reason. This is also the very first time that I heard travel being headlined in the budget speech of the Hon’ble Finance Minister as an area of key focus both for its relevance for jobs as well as infrastructure… a perception which should be welcomed by the industry. Clearly a time to be in the travel industry and even better where one is servicing the domestic leg!
Lets start with focusing on the positive intention of the Government which has been best expressed through the budget document though it warrants a larger policy document as the benefits of this thought process will help resolve some key issues for the country. Maybe one will get there but this reaffirmation of potential is a big start.. So what changed? Really three things..
1. The country is in dire need to add jobs both formal as well as informal as the normal additions with manufacturing not still the world beater and the IT services now in decline are not happening. The country does need a regular generator of employment for its ever expanding young population. India with its rich history as well as cultural heritage and having a well endowed topography is ideally positioned to exploit the same through tourism. Somehow the powers that be have looked at it with blinkered lenses of social thought in the past which thankfully seem to be coming off.. The recovery of domestic traffic for travel and hopefully soon for international incoming traffic will further boost confidence of such a step. The devastating effect of the demonetisation, couple of years of covid has virtually destroyed the informal economy which once was the backbone of Indian economic policy. This change of thinking reflected in creating the right skills, education and steps for preservation of the environment provide us the impetus for hopefully another Tsunami like the IT services sector.
2. The second part of the budget is the outlay on creating capital assets increasing to 10 lac crore (USD 132 billion) which will include assets for connectivity like airports, road infrastructure and railways. This itself would create employment and will facilitate a massive increase in the travel numbers besides other benefits.
3. The third and perhaps the most important is the statement that 50 destinations are to be chosen with some criteria to be developed on a mission mode by a public private partnership for tourism. We could not have got a better statement of intention from the Government.
No person including the Government has doubted the potential of developing the tourism industry in India, though I admit the the resource allocation for creating the right infrastructure as well as the ability to deliver has been patchy.. Second chances are rare… and we seem to have got it for putting the past mistakes right. We not only need to make it happen but also do it right this time around. The mission is difficult looking at the planning as well as implementation mindset we have shown till now. With the right resources, it could be a game changer for India. Here are some of my thoughts-
1. Criteria and selection of the 50 destinations is perhaps the most important task. Widest possible consultation with experts drawn from various fields ie climate as well as eco specialists,experts on Indian heritage as well as history, developmental experts in large tourism potential projects, construction experts, transportation as well as connectivity specialists. Accent has to be to have destinations which can have relevance for future generations and potential for expansion. Also the planning and then the implementation has to be through a statutory body with Government at the helm and with ability to work with private capital as well as expertise. Perhaps an ideal body for the tourism bodies as well as Government to collaborate on. The one fear still remains is that of bureaucracy which can put all the best laid plans to waste if not constituted well. This would be a massive start would it to actualise..
2. There has to be collaboration between Centre State bodies at various levels….land for creation of assets, its build as well as quality, financing as these can ideally be financed through local municipal bonds and finally management and governance.
3. Private entrepreneur skill sets through Public/Private partnerships needs to be harnessed and that includes sectors like airlines, road transportation and travel services. More importantly transparent sharing of revenue will give a sound foundation to the endeavours.
While there may be many other requirements, on thing is clear that this budget can provide a real kick start to the travel and tourism as a gateway sector for providing good infrastructure,services and employment for our growing masses. Just hope that the fine print in the document is the same as what the headlines state.
Have a good week…and happy reading