How can we Reboot Tourism in India?

How can we Reboot Tourism in India?
Industry experts share their insights on boosting tourism in the country Photo Credit: Shutterstock

What’s the big idea that can kickstart tourism in a post-pandemic world? We spoke to the best of the best and they shared some transformative thoughts with us

OT Staff
November 16 , 2020
23 Min Read

Priya Paul 
Park Hotels

Travelling is not just about the destination, the journey is equally important. The idea of travelling happily and secure is what I think will transform tourism in India. Travelling should be easy and not overwhelming or intimidating. Unfortunately, this pandemic-related lack of safety is not in our hands. But we could look at how we can make our journey and destinations safe, secure and hygienic always. This is something that travellers complain about. I hope that a focus on hygiene and safety continues beyond the pandemic and makes tourism in India truly wonderful. 

Aman Nath
Neemrana Hotels

Save or Transform. I think that these two words are not alternatives. We should be saying Save by Transforming or reverse it to: Transform to Save. The stage of words written or spoken and a few mildly flattering appearances on endless webinars, don’t really zoom down to footfalls. If the Tourism Ministry still thinks it knows the pulse and holds the solutions, they should know in their hearts that this isn’t true. You can’t have a learner with little continuity in the studies to preach veteran teachers, can you? Just ask the trade to lay pro-growth policies. FAITH (Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality) is a well-intended organisation, the apex policy platform, a strategic think tank & federation of all the national associations representing the complete tourism, travel and hospitality industry of India—ADTOI, ATOAI, FHRAI, HAI, IATO, ICPB, IHHA, ITTA, TAAI, TAFI. Together they represent the complete value chain of Indian tourism hotels, travel agents, restaurants, tour operators and tourist transporters across all key tourism verticals. Let them lay the rules. 


Rajesh Magow
Makemy Trip

For a black swan event like COVID-19, there is no one silver bullet on the anvil that can fix things fast besides an effective vaccine. But as they say, there is an opportunity even in adversity. This period presents a never-before opportunity to build and grow domestic travel as international travel would largely be on the backburner for a while to come. To seize the day, the government as well as the industry will need to rise to the challenge of transforming Top-20 Indian destinations as world-class tourist attractions. This requires an integrated, inter-sectoral approach and investment from the government to build supporting infrastructure and stellar service and customer experience from the industry that can propel domestic tourism in India like never before. 

Kapil Chopra
Postcard Hotels and Resorts

I believe India needs to wake up and realise the potential of domestic tourism. Let’s look at the numbers: about 10 million foreign inbound travellers come into India and 26 million outbound travellers go out of India every year. Imagine if even 30% of these outbound travellers stayed back in India every year and explored what the country has to offer? The one thing that can transform tourism in our country is the availability of sites and a very strong, clear policy on building eco-friendly hotels in coastal regions and wildlife parks. For instance, if tomorrow I want to do a hotel in Kaziranga, is there a site that I can go to and painlessly build and operate a hotel in? I believe there lies the potential—making more sites available for tourism. That will be a boost for hoteliers to set up hotels effectively, experiential tourism to grow and for travellers to continue to explore our diverse and beautiful country, in turn also giving a boost to the local community. 

Alok Gupta
Principal Secretary, Rajasthan Tourism

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis throughout the world and has perhaps affected the tourism sector the most. In Rajasthan international tourist arrivals have come to a naught and domestic tourist arrivals have also suffered. However, green shoots of recovery are visible, as we are seeing movement of tourists over weekends. I believe that tourists are concerned about their safety and are preferring destinations which are away from the hustle bustle of cities. I expect that their preference for lesser-known destinations and excursion sights near major destinations would increase significantly. This I believe will be the next big driver for attracting tourists. Rajasthan offers many such offbeat destinations where tourist infrastructure is also in place: Kumbhalgarh near Udaipur, Osian near Jodhpur, Jawai Dam near Pali district (where there is a leopard safari), Sambhar Lake near Jaipur which offers a unique birdwatching experience, etc. We have recently announced a new Tourism Policy which also has many provisions for lesser-known destinations. 

