"I want people coming to stay longer in India"
Less than a year after taking charge, K.J. Alphons, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism, launched a revamped Incredible India campaign. Alphons, who is candid about the issues facing India's tourism sector and wants to reduce the role of the government to just promoting tourism, speaks about efforts to make tourism hip again in a conversation with Business Today's Manu Kaushik and Joe C. Mathew. Edited excerpts:
What has been the focus of Incredible India 2.0? What are you trying to achieve with that?
A: K.J. Alphons: I want people to come and see India. We are an amazing country. The new slogan is not just inviting people to see and experience India; we are saying that come to India and get transformed. We believe anybody who comes to India will go back transformed. The promotions relate to yoga, Ayurveda, wildlife, cuisine and luxury. We released four movies on them. In one month of the yoga [movie], three weeks of wildlife, and one week of luxury, we had 65 million views. We are redefining promotion. Our promotion on Ayurveda is among the top three globally. We are beating Apple and Samsung in this game. In another two weeks, I will have 100 million views.
People thought yoga is for older, retired people. The movie is around a 20-year-old millennial motorcycle racer. It's completely different. We spent 10 hours finalising the 60-second movie. We spent 10 hours on each of these movies. The punch line is "yoga has taught me the truth about life and motorcycles. The more still you are, the further you can go". We redefined the way we are selling India. The same is the case with luxury and wildlife. Each of these promotional movies tells a story in just 60 seconds. These are all for foreign markets; these have not even been released in India. We are making two for the Indian market. One is Indians seeing India, which is going to be a big thing. I have just contacted Bharatbala to make the movie. The other is on non-resident Indians.
My focus is how to get more people to come and see India. Last year, I had 10.1 million tourists, a 14.4 per cent rise over the previous year, when the global tourism market grew just 5 per cent. My receipts grew 19.1 per cent. We are among the fastest- growing tourism markets. Tourism created 14.62 million jobs in the last four years and is the sector that has created the largest number of jobs. We contribute about 7 per cent to GDP, 12.36 per cent to employment. But am I happy? No. We want these numbers to double in three years. My receipts last year were about $27 billion (Rs 1,77,584 crore). I want to reach $100 billion in five years. This is doable.
I want people to stay longer in India. Somebody who comes for Ayurveda stays much longer. The shortest course is for 15 days. With yoga, nobody stays less than a week. As they stay longer, there is more occupancy, more restaurants, more shopping, more jobs and more wealth created. On domestic tourism, about 400-500 million people have money here. We find that 60 per cent of domestic travel is to religious places. We have two projects under which we are creating infrastructure at religious places. We are creating infrastructure around heritage and spiritual circuits. We have 69 projects in which we have put in `5,711 crore. We also have standalone projects where we create infrastructure around heritage and religious places. Under PRASAD, we have 24 projects where we are spending `727 crore.
Almost half of our tourists are from the US, the UK and Canada, but we don't see people from Japan and China..
China is the largest outbound market in the world at 144 million. Last year, I got only 2.4 lakh Chinese here. We are going to have a road show in China for the first time. It will not end with one road show.
Our foreign tourist arrivals account for 1.18 per cent of global tourists but generate 1.88 per cent of global income. We are ranked 25 globally in tourism but are number 13 in terms of receipts. In terms of creating jobs, we have done better than almost anybody else. We need multiple jumps because opportunities for creating jobs are difficult, you need to make huge investments. In tourism, you invest the least amount of money and get the biggest employment creation.
What's the role of private sector?
This is all private sector area. My job is to ensure that the India brand is sold properly. I make these movies, put India on the global map. If 100 million people see these, I hope five million come to India. The beneficiaries are hotels, travel and tourism industry, taxis. The ultimate beneficiary is going to be the private sector.
We have created a fantastic website under Incredible India 2.0. We will soon have a mobile application. We have set up a helpline centre. Last year, we got 2.27 lakh calls on our number. This year, the numbers are down are a little, which means things have improved. People call when they are in trouble. The number of incidents happening in India is few but global media is hugely biased against India and puts it on the front page.
You have tied up with other Central ministries but what happens at the state level? Many heritage sites are not maintained properly. You can have a highway to Gaya but what happens inside the city? How much cooperation are you are getting from states?
Unfortunately, many states are not putting enough money into tourism. We may create the Indian brand but ultimately they have to create infrastructure. In two of my flagship programmes - Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD - I am putting in money but I have limitations. I don't have unlimited money. State governments are supposed to come on board but most are not doing so. This is not seen as a priority area.
What has been the philosophy behind the 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme?
We have public support on this thing. The idea is not about money, it's about involving the community in saying this heritage belongs to me and so I should play an active role in maintaining it. We just don't have the corporate sector; we have NGOs adopting monuments. We have a school which has adopted a monument. We can have residential associations adopt a beach. We are open to everything.
What's the status on the Taj Mahal?
We have decided to put it on hold because it's the jewel in the crown. We signed four MoUs; another six are ready to be delivered, and we intend to take up 46 monuments this year for 'Adopt a Heritage'. It's a fantastic thing where people get together and spend money for maintenance. There are 3,657 monuments under ASI and an equal number under states.
You have been vocal about the state of monuments in India. You have said that they are not visitable?
I don't have to say this. It's evident that so much can be better. Cleanliness, toilets, drinking water, Wi-Fi, illumination, cafeteria - everything can be better. My Monument Mitra, that's what they are called, they are not going to touch the monument as such.
Are there any similar schemes in other countries?
The Colosseum in Italy gets millions of tourists. It's maintained by a footwear company. I think Eiffel Tower is maintained by a private company. We need to learn from global experiences. The government cannot do everything. We need help from citizens.
There have been discussions about giving hotels within ITDC to state governments and privatising The Ashok Hotel. What is the government trying to do with ITDC?
Most land belongs to state governments; so we have written to them to run it because running hotels is not the government's business. We don't have the talent to do it. These are areas where the private sector should get involved. Let the private sector look after the concession of hotels. That's the whole spirit. But as of now, we are maintaining The Ashok, Delhi. It's not going to be privatised in the near future. I guess when we come back to power the next time, we will think about it.
Is it going to be similar situation like Air India?
ITDC is not loss-making. Last year, just The Ashok made a profit of `25 crore. We are doing pretty well, and nobody has ever subsidised ITDC hotels.