New Delhi, Sep 19
The Indian government is seeking a dramatic increase in tourist figures, both foreign and domestic, in a way that it helps to earn more revenues and generate employment, new Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons has said.
"The number of foreign tourist arrivals was 8.8 million in 2016. We want to increase it dramatically. We also want to increase the number of domestic tourists, which was around 150 million. The whole idea is that we want to generate revenues and be a huge contributor to the economy," Alphons, a former bureaucrat, told IANS in an interview.
According to the Tourism Ministry, in 2016 the foreign exchange earned through tourism was Rs 154,146 crore and the sector provides direct and indirect employment to over 40 million people. It is a major contributor to the nation's GDP.
Speaking at his office in Transport Bhavan, Alphons said: "We don't want people to just come, see and go. We want them to stay, experience India, shop and spend money."
"We have a 5,000-year-old civilisation, one of the oldest in the world. What is exceptional in India is that, along with the civilisation, we also have a philosophy. It is not only brick and mortar. It is much, much beyond it. The kind of spiritual and philosophical depth that Indian civilisation has, is unique."
Asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's expectations from this ministry, Alphons said marketing India well to the world outside is very crucial.
"The entire thing is about marketing India, as we are an amazing, incredible and beautiful country. We just need to tell the world that we are a fantastic destination to visit. We want the whole world to come to India. They should come and feel the country and when they leave, they should say, 'This was fantastic!'"
Asked about the steps needed to attract more tourists, the minister said better cleanliness and improved infrastructure are key focus areas of the government.
"Infrastructure has to be improved dramatically. Cleanliness has to improve, footpaths must be built, manholes must be covered, drains must be covered, they should not be encroached. It should be a hugely pleasant experience to walk around the cities; only then will foreign tourists go shopping.
"I am interested in generating money, because if we generate money that will create employment. They should walk around, laze around and feel comfortable. And that comfort we should provide. That means we have to improve our infrastructure around tourist destinations dramatically," the minister said.
Alphons said he was happy with the portfolios he has been given. "It was a huge, pleasant surprise to be given independent charge of such exciting and happening ministries -- tourism and information technology (IT). I am extremely happy with my portfolios."
Alphons, who is scheduled to make a presentation to the Prime Minister, was averse to talking about any issue other than than those concerning his portfolio.
Asked some political questions, Alphons flatly said he was not ready to answer them.
(Aparajita Gupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)