Ritesh Agarwal
OYO Hotels & Homes

In my opinion, small is the new big for the hospitality and tourism sector in India and the world. Holiday-goers will prefer small, independent hotels and vacation homes as they offer private space while maintaining distance from others. Technology, through digitisation of processes, is further enabling limited touchpoints for guests. At OYO, we are using technology for empowering small hotels to deliver a safe and hygienic experience to guests and will continue to do so in the future. 

Ratish Nanda
Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Often, India’s monuments—of diverse material, architectural style, or function—yet always GRAND, have been considered the major draw for national and international visitors. Yet, India has not realised even 1 per cent of the tourism potential of our built heritage. First things first, our medieval and modern monuments need to be conserved and not be presented as ruins—of interest only to history buffs! While conservation may take a decade for say, 100 iconic sites, it’s now time to revitalise these sites with cultural activity. There can be a million possibilities of public and private events that cause no harm to monuments yet allow people an experience worthy to pay—again and again. Here we can learn much from countries where cultural assets are leveraged for national economic gain. 

Aditi Balbir
V Resorts

2020 is not what the travel sector expected. But what  COVID-19 has shown is that travel is no longer discretionary; it’s a dire necessity and the pent-up demand of domestic travellers looking for quick getaways is evident. Certain other trends are evident too, the search for offbeat travel, the need to disconnect from schedules and the appeal of immersive experiences. But the strongest trend, that has the ability to change the sector itself, is emerging in the area of sustainability or what I call micro-tourism. Micro-tourism essentially means that a large percentage of the benefits of tourism flow to the local community—direct jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities for locals, direct procurement and inclusion. This works best in developing countries, where infrastructure is poor and the last mile broken, because this model ends up being cost-effective and reduces break-even levels. From the supply side, there are tens of thousands of such small properties in offbeat areas in India. From the demand side, customers are looking to explore such places, engage with locals and take in new experiences. The only need is for aggregation and standardisation and we have a hugely scalable model fuelled by the ever-increasing domestic traveller segment. 

Mickey Desai
Blackbuck Lodges

The travel and tourism business is on its knees worldwide. The twin challenges at this stage are to save businesses and save jobs. The Centre must provide businesses with institutional access to working capital and enable liquidity through a deferment of loan repayments. The government should reduce GST and luxury taxes on the tourism industry, in order to reduce the cost to the consumer, thereby enticing them to start travelling. I predict that we’ll start travelling with short trips to destinations to which we can drive in our own private vehicles. Staycations will also emerge as a popular first choice. That means consumers will likely look towards secluded places of incredible natural beauty when planning their first vacation post the pandemic. But it also means they are likelier to select destinations and hotels that practice responsible tourism. The five key factors driving all of the above trends will be: safety, health, hygiene, brands (those that stand for quality will win) and value. 

Raj Singh
Antara Luxury River Cruises

The present crisis has reiterated the importance of trust and reliability in the people in our lives and the marques we choose. Luxury travel is no longer a name, a brand, or an icon: it is the seamlessness and thoughtfulness of travel, the authenticity of cultural immersion, the transformative nature of learning, and the warmth of interactions with local people. People are itching to travel and even microvacations need to have a long-term meaningful takeaway. River cruising is one such experience that is not only new but is also authentic and offers a unique way to see India and the hidden gems along the riverbanks. At Antara we believe travelling along our ancient and mystical rivers has a very grounding effect and the experience on our small ships offers all the intimacy, personalisation, authenticity, and attention to details that a luxury traveller may seek. With India’s waterways opening up, I believe river cruising will emerge as one of the trending experiences for 2021. 

