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‘Self-regulation is the best bet than blaming government for everything’

Arjun Sharma is Chairman of the Select Group, a business house with diversified business interests in Shopping Centre, Travel & Tourism, Hospitality, Retail, Agriculture, etc. In a short interaction with P Krishna Kumar, Sharma spoke on wide ranging subjects related to the tourism industry in the country.

Friday, January 19, 2018, 14:16 Hrs  [IST]

Q The travel industry seems to be not convinced with the tourism growth story the government tries to tell by showing arrival numbers. They argue that growth is largely driven by NRIs and PIOs as well as arrivals from Bangladesh, Nepal, etc. How do you look at it?
As a country and destination we should not delineate tourists by nomenclature like foreign tourist, NRI, PIO, etc. I do not subscribe to that kind of delineation. All sorts of tourists are welcome and all of them contribute to our tourism growth story in one way or the other. But the problem is that, India is largely a bi-polar tourism economy. We are either getting the bottom- or the top-end of the tourists. We are not able to attract the middle segment. The organised tourism industry has the responsibility to grow that mid-segment if we need to develop a sustainable tourism economy in India.

I don’t hesitate to say that tourism industry today is quite myopic in their outlook, of which I am also part of. Currently, they are only looking at what is coming through them. World has now moved into different areas. Travel enablers like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Airbnb, etc. are bringing a different kind of tourists into the country. People who used to come originally through traditional operators at one point of time are today coming through other technology players. So, the traditional businesses are not benefiting from the growth. The problem by and large is with the traditional industry itself not figuring out and recognising the transformation that is happening in the world.

The government initiatives like e-Visa would definitely be paying dividends in coming years. Yes, we need to invest in infrastructure. We are facing the problem of too many tourists going to too few destinations. We have to create more beach destinations, more hill stations, avenues for entertainment, nightlife, etc.

QThe governments at all levels have been promising ‘Ease of Doing Business’ to the industry and investors for some time now. As an industry person, what is your reading of the ground situation?
It’s unfair to say that nothing has happened. So many things have happened in the last few years. It’s always easy to criticise governments. Problem lies largely in our Federal nature of government, where Tourism is a state subject. Central government has got very little control on tourism subject. It can only guide the States. The states have their own individual priorities, and for many states tourism is not their top priority. There’s a need to have more synergies between the centre and the states to have best practices across states, with that regulations can also ease. There needs to be a model of self-regulation and certification by the industry itself, instead of government regulating everything. As an industry we need to share some responsibility. We cannot put the blame on the government for everything.

We have some good models in front of us as far as tourism proactiveness is concerned. Look at Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, etc. Yes, of course, they are pockets of excellence. More such models can emerge.

Q What is your take on the decision to close down Indiatourism offices abroad by the government? Do you see any major impact in marketing and promotion activities in overseas markets because of the decision?
What I heard is that they are rationalising it rather than closing them down. The world has changed since we opened these offices. Today nobody will be going to Indiatourism offices to collect a map of India or a destination brochure. From a B2C role those offices used to play in the initial years, they are currently playing more of a B2B role. The role has changed, and therefore, there is no need to spend the kind of administrative money that government used to spend 20 years ago. The need of the hour is right balance.

Q NITI Aayog has put forth a new funding mechanism with private industry contribution, a PPP model, for destination marketing for India. What are your views on that?
It is possible to do that kind of a model for overseas marketing. In most of the countries where that kind of model is in place, the government has some cess on the rooms, etc. which goes into the destination marketing fund. But, here the industry is already over-taxed. You cannot expect to put a 28% GST on rooms and then expect the industry to pay cess over and above it. Either you change your policy and keep a portion of the GST for brand India marketing and promotions. Then industry can look at matching the contribution.

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