Panel discussions

India’s Domestic Tourism: Challenges & Opportunities in Changing World Order

Read Time:17 Minute

In the last two years, there has been a major crisis from Covid-19, which has been crippling many industries; the hospitality and the tourism industries being the worst affected. The World Bank estimates a loss of 220 million jobs due to the pandemic. Where do we go from here?
In the future, we’ll see more pandemics, not less. Every time there is a pandemic, if we are going to shut down, then it is not going to be good for the tourism industry. How can we ride the wave rather than drown in the sea of pandemics? This is the biggest question that has come before us.
As a large segment of workforce has now started working from home, the people who are travelling for business meetings have shifted to online meetings; there will be a dip in the number of people travelling for business. More people will now be using online mechanisms and media for conducting businesses. However, I can see that many people who are working from home are looking for a break from the routine and for an escape. This is a large segment of people who will be driving tourism in the next few years. This segment is not looking for a destination visit but an experience very different from what they currently undergo. So my understanding and prediction is that there will be a lot of tourism but it will not be the kind that was there before the pandemic. We need to put in place three strategies to ensure that tourism picks up:
Ensuring traveller confidence
Identifying new drivers of demand
Promoting the GRID concept
Tourism contributes more than 15% of GDP to the country. Tamil Nadu, being the number one destination for both domestic and international tourists, would see a similar contribution if not more in the state GDP. Therefore, it becomes very essential to revive tourism in the post-pandemic era.
Traveller Confidence
The first thing that the tourist will look forward to is some kind of confidence. It is up to the industry to improve the traveller confidence. The government of Tamil Nadu has put together a small team which is currently working on drawing up safety protocols for health and sanitation at various levels covering, at one level, an open destination, at another level a hotel where the tourists stay and at the third level, an experiential destination where they will go and experience a particular ride or an event.
The safety and hygiene protocols to be followed at all these levels are under the consideration of the government. Shortly, we will come out with these protocols which will be widely disseminated amongst all stakeholders. It then becomes the responsibility of every one of them to ensure that the safety protocols are followed. Travellers will start feeling confident and safe and more and more tourists will come into our state.
Tracking Drivers of Demand
We need to understand the market trend and drivers of demand. The target of the post-pandemic travellers is a little different. They look for a safe destination and also an experiential kind of a thing when they go for tourism. In Tamil Nadu, we are working on an integrated master plan for tourism, where we have segmented the various kinds of tourists into ten broad segments. The government is working out a tourism promotion policy to incentivise these various segments and position Tamil Nadu as a destination.
GRID Concept
Whatever we do, it needs to be GRID, which is a World Bank concept. GRID refers to Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development. Only sustainable tourism will thrive in a post-pandemic era. The integrated master plan will ensure that the number of people who come to the state will spend more time. Earlier, if they were spending two to three days per capita, now we want them to stay at least three to five days, so there is more employment, economic growth and more importantly, there is GSDP growth in the state. Through our policy, we will encourage high value tourists with low ecological impact.
These are the TEN segments that we have come up with for promoting in Tamil Nadu:
Pilgrimage and Heritage: Tamil Nadu remains a great pilgrimage and heritage destination. There are specific nodal points or destinations which constantly keep attracting a large number of tourists. The government is in the process of understanding the requirements of the pilgrims and providing the necessary infrastructure including destination development in those particular locations.