Husna-Tara Prakash
Glenburn Tea Estate

An Indian traveller defines luxury tourism as a stay in a five-star ‘branded’ hotel. What will transform our industry today, is an awareness of ‘conscious luxury’ which is personified by a growing breed of small, intimate hotels—palaces, plantation retreats and jungle lodges—where the ethos is defined by transformational travel that educates, enriches and encourages a digital detox when asked for, but allows connectivity when one needs it. The international traveller will try to avoid the Golden Triangle, and the crowds that swarm to the places that conventionally define India. The real travellers who will risk a post-COVID-19 journey to an exotic location, will seek out the less-trodden nooks and crannies of this vast subcontinent, unearthing its beauty far beyond the ‘Taj’. 

Yashwant Rao Holkar
Ahilya Experiences

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to slow down. To be in the moment. To connect with those around us. And to stay connected. In fact, I think that’s also how I see the travel experience evolving. Going forward, apart from being socially and environmentally conscious, I believe discerning travellers will want to go beyond a hotel’s walls and connect with, understand the local culture, history, people, and their traditions. At Ahilya, both in Maheshwar and in Goa, our aim has always been to ensure that we offer more than just a unique hospitality experience; one that leads to a lasting connection to each destination. At the Ahilya Fort Heritage Hotel, for instance, guests experience our family’s ancestral rituals, which have continued unbroken for hundreds of years. They spend time with the traditional handloom weavers of REHWA Society, learning about the rich history of the craft and its artisans. Such experiences creating meaningful and lasting connections that go far beyond what remains on one’s Instagram feed. The future then, to me, is in what I like to call ‘Connected Travel’. 

Anjali Singh & Jaisal Singh
Suján Group

As the world continues to manoeuvre through these challenging times, travellers must also look for new ways of exploring. Now, more than ever, people need to travel with a purpose. Whilst SUJÁN was built as a responsible conservation tourism model, the time has come for other hotels to follow suit and travellers themselves need to support businesses that are honestly and transparently using tourism to help make a positive impact, not just for their guests, but for the regions where they are located. To travel is undoubtedly a luxury but we have always believed it should be seen as an investment in the wider world, in communities and ecosystems outside of our own bubble. It is not enough for hotels to do little gestures and simply talk the ‘sustainability’ talk; travellers should look for evidence of hotels rolling up their sleeves and visibly working towards measurable sustainable-impact goals. We hope that travellers will think more carefully about where they holiday and take time to research hotels that are operating responsibly and clearly making a positive impact. This could be visible through many different facets, for example through the way a hotel supports its local communities, or perhaps is promoting wildlife conservation or the local culture. SUJÁN is proof that travel, like all businesses, can become a transformative force for good, whilst still being spoiling, luxurious and unforgettable! We hope travel will be a more responsible decision, and that where people choose to spend their money and valuable holiday time going forward, is a decision they are proud of. 

Syed Junaid Altaf
Empyrean Skyview Projects

If the 1920s changed how the world travelled with the introduction of commercial aviation, the year 2020 was overtaken by the Covid pandemic and travel across the world came to a grinding halt. Everyone related to the industry had to shift gears and think anew. Fortunately for us, we at Empyrean were ahead of the curve as we have just launched Skyview Patnitop at Sanget Valley, a new mountain tourism and lifestyle destination for new-age travellers looking for serenity, unsurpassed hospitality, differentiated luxury, eclectic gastronomy, holistic living, culture, adventure sports and folk art against pristine and undiscovered surroundings. We believe that tourism will be led by developing new destinations offering bespoke experiences, much like those we offer for solo travellers or groups, curated specially by our local experts at a very attractive price. This is a destination that is safe for travellers, is environmentally conscious and responsible, and one that gives back to the community—all values that hold multi-fold importance in society today. 

Amit Sankhala
Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodges

The new era of travel needs to be more sustainable, conscious about impact and move towards slow travel. India is so beautiful, and we are always running to tick everything off the list. Slow it down, take it all in and enjoy the experience along the way that will transform you. Spend more time in a region, knowing its people, its history, food, culture, festivals, etc. Adopt slow travel and let the experience guide you through the journey. 

