Sunday, January 21, 2007

Monumental mistake

The benefits from the tourism services needs to be realised

The other day I happened to visit Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar’s capital for nearly 12 years. Strolling across the citadel, I wondered as to what could have inspired Emperor Akbar to create such an epic architectural wonder and prompted him to engineer such majestic experiments in the realms of art, architecture, culture, public administration and religion? I never got an answer to the question. But what alarmed me is the ease with which we have become oblivious of such phenomenal historic heritage. Leaving aside the innate national pride and emotional bonding, for all selfish reasons, the least we could have done was to cash upon what Akbar and other rulers created, just like the other countries did. Needless to state that we have miserably failed not only in showcasing Indian heritage to the world but also desolately left behind in making money out of it.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, India received 0.45% of the total international tourists in the year 2005. To figure out the inconsequentiality of this figure, one has to learn that globally, for the same year there were a staggering 806 million international tourist arrivals with money receipts standing at a whopping US$680 billion (i.e. almost India’s GDP) for 2005 itself. Europe alone cornered 51.2% of the total arrivals, followed by Americas with 21.4%, Asia and the Pacific with 20.4%, Middle East with 4% and Africa with 3.2%. Even sub-Saharan Africa received almost 2.1% of the global tourists. What more, Thailand (one sixth the geographical size of India) received three times more tourists!

These figures are more critical for India as there is no other country in the world which proffers such a wide assortment of religion, nature, geography, culture and history. India has almost 572 nature endowed areas, 89 national parks, 483 wildlife sanctuaries and around 3600 protected monuments. In fact, Delhi alone features 170 protected monuments and 1321 historical monuments. Yet we do not feature anywhere in the global tourist map. It is amazing how Saudi Arabia and Italy receive millions of Muslim and Christian tourists respectively on account of religious tourism and we hardly succeed to charm any of the 400 million Buddhists to visit Bihar.

Leaving revenues aside, the positive externalities of tourism are huge. Tourism services account for 11% of the global GDP and 8% of the world employment. In India, unmindful of the current dismal performance, the industry still manages to generate an estimated 16.45 million direct employment and around 23 million indirect employment opportunities. A Ministry of Tourism sponsored study states that 96% of the total income of artisan households in Kerala and about 90% in Rajasthan comes from tourism-related business.

It all goes to show that had we seriously focussed upon showcasing India to the world then extant socio-economic problems (unemployment and its resultant poverty) would have taken care of to a large extent as our forefathers have left enough for us to feed upon. But then, if wishes were horses… India would have been truly incredible!


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