What is tourism’s contribution to the economy of India?
AHMED: India is a vast country. We have thousands of tourist destinations all over India. We have heritage and culture, and we have about ten rivers all over the country. We have mountains and forest. We have adventure sports tourism and golf tourism. To sum it up, India is a 365 day a year destination. It supplies a lot to India’s economy. It has earned foreign exchange of $5bn dollars. It gives many employment opportunities to the rural and urban population of the country and to the youth. Tourism is a service industry, and it brings huge domestic investment as well as foreign investment. We have allowed 100% FDI in the hotel and tourism sector. This is our achievement.
What specific markets are you targeting for more investment?
AHMED: We have investments from all over the world. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of Arab tourists in our country. They have also invested. In our infrastructure and in other activities in our country. There is potential, business opportunities and good investment return by investing in the tourism industry in our country.
What are the biggest challenges India still faces and how can investment address some of those challenges?
AHMED: Every moment is a moment for challenge with the slowdown in world economy for the last few years, especially in the European and the American market. Our economy and tourism sector have not felt the pinch of this slowdown. We have about 750,000,000 domestic tourists, those who tour all over India. We have a vast population and big area. For example, those who live in the south want to see the north, and those who live in the east want to see the west. This is the big advantage. We have developed our tourism structure for the last few years keeping the international standard in mind. The quality of tourist destinations and quality of our people in terms of money has gone up. This attracts foreign tourists as well. Right now we are attracting only 0.6% in foreign tourists. Our target for the next three or four years is to take that up to 1% in terms of foreign tourists. This will be big achievement for earning foreign exchange and for this we have developed our infrastructure. We have expanded capacity building, and we have trained our youths to accept this challenge. For this we need an additional two lakh (200,000) rooms; both hotel and guesthouse. This may be in some high end range, or it may be budget or common accommodation. These are the challenges we are facing, and we are optimistic we will be able to do that.
What specific programs are in place to attract more international tourists to India?
AHMED: We have expanded our tourist destination in a quality way, in terms of infrastructure development, in terms of air connectivity, and in terms of our national highways road connectivity. We have also introduced mass tourism through our foreign media, our publicity, and our Incredible India campaign. The main thrust of our Incredible India campaign is attracting tourists from all over the globe. We are not keeping this campaign in one place.
We have about 750,000,000 domestic tourists, those who tour all over India...Right now we are attracting only 0.6% in foreign tourists. Our target for the next three or four years is to take that up to 1% in terms of foreign tourists.
What programs are in place to target the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) market?
AHMED: All over the world there are Indian immigrants and Indian expatriates. They themselves want to see their own country. Those who are from the south want to see the west. As mentioned, we have about 750,000,000 domestic tourists. This includes our immigrants and expatriates. This is our main asset, and there was slowdown in the world economy in 2009. However, we did not feel the pinch of that slowdown. During that period our tourism industry did well with domestic tourists.