Mandip Singh Soin
Ibex Expeditions

I think we have to pay attention to the travellers’ role and responsibility in terms of the impacts they make as these can be good or bad. Whilst there has been some work done on making the industry more sustainable and indeed government policies more eco-oriented, if we can focus the attention on educating the traveller to have a positive impact from his/her travels then this can be the next big thing. This ‘customer’ can also trigger compliance to responsible travel ideas by the industry in turn and then we can all be in a happy cycle of one good action triggering many others...In fact, the Responsible Tourism Society of India just launched a set of Responsible Traveller Guidelines on World Tourism Day (September 27). 

Ajeet Bajaj
Snow Leopard Adventures

In India we have every conceivable geographical terrain, are a global bio-diversity hotspot, have 73 per cent of a culturally diverse Himalayan range, rich fauna, flora and avifauna. The one thing missing is a national Sustainable Tourism Policy leading to immense issues with frequent changes in rules and tariffs as also court cases and National Green Tribunal interventions mostly to ban activities. As an example, the recent ban on beach camping and camping in bugyals in Uttarakhand has led to immense heartburn among tour operators and tourists. There are issues of ‘over-tourism’ and carrying capacity that need to be addressed urgently. The UNWTO global sustainable tourism criteria must be adopted in letter and spirit across the country, as part of the policy. Adventure travel is a $683 billion industry globally showing a 21 per cent Compound Annual Growth rate since 2012. Given our huge potential vis-a-vis adventure and sustainable tourism, we can easily double our inbound figures, presently at 10 million tourists (UNWTO) in the next three years (post-Covid) through adventure tourism alone. According to a Nielsen report for the Ministry of Tourism and industry estimates, adventure tourism in India is presently a 2,000-crore industry (pre-COVID-19) and is ranked 96 out of 163 countries in the 2019 Adventure Travel Development Index of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, USA and George Washington University. India needs a National Adventure Tourism policy with clear guidelines, online processes and an enabling environment for investors. This policy must be adopted and implemented by all state governments. The policy must focus on improving our ranking on the Adventure Tourism development index, involving all stakeholders and state governments. 

Altaf Chapri
AB Chapri Retreats

As many parts of the world prepare to reawaken to a more conscious attitude to travel, India is in a prime position to focus on its strength as a leading destination for wellness tourism among some of the greatest scenery and cultural heritage on earth. The industry should focus on personal space, and sustainability, combined with discreet and dedicated service to create opportunities for guests to discover more about themselves and their surroundings. To live their lives in a more intelligent and integrated way with family and friends or to simply connect with nourishing and romantic seclusion of outstanding natural beauty and safe heavens. 

Riyaz Amlani
Impresario Handmade Restaurants

I believe that COVID-19 is here to stay for a long while, and the only way to get back to life is to adapt to these times and change the way we play the game. Socialising while distancing is the new big trend that will shape the industry for the next two years at least. The entire point of communing now is about ‘coexisting’ and not ‘overlapping’, and this will be seen across industries. One of our latest outposts of the all-day café and bar chain SOCIAL in Dwarka which is India’s first COVID-19 response-ready restaurant offers a good prototype. The maxim for this outpost is ‘SOCIAL with distancing’ and the space has been planned and designed in such a way that it is primed to promote social distancing in the best possible way. Similar prototypes will be seen across the board, with industries quickly adapting to new ways of operating. 

Amit Damani
Vista Rooms

When COVID-19 first struck, tourism received an immediate and intense blow. But it has grown into an unexpected opportunity. With WFH and virtual schooling becoming a reality for a significant number of people, travel has gone from being an annual treat or a weekend possibility to being an anytime option. The hospitality industry has to offer stays that aren’t just good for visits but are livable. Wi-Fi connectivity is essential, as are functional kitchens. Pet-friendly homestays make it perfect for tourists and slow travellers. Besides, privacy has gone up the hierarchy of needs from something that spells luxury to something crucial to safety. 

A.D. Singh
Olive Group of Restaurants

The hospitality industry would be helped to bounce back with a scheme similar to the one the chancellor of the UK set up where for a period of time 50 per cent of people’s bills at restaurants were picked up by the government. That both packed places and gave people the comfort to start going out again. Separately, the mass availability of a reasonably priced vaccine would be of great help. 

