Breaking Travel News interview: Dr K Chiranjeevi, minister of tourism, India
According to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) India welcomed nearly six million international visitors in 2011, with overseas guests spending over $15 billion between them.
Add to this the extensive domestic tourism market, which sees hundreds of millions of trips made around the county each year, and the importance of tourism to the Indian economy becomes clear.
Many overseas visitors arrive from the United Kingdom and the United States, with travellers able to take advantage of a shared cultural heritage, as well as a common language, during a stay.
While there is so much on offer, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have emerged as the top five states for international visitors, with the beaches of Goa also considered among the finest in the world.
With nearly 40 million Indians employed in the tourism sector, according to figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the government has been quick to recognise the significance of the industry.
A new ‘visa or arrival’ scheme has seen thousands of visitors from Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Singapore issued with permits on arrival in India, cutting paperwork, over the past two years, with Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos and Myanmar also now enrolled in the scheme.
The ministry of tourism has also been spending millions of rupees each year to improve the facilities on offer to tourists, largely through the development of infrastructure, construction of budget accommodation, and the training of those employed in the sector.
Incredible India has played a role in the development of the sector, recently launching a new advertising campaign in the key UK market. The ‘Find What You Seek’ campaign, which was launched by newly appointed tourism minister K Chiranjeevi in London in November this year, aims to highlight to consumers that they will find whatever it is they are looking for from a holiday in India.
It is hoped the campaign will build awareness of the Indian tourism offering, with officials hoping to increase international visitor numbers by 12 per cent each year until 2016.
Here Breaking Travel News sits down with the newly appoint minister to discuss just what comes next for this tourism powerhouse:
Breaking Travel News: This is your first official engagement as tourism minister for India. What do you hope to bring to the role?
Dr K Chiranjeevi: I have been in charge of the ministry since November 1st; it is a tremendous opportunity for me and I am excited about the undertaking and my new role.
I have made it a priority to make myself available to our international partners, to let them know what work we will be undertaking under my leadership.
The government of India takes tourism very seriously; it presents a great opportunity for our country to grow.
BTN: India, especially its economy, has been one of the major success stories globally over the last decade, indeed, since the country began its process of reform in the early 1990s. How do you feel this has helped the tourism sector?
KC: I am very fortunate to come into this role at this time.
Our honourable prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has made his support for our work clear and it is now our role to build on the successes we have achieved.
I will use my image, my experience, to take our message to the world. This portfolio has been entrusted to me, and I am incredibly happy to accept the challenge.
During my work in the film industry I have visited many countries, over the past 30 years, and I see this experience being of great use in my new starring role.
India is an incredible country: if one country has the Alps, another has deserts, another has the ocean, we have them all. India has everything anybody could want. We have innumerable locations, geographical wonders, divergent communities – really, everything is there.
We have snow in the north of India, in Kashmir, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, wonderful monuments, temples, thick, dense forests, a long sea-coast, we have everything.
This is the reason I am happy to accept the task with tourism India.
BTN: We are here in London. How much do you think holidaymakers here know about India? As well as in Europe? What do you need to do to get your message out there?
KC: Yes, here in London, I think people do know a lot about India. This is an international hub for tourism: people are very aware here of what the world has to offer.
Our job is to showcase India in the best possible way. We are spending money, on advertising; on our presence at conventions; on tours for journalists; these are all part of our approach.
Time will tell how we do, but I am confident we can turn India into a world leader.
More information on all of these festivals can be found on the Incredible India website.
Interview with Chris O’Toole