February 03, 2011

On Indian Travel and Tourism Industry

India is one of the top travel destinations with the wide diversity of cultures and geographies that it has to offer. But tourism is also one of the most under-rated and also under-utilized sectors in here. Though we have many state bodies which promote tourism in their own states, we do not have a collective framework which would help both the International and National travelers.

With the increasing spending power of the masses and also the quest to visit uncharted territories, toursim/travel does have significant growth prospects in India. For eg. did you know that the rapids of the Zanskar river are much more challenging that those in river Ganges?

In this short essay, i have tried to ruminate on certain aspects of the travel tourism industry which when implemented would be a great source of revenue for the Government and also would be a great source of information and provide safety and comfort to the travellers.

Hotel Reservation
Imagine if the Government collated all the Hotel information in India, and hosted it in one portal for everyone to have a peek at. Individual hoteliers can have their own login ids and can upload videos/pictures of their facilities. The location and tariffs would be structured and can be easily be searched upon. All the booking happens via this single website and the ratings of a particular hotel would obviously be based upon the traffic that it generates.Already sites like TripAdvisor etc are doing this, but since the Govt anway gives Licenses to hotels to operate, they can as well expose this information so that the credibility of the hotels can be established. This would be the directory service for all hotels in India.

The online reservation system if added to this service be a significant add on. For hotels that do not have Net facility, they can as well SMS or call up a call center to update their reservation status.

With the increasing amount of safety concerns for travellers and tourists, this would be an ideal endeavour. Based on complaints on safety, the Govt can blacklist hotels. Also, Black money can be curbed.

Flight Tickets Bidding System
It would be great if we have a website which lets us bid on flight tickets. So, if a particular flight has vacant seats before the departure and operator is ready to fill those seats at a slight loss to his profit margins(i.e, cut in the margin), then this would be a win-win situation for both the customer(who gets cheaper tickets) and also for the operator(who gets a decent traffic and also doesn't fly many empty seats).

For Handicapped
People who are differently abled and are often away from most of the travel need to be given special attention.This space has some promising scope for growth.

For LGBT

I am not sure how many travel agents cater to this audience. Again, though many regions in India are conservative, but a suitably adapted itinerary for the LGBT audience would be a great service.

Adventures
India with its diverse ecosystems can be a perfect place for adventure tourism.
The dense western ghats, the beautiful north eastern india, the deserts of Rajasthan, the salt plains of Thar desert, the canals of kerala, the rugged terrains of Ladakh, the majestic himalayan ranges and the numerous rivers have to be tapped for a clean and ecofreindly tourism.

Road conditions and Water Ways
Middleclass families and budget travellers prefer the road to flights. And hence the maintainence of roadways is very important to attract more tourists. Roads also are more ;leather; when compared to the other modes.

The last BJP Government under the active leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee saw some really good action on the road front; with some of the best National Highways being constructed and also linking the various villages with the neighbouring cities and towns. Baroda to Ahmedabad ExpressWay is one of the BEST in India that i have been on. It rates better than the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The former has the entire stretch laid on as a bluish-black carpet which is a pleasure ride.

I have not heard of any cruises that operate in any of the mighty rivers in India. Whereas the Nile cruises are a BIG attraction in Egypt. People always prefer the waterways to roadways, because waterways are more 'smooth' and scenic.

Other Sales - Stamps, memorabilia
Though i have mentioned in the last section of the post, i think this section is one of the most important as it generates HUGE amount of revenues for the government and positively contributes to foreign exchange. Every traveller wants to take back some memories from his travel. Though we have numerous shops outside every historic monument selling some sort of miniature replica of the monument or selling some handicraft, we do not have sufficient 'structured sellers' - a small example would be that of stamps. I collect stamps, but till date I have never seen any post-office which advertises the stamps or First day covers that are out. Even when i visit the post office and ask them specifically for anything 'new', i do not get a positive answer. I feel that sale of stamps and first day covers would add a significant chunk in here. Also, most of the state run handicraft emporiums price the items exorbitantly high. Me being an Indian, have never bought even a single item from these emporiums for the price of most of these items are 5-10 times that of the average price. A point to oppose my claim would be that of quality - but 'quality' does not essentially always have to be expensive. A kurta costs 600Rs in a Govt run emporium, whereas a kurta of a better texture and variety costs less than 500Rs in Westside. Khadi and Handloom shops have almost disappeared, and if they have sustained at a few places, then they are either dilapidated or hardly any big sales number.

What other aspects can you think of? Guides at the historic monuments, better recommendation systems and better network of travel agents. What else? Do let me know what else would you do if you were the Tourism Minister of India.
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