In a meeting with key commerce ministry officials, Sarab Jit Singh, Managing Director, Travelite has suggested a slew of measures to enhance the growth prospect of tourism in the country, most notably roping in the Ministry of External Affairs and Commerce to better coordinate outreach activities. He recently took a delegation to share the perspective of private stakeholders. We spoke to him to understand the key areas of intervention mooted by him and its possible impact in bringing a positive change to the domestic tourism market.
Despite the tremendous potential, diverse culture and heritage, tourism in the country had been held back due to numerous factors, rued Sarab Jit Singh. “There are so many factors. It includes negative image created by the international media due to hygiene, cleanliness, safety, security issues, as well as infra challenges,” he said. He minced no words when he suggested that India was not the “destination of choice for an international traveller” due to a multitude of factors.
Making a special mention of the exorbitant tax structure, he shared that the “net tax effect” was in tune of at least 15 per cent, making Indian locales considerably more expensive than its neighbours. “To negate the effect of the high tax, we strongly recommend increasing the incentive under SEIS scheme from 7 per cent to 15 per cent for tourism organizations,” he said, adding that it would still mean that the net tax effect was going to be 7 per cent or more on tourism services.
Time to rope in MoEA, Ministry of Commerce
He mentioned that the MoT’s decision of shutting down marketing offices overseas had dealt a “deadly blow”, further exacerbating India’s already dwindling market share. He claimed that overseas tourism offices had been “decaying” for the past half a decade and much needed to be done to create some degree of visibility. Making a comparison between India and Malaysia, he shared that Malaysia had 42 offices the world over, compared to India whose count had come down to 7 from 14 offices. He also rubbished the claims made by the ministry of tourism on tourist inflows, arguing that the growth had been extremely low and “even negative in most cases.” “We will go by what is visible on the ground and not what the MoT is saying,” he argued.
Making a pitch for having an IFS (Indian Foreign Service) cadre officer appointed as the DG Tourism, he reasoned that the Ministry of External Affairs (MoEA) boasted of “over 170 offices worldwide” and had ample reach to serve the purpose of the tourism industry. “It may lead to a turf war, but we are concerned with our business. The exports are doing well, tourism would too,” he bluntly said.
He also recommended that the marketing responsibility for international tourism could be delegated to MoEA, in coordination with the ministry of tourism and the ministry of commerce. “This one step will give India the required push and will help India to get regular healthy growth in a very short time,” he explained.
Need a more conducive environment to attract international MICE
Listing out more issues needing urgent attention from policymakers, he suggested that the recent hike in visa prices was yet another bad move, highly likely to prohibit travellers from coming to India. “India is not the first destination of choice. Most of the countries are revoking visa fee to encourage travellers to visit their countries,” he said, reasoning that the gains in attracting tourists far exceeded in monetary terms instead of going for a “USD 20-dollar hike in the visa fee.”
Indian airports were one of the most expensive in the world, he further listed. Owing to high ATF costs, flying to India was at least “20-30 per cent more expensive from anywhere in the world”, he mentioned.
Sarab Jit Singh also pointed at India’s abysmal share in hosting international conferences, a major source of foreign exchange revenue. “As a suggestion, the government should consider exempting convention facilities and services from tax, for conferences with at least with 50 international delegates, if it is held at five-star hotels or resorts in India,” he suggested the way forward.