Festivals and Fairs: We are very vibrant in terms of festivals and fairs—be it the Azhagar festival in Madurai, the Surasamharam in Tiruchendur, Jallikattu in Alanganallur, Madurai and other places or the Santhana Koodu in Nagore Dharga. They attract phenomenally huge numbers. The state government would like to focus on such events to ensure that pilgrims have a very decent and nice experience, the arrival and departure are seamless and a lot of accommodation is available—both temporary and permanent to take care of their requirements.
Heritage Buildings: Tamil Nadu has many rich heritage buildings. The Madurai Naicker Mahal is a great example of architecture which is being restored. There will shortly be a new laser 3D mapping show which will showcase the rich heritage of the Mahal and the story of the Thirumalai Naickers. Similarly, there are heritage hotels like the Fernhills Royal Palace in Ooty and the Chidambara Vilas Palace in Chettinad. There will be a package of incentives that the government will offer to promote more such heritage properties, preserve them for posterity and show people a glimpse into what heritage is and how it needs to be maintained.
Spiritual and Wellness Tourism: This is another important segment. A large number of hubs like the Auroville Matrimandir, the ISHA Centre in Coimbatore and many other places in Coimbatore District are coming up with yoga, ayurveda and naturopathy. A large segment of people go to these centres, partly for rejuvenation and partly for treatment. The neighbouring state of Kerala has made a big business out of it. We also would like to see it happens in Tamil Nadu. We are working closely with various nature care providers.
Eco-Tourism: Tamil Nadu has a very rich biodiversity in terms of flora and fauna, both in the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. All of them are great destinations for trekking trails, nature walks, bird watching, nature camps and other nature related activities. These activities require very little investment but proper training. They also have low ecological impact and offer high return and we would actively encourage them in the state.
Tea and Rubber Estate Plantation: This niche kind of tourism is slowly taking root in the state. Many buildings in tea and rubber estates are now being renovated and restored and people are invited to stay in old homes and experience life in a tea or a rubber plantation. One such resort in Kanyakumari, which is part of a rubber plantation, has been doing very well. It is on the banks of the Chittar dam and attracts high-value tourists from across the world. We are working closely with the plantation industry to ensure this segment happens.
Adventure Tourism: Adventure is adrenaline for youngsters who look for paragliding parasailing, paraclimbing, zipline, rope walking, bungee jumping, etc. We would like to promote these in a safe environment.
Water Sports: We have one of the longest coastlines in the country. The Chennai-Mahabalipuram stretch has a large number of villas. This coastal stretch is also home to a lot of turf schools that have recently come up. We will promote water sports including wind surfing, scuba diving, kayaking, fishing and surfing in a big way. A small task force is working on this to lay out the roadmap for the development of these sports in the state.
Amusement Parks: Tamil Nadu has five large amusement parks and we are looking at inviting international players. The government has plans to declare tourism as an industry in the state and we want to provide them all kinds of facilities which other industries would get in the state.
Arts & Culture: Another very important attraction is arts and culture as symbolized through various festivals like the Margazhi music festival and the Mahabalipuram Indian Dance festival. The government of Tamil Nadu is also planning to have a folk arts festival every year, which will then become an anchor around which people can spend time in various places, trying to understand and enjoy the classic and folk arts of the place. This will give a rich experience and a feast for the eyes.
MICE Tourism
Of course, our food is very varied. It has multiple cuisines and it is quite an addition and attraction to a person who visits Tamil Nadu. So that will also be promoted. All these segments make a very good package for MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) and for which, we will work closely with people in the private sector to make it happen.
These segments will be the major drivers of tourism in future for Tamil Nadu. The government is actively working with private partners and multiple stakeholders.
We have identified projects that the government has to do, that the private sector could do, and also PPP projects. All these will find place in the new tourism promotion policy now in the making and will be ready shortly. We expect that the revival of tourism will get a great fillip in Tamil Nadu. All stakeholders will be partners in this endeavour.


