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Un/Incredible India

By GovernanceToday
In Issue 10
July 13, 2016

NCBR Report: 384 cases were under crime against foreign tourists during 2014, constituting 79.0 per cent of  total crime against foreigners.

tourismThe noise from the wheels of her own trolley bag seemed to scare her. The dark alleys she was  walking in, however, was better than the taxi drivers’ mob that almost made her freak out. The man whom she was following was not the best among them but probably one of the forced choices.

She steps into that quiet hotel where she is given a room that is dirty and shabby; bathroom taps leak and mosquitoes made it impossible for her to sleep. Next morning, she packed her bags to find her incredible India she had seen in the advertisements.

However, she decides otherwise. Why?

She decided to go back on Day 1 after her checkout bill almost made her feel broke – 50 USD for that “dungeon”?  She does not want to be named but wants to be a voice to a number of tourists who have faced similar situations while in their quest for the Incredible India, they see on TV.

The tourism department, of late, has come up with glistening  advertisements. Bollywood stars and best tourist resorts and hotels all promote Indian states, destinations. This paints a rosy picture of hospitality and diversity of India but the reality speaks this: “There are issues. Ethics, sense of hospitality, helping attitude, welcoming gestures and all the likes are missing. Is it just a few persons’ issue? Certainly not, there are many. A larger chunk try and take advantage of the ignorance of the foreigners,” says a very well placed source in the Tourism Ministry.

A closer look into the tourism offices across the country brings out a picture very different from what is being shown in the advertisements. The very infrastructure needed to cater to the promises made by these advertisements is not in shape.

Our visitor who decided to return had initially tried to contact tourism department of the country but at 1AM in the night she was directed to IVR that was of no help. The mobile network was not working in the area and there were no paid phone booths to be found anywhere, leaving her with no option but to rely upon private agents who only aim at fleecing every penny making a mockery of the word hospitality and India’s hospitality industry.

So where exactly is the fault? Is there not enough money, are there not enough people or are there not enough resources? Sadly, all of these are insufficient and these fleecing agents thrive on the insufficient rather untapped provisioning of the industry.

Sources from the tourism department offices explain that these are terribly understaffed, there is just not sufficient number of people to man the offices, and how can we think of manning these travel counters. These are just set up to follow the protocols. Of course when we have people, they do take care of the desks but that happens rarely. There are a lot of vacant seats at all levels in the tourism ministry.

“Most of the staffs in the offices are temps. They have a contract of a few months; some just come to work for a month. How can we expect a system to flourish with people who are here today will be replaced by someone else tomorrow,” said a source from tourism office who has been sitting in the same chair for about two decades. The ratio of permanent staff is very low. Those who are permanent do not have any incentive to perform.

The staff explains that there is no incentive to work. “You have decades of experience but no scope for growth. I have been on the same post for last 18 years and no promotions or any other incentivizing has been offered. Sad it is and honestly I do not expect any in the near future.”

There is a counter for international tourist counter at the New Delhi railway station to help tourists 24*7, however, the moment tourists de board at the station, hundreds of agents (registered and unregistered) take charge. They do not allow them the space to get to the authorized counter. However, the problem is not with these agents, the problem is with the tourism department. These agents have sufficient men to bring business while the department does not.

Less staff is not the only roadblock, though. Development is also hindered as if the tourism ministry wishes to develop a particular area or site; there are almost 10 departments or more that they will have to seek permission from.

An officer from the urban development department, on condition of anonymity, explained that if a proposal for any kind of development comes from a different department then it is necessary for that department’s head to have good relations with the approving authority of the department he or she has sent proposal to. If the relations are not cordial, taking consent may take years.

Various officers from different departments have agreed to the fact that the departments do not work in tandem. It takes a lot of time to reach consensus. There are decisions where both states and central governments are involved and both coming to consensus is a matter of chance. There are delays, cancellations, reviews, suggestions and thus a lot of inconvenience culminating into unending problems and non-performance of the sector.

People come to India following the “amazing” advertisement of Incredible India and return with bitter experiences posing questions to the credibility of the country’s tourism industry. There are these technical problems of staff shortage, coordination and vested interest but what lurks beneath and behind is the big problem – the problem of complacency, self-centric approach and near complete lack of sense of duty among people manning the departments at center and states.

“I wanted to buy a couple of  bangles and some art jewelry from a store; however, I found the price a little over my expectations so I decided not to buy. This is very strange but you receive disdain from the shopkeeper and some abuses I guess because I did not quite understand what he said but the expressions were enough of communication,” said another tourist who was in India for a month long holiday.

tourism2One tourist returns with a good holiday, 100s will come but if one returns with a bad holiday, they will advise many more against visiting the country. We are making advertisements but not working on making the infrastructure competent enough to sustain. Security is a major problem and recent reports of rapes, misbehaviors and a number of reports of theft and loot from the foreigners are evidence enough to drive home the point that there is something seriously wrong in how we have developed out tourism industry. There is a need to strengthen the infrastructure at the grassroots level. Rosy and inviting policies and attractive advertisement without a strong set up to cater to the tourists reflect the short-term vision of the ministry for tourism.

The other important task at hand is to make the environment congenial for the tourists in terms of security and connectivity. Police, who are supposed to keep agents at bay from a particular area, allow them for a small sum of money. “They let us park at restricted locations for 10, 20 and 50 rupees. You don’t worry madam,” said the driver of an auto I was travelling in. If this is the standard of our police then how can we expect any well organized industry? Policing and discipline are among the most essential requirements of a well organized and smooth working set up.

Most of the staff, authorized agents and those who directly deal with the tourists do not understand the meaning of the word Hospitality. They are always after making some extra money out of the ignorance of the tourists, failing to understand that this one person, if goes with a bad feedback may stop 100s from coming, impacting their long term earnings.

Our slogan of Atithi Devo Bhawa is like oil in the industry made up of water. It’s all over when you see from far but the fact is that it’s just a mask that never really sinks!

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