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Please scroll down to read the article entitled "An Introduction to Tourism in India".
AN INTRODUCTION TO TOURISM IN INDIA
I will introduce this topic with our experience in Bangkok, Thailand, during my family's visit to this capital city a few years ago. We flew in from Malaysia on the last leg of our summer vacation. As soon as we exited customs we were greeted by a young man in a suit and sporting their tourism board's badge. He politely enquired if we had already made arrangements for our tour. When we said "no", he took us to a booth to get arrangements done for this, then to the foreign exchange counter, then called a taxi and, when we were on our way to our hotel, he left us. The next morning a woman from the tour company came to our hotel promptly at 8.00 AM, and on with our tour! What followed on that day and the rest of our tour was a true eye opener for me. Thailand has created a fantastic tourism industry around the Buddha and, would you believe, the Hindu deity, Rama! And here we were, visiting all those temples and spending our dollars on collectibles! I think the Indian tourism department's officials should take a tour of Thailand and take home some ideas!
What a contrast this (over) exploitation of our themes in Thailand makes with promotion of them in the several visits to India our family had made over the years! The potential of tourism as an industry is a vastly under-estimated and under-utilized natural resource in India. Not only is India blessed with abundance of natural beauty and culture but, along with Iraq, China and Egypt, it happens to have one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. What this means is that it is a treasure-trove of historical places to visit and monuments to savor. The historical relics from the colonial past, Mughal architecture and monuments, and the innumerable Hindu temples are just a sampling of the places of potential interest to students of history from all over the world.
Important but little utilized, are the places considered sacred by Buddhists all over the world, particularly in the Orient. This is especially relevant in the coming decades of economic ascendancy of the Pacific rim nations. One needs to look no farther than the flow of pilgrims into Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and Medina during the holy season to realize the enormous potential of Buddhist pilgrimage from the Orient. Remember, the population we are talking about is no fewer than a quarter of the population of the world! And the flow of pilgrims will not be limited to a season of the year. If the politico-economic union I described earlier materializes, we have relics such as Mohan Jo Daro and Harappa (two of the earliest planned cities in the world) and Taksha-Sila (Taxila, the great university and cultural center of antiquity), both of which are now in Pakistan and, the multitude of Buddhist temples in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Now, if you add the wide variety of landscapes, ranging from temperate Kashmir to balmy tropics of the west coast and, the arid central plains to the mangroves of the Bengal delta, another major natural resource to be exploited is evident. India also has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Thus, it is absolutely inexplicable not only that this aspect has not been highlighted in travel information put out by the government of India, but also that the beaches have not been developed with this end in mind. It does not take a great deal of development effort to make much of the coastline havens for tourists. The only drawback I see is that the country is far from the populace seeking sunny destinations (mainly the Europeans), but the beaches should be offered as a plus and not as the only attraction.
Another major attraction for tourists is the wide variety of wildlife. Indeed, India boasts some of the largest collections of wild animals in the world. A small example would be lions, elephants, tigers, rhinos, leopards, deer, monkeys and many more animals, some of them unique to India. Just as with Buddhist pilgrimage, our effort should be focused on promoting this special blessing of our country to the newly affluent peoples of the Orient, especially the Japanese, Koreans and the Chinese. The main selling point is this country is closer than Africa. Add to it the lure of visiting the Buddha's birth place and of his "Samadhi", it would not require a great deal of persuasion for these people to grab the opportunity.
Last, but not the least, is creating several 'free ports' in strategic spots along the coast. Examples may be Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, Chennai and Kolkata (of course, many more may be considered). In these places goods should be available to tourists duty-free. This will not only enhance the tourists' package, it will surely bring some visitors from neighboring countries simply to make large purchases at good deals. Imagine the flow of foreign currency this would bring! A major impact this might have is the exposure of Indian-made goods to the rest of the world. Of course, we should make available, products from competing countries as well.
Vital to a thriving tourism industry is the provision of excellent accommodations and transportation. When it comes to a major industry, it will be self-sustaining and perhaps generate the revenue for the government for building adequate infrastructure. Until this happens, my recommendation is that the government (central, state and local) bear the expenses of providing both clean, inexpensive, basic but world-class accommodations and adequate access by road, waterways and air. This may not necessarily mean building a whole array of new hotels and roads. Quite to the contrary! Peppered all over the country are government-owned 'rest houses'. These can be upgraded by providing hot and cold water, potable water, bottled or canned foods, safe foods at the premises, bath/shower and clean (tiled floors and walls) bathrooms and toilets. The importance of the cleanliness in promoting tourism cannot be over-emphasized!
If the principles set out in the foregoing paragraphs are followed, I cannot see how tourism will fail to flourish in India. Of course, an extremely important part of this campaign will be aggressive advertising through pamphlets, brochures, TV/radio and magazine advertising all over the world and especially in the Orient, Europe the Middle East and the US. Remember to inform the would-be visitors about the cleanliness of the accommodations, the safety of both the water and the food.
In recent months I have seen advertising segments on TV and in magazines called "Incredible India"; these show images from different parts of India and these are quite good. I just wish they had images of the Buddha and Gandhi, as well as some reference to India's relevance to the world from antiquity. How about mentioning that India was the seat of learning and philosophy long before the rest of the world; that most of mathematics, starting with the invention of zero, the numeral system, decimal system, algebra, the large numbers using the power system and many other refinements in mathematics originated from India; that India was the seat of democracy long before Greece got hold of the idea; that literature had flowered in India in Sanskrit at least two Millennia before Shakespeare; that many observations in Astronomy were made by Indians at least a thousand years before the Europeans who have been credited with these (such as the elliptical orbits of planets, the rotation of earth on its axis which makes the heavens appear to move around the earth and the explanation for the eclipses) and that our contributions to world religions through the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddha reverberate through all parts of the world through Christianity. It is high time we blow our horns a little!