M.K. Ajit Kumar, Spokesperson, South India MICE Association:
When would the state Tourism Department think of opening up the sector for MICE, in terms of relaxing the restrictions on numbers currently in place for conventions or conferences in Tamil Nadu?
Currently, the government is monitoring a couple of very important parameters with reference to the Covid pandemic. Every week, review is held at the highest level in the government on what needs to be relaxed and what needs to be controlled. It will be a calibrated and proper response. At the moment, I am unable to tell a specific date because it will depend on how the pandemic behaves and the various parameters that we need to keep in mind before we open for MICE tourism.
Asoka Pugal, President Emeritus, Tourist Guides Federation of India:
The rubber estate and tea plantation guesting is a niche tourism segment. My request is that in most of the advisory bodies of Tamil Nadu tourism, there is no mention or inclusion of guides who spend their time with the tourists. I would request you to include guides as a part of the advisory panels where we can give a lot of input.
We acknowledge that if the tourism destination is a diamond, a guide is like a cutter and polisher who brings brilliance to the stone. A good guide can make or mar a trip. We look forward to curated visits; and guides will play a very important role. We will definitely get your ideas on the subject.
Gp Captain Vijayakumar:
What is your advice to the students of MBA (Tourism)?

In TTDC, we have some people who have finished their MBA in tourism and are working for us. Their quality of input and the kind of insight they have in the subject is phenomenal. It is really a big value addition not only to TTDC but to the entire sector. The skill sets and knowledge that MBA students of tourism have are much needed in the sector. In fact, we are in a short supply. I am sure that in days to come, if you are good at your subject and have a passion for tourism, there is no stopping you. It will be a great career.

We look forward to curated visits; and guides will play a very important role.

M.K. Ajit Kumar
Spokesperson, South India MICE Association
Tourism in India had grown from 10.56 million tourist arrivals in 2018 to 10.93 million arrivals in 1990. Before the pandemic, foreign tourist arrivals, known as FTAs, grew at an annual average of 8.7% during 2014, 2015 to 2018 and 2019. It slowed down to 3.2% post 2019.
India ranked 34 out of 140 countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019 made by the World Economic Forum.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) calculated that tourism in India generated roughly 16.91 lakh crores or USD 240 Bn or approximately 9.2% of India’s GDP in 2018 and supported India for 42.673 million jobs i.e. 8% of its total employment. In 2019, tourism contributed to 9.3% of India’s GDP. That was the feel-good story.
Even with all these growth figures, FTA to India was just below 1% of global FTA and tourism receipts were 1.88% of corresponding global figures. So, for India, irrespective of the pandemic, it is like starting from scratch.
In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 15th as the World Youth Skills Day. The youth have a role to play in domestic MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) and they need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to exploit the opportunities.
We had about 12,000 MICE meetings per annum in India but post-Covid, all four segments of MICE have been impacted. Corporates have stopped most of the travel for meetings. The second sub-segment of MICE – i.e. incentive travel abroad has mostly been deferred to late 2021. Most conferences have shifted to digital channels. The exhibition segment has suffered huge losses and we do not see a revival probably till end of 2021. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is MICE in domestic tourism.
Skillsets required in the youth for the four segments of MICE:
o Meetings: Fluent communication skills, proactive thinking, ability to be on one’s feet to assist in corporate meetings either on stage, backstage or in the hall itself, organising audio, video including backup arrangements, event management skills.
o Incentive Travel: Knowledge of history and historical sites, willingness to travel as an escort or part of the group; having an affable personality, exuding confidence to tackle any situation on the ground and thinking on the feet.
Conferences: Ability to provide assistance on arrival at the airport to meet and greet delegates, arranging / coordinating transport and hotel check-ins, understanding the protocols and etiquettes of the delegates and their company culture; Having affable, pleasing personality, thinking on the feet, quick grasp of situation and dealing with emergencies to help the delegates.
Exhibitions: Ability to man the stalls with or without the company representatives, having a knowledge base about the particular industry, guiding the visitors and grabbing a reference.
The pandemic has taken off about 70% of the jobs in the industry. But tourism industry is always known to be resilient. It will bounce back. There is a glorious future for the youth in the tourism industry.
Asoka Pugal
President Emeritus, Tourist Guides Federation of India
International tourism is called inbound tourism. People have been locked indoors for a long time and they are eagerly waiting for the lockdowns to be lifted; they are raring to go on holidays and breathe some fresh air. This could be termed ‘revenge tourism.’
Due to the scare created by the Covid-19 and taking into consideration the aspects of social distancing and hygiene at the destinations, initially people would like to visit nearby places and scale up gradually to places within the district, state, region and then within India.
Domestic tourists are those who move out of their place of domicile and spend more than 24 hours in another destination and do any activity other than what they normally do at home, like visiting family and friends outside, going on a pilgrimage, attending social functions, relaxing in a hill station or a beach resort, mountaineering, cycling, trekking, hiking, etc.
Historically, pilgrimage formed the basis of domestic tourism. Reading about the lives of our ancient seers, reformers and spiritual gurus, people are encouraged to travel across various holy places in India. It has always been a tradition for people from the South India to travel to the holy places of Ujjain, Haridwar, Kashi, Badrinath, Rishikesh; those from north travel down to the south to Madurai, Kanchipuram, Rameswaram or Kanyakumari. People from west go to east like from Rajasthan to Puri. People from the east like Orissa and Bengal go to Dwaraka. So this is how we have been connecting with people.
In the initial stages, Culture Tourism was always a part of a pilgrimage. People visit places of interest while going to the destination or returning. Hence the prime domestic tourism was pilgrimage.
The constant travel brought about a huge cultural exchange. Post-independence, we specified pilgrimage travel as domestic tourism. We followed the British and started travelling to hill resorts like Ooty, Kodaikanal, Shimla, Darjeeling, Kullu, Manali for every summer vacation, to escape the hot summers. These circuits are primarily for leisure and a clear shift from the pilgrim travel.
Leisure tourism has got expanded to include adventure tourism, wild life tourism and so on.
Revitalising domestic tourism has two parts: a) revitalizing travel trade and b) engaging youth in this process.
To revitalize travel, vaccination is very important. Unless 85% of the people in a particular area are vaccinated, people will be reluctant to visit that area. They will look for destination hygiene, social distancing, non-overcrowding and etiquettes and decorum to be maintained.
The youth can take up careers of hotelier, travel agent and most importantly tour guide, etc. They must have the drive to constantly innovate and provide better experience for the visiting tourists and constantly upskill themselves.
They must look into the portals of India Tourism or the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management (IITTM) which offers several tourism oriented careers. They must update their knowledge of a destination by reading, attending webinars and discussions.
They must learn the art of tackling the tourists in a skilful manner so as to live up to India Tourism’s motto, “Welcome a visitor and send back a friend.”
The government is promoting ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ campaign, which is mainly to help the youth engage themselves in the tourism industry. There are several avenues open for the young entrepreneurs.
Shabin Sarvotham
Senior General Manager, Radisson Blu Temple Bay