Oken Tayeng
Aborcountry Travels & Expeditions

I think it’s about time the government refrained from over-promotion and cut down on the spending on promotional campaigns. In this day of the internet, minute details of destinations are available, but sometimes it’s good to leave an allure of mystery. More resources should be spent on infrastructure, safety, protection of natural places, cleanliness, and capacity building in order to provide world-class experiences for visitors. The Northeast has vast potential, many destinations are still unexplored, especially for outdoor and adventure activities. Arunachal has, for example, the Siang, one of the top rivers in the world for whitewater rafting, and the unexplored Gorichen (6,858m) and Kangto (7,060m) peaks. These can be promoted with world-class safety measures and guidelines in place. It is important that bodies like ATOAI are headed by people with solid adventure experience rather than desk experts. It’s about time these organisations have chapters in the Northeast. As most destinations in India are trampled by mass and low-value tourism, the Northeast can be developed with a clear vision to be a niche destination. Guidelines should be put in place for travellers especially domestic. Operators should make a conscious effort to engage locals in the chain of operations. State governments should promote authentic community festivals rather than manufactured carnivals and so-called tourism festivals. 

Julian Matthews

The Covid pandemic has been brilliant at shining a light on our present trajectory and the catastrophic cost to the natural world. It’s a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to change course, to build in sustainability, to remodel the basic tenements, structure and policies on tourism, especially those wholly based on nature—to become more inclusive, more community derived, more cooperative and more sustainable. Travel is not a right—but a privilege. A visionary new Ecotourism Policy that many colleagues and I worked on over six months in 2018, and was put to the MOEF&CC by the Ministry of Tourism, needs to be debated, agreed and effected to ensure we don’t go back to old ways post-COVID-19. 

Latika Nath
Responsible Tourism Society of India

Travel post the pandemic is evolving. It’s going to be more meaningful and purposeful. There will be more emphasis on factors like where, why and with whom; what adventures and stories can you carry back; and how it makes your life richer and fuller. Travellers will develop an appreciation for places not easily accessed, experiences that are not mass, exploring the nuances of cultures and traditions and living closer to nature. It’s going to be about longer, planned and more immersive stays. It will be less about big hotels and group tours, more about individualised itineraries and unleashing the nomad within you. Focus on friendship, food and people you break bread with. The concept of travel will revolve around the time you spend with the people you care for and giving back to the places you visit. 

Aly Rashid 
Jehan Numa Wilderness

When we think of tourism today, we cannot ignore the impact of the ongoing pandemic. The COVID-19 situation has opened up our eyes to what we should have seen a decade ago. To drive tourism forward sustainably is key and from now on it will be imperative for all stakeholders to take positive action in this direction. India is blessed with diverse landscapes rich with biodiversity and a culture that dates back centuries. It is now that the industry needs to awaken to the several opportunities that we can harness to enable inclusive benefits for operators, conservation/ preservation and the communities involved. 

Sunil Mehta
Tree House Resorts

Tourism in India truly stands at the crossroads right now. Despite the pandemic, I feel there is definitely a silver lining to the dark clouds. Three major factors will drive future tourism in India:
> Surge in domestic tourism: The 1.3 crore-plus tourists who travel abroad each year (as compared to about 65 lakh in-bound tourists) will provide a tremendous boost to high-end domestic tourism of the type detailed below, as international travel will remain majorly out of bounds for at least the next few years.
> Open resorts: Open luxury resorts, rather than centrally air-conditioned box-type hotels, will benefit from this revival. Even after we see the last of the pandemic, the scars and the fear will take a long time to heal. Already, luxury resorts with large open spaces are getting equal or more business as compared to the pre-Covid times. Resorts at easily drivable distances from the metros will benefit the most.
> Wildlife and Eco-tourism: These will definitely take off as potential travellers understand the need to be with nature and in open natural surroundings. 


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