The fiscal impact of the pandemic in Indian scenario is a loss of 1.40 lakh crores. This is the direct impact but indirectly, there are so many other people who are dependent on tourism, like people who have hotels and shops around the destination, artists and sculptors; all these people have been affected.

The government is promoting ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ campaign, which is mainly to help the youth engage themselves in the tourism industry.

The Spanish flu lasted a couple of years after which everything came back. In a cycle where something goes up, it comes down and again, it goes up. So we will see light at the end of the tunnel soon.
Many improvements are happening in terms of transportation, construction of roads, access and connectivity but there are also challenges.
The challenges of tourism industry in India are:
Lack of proper infrastructure
Access and connectivity issues
Getting human resources
Marketing and promotion
Taxation issues
Security and safety issues
Regulatory issues
There are many Opportunities of Tourism Industry in India and these will be shaped by the following:
Vaccination of all frontline tourism workers.
People will embrace travel more consciously
Short stays and weekend trips will be huge
The new protocols and procedures have to be adopted
Consumers will want more information about the end-to-end journey
People want to reconnect with nature and minimise their footprint
Travellers will seek out less crowded attractions and destinations and a nature-based experience
All State governments should promote information on Covid-19 free destinations
Governments all over the world are finding various ways as to how their own people and people who are coming from various other countries can be safe. New methods are being looked at. I am sure we can find out ways to be more successful. If we take one step at a time and move ahead, we can conquer even Mount Everest. There is enough space for people who think differently and out of the box because the guests too expect such things now. The youth can make a huge difference in all aspects of tourism. There are opportunities for those who are willing to make a mark on their own.

Dr B Chandramohan, IAS, Principal Secretary to Government – Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments Dept & Chairman, TTDC

Dr M K Ajit Kumar Menon, President and CEO, Global Conference Management Group – GCMG

Mr Asoka Pugal, President Emeritus of the Tourist Guides’ Federation of India

Mr Shabin Sarvotham, Senior General Manager, Radisson Blu Temple Bay & President, South India MICE Association (SIMA)