Dear Mr. Modi,
At the outset, I’d like to convey my warmest wishes on your birthday. May you have an amazing year ahead. You are a great leader and we wish you the very best in your endeavors. I’m sure you have your plate full of friends, aides, well-wishers calling upon you today, so may be you could take a day off and throw a little bash. I’d love to attend
But then what would I bring as a gift? As an ordinary citizen, I am a little unsure on what would be an ideal gift for the premier of this country. So I took a leaf out of your book. If your campaign (Chai pe Charcha) and outreach program (Mann ki Baat) are anything to go by, you love a discourse as much as the next Indian.
Having a chat in person would have been ideal but this open letter should do for now. And since this happens to be a day for celebration, I’d like to talk about a sector that is synonymous with celebration of our culture and ethos and yet is often relegated to the background, as issues of graver importance take center-stage: Travel and Tourism.
One of the first things you did after taking office, was to launch a cleanliness drive across the nation with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It saw everyday people taking up brooms to clean up their surroundings. And quite recently you asked us citizens to share beautiful pictures of India and we flooded the internet with it. Both were great measures but somehow a lot was left wanting. Having been fortunate to be born in this country, we owe it to ourselves and our future generations to leave it in a better state.
I work for a travel start-up called Holidify which is a holiday discovery platform and we are doing our bit to improve tourism in our beloved nation. During the course of our work we have come to acknowledge some key problems that need quick and effective solution. These solutions, due to their scale of implementation, must entail active participation of the government machinery.
1. The Himalayas
The Himalayan region lacks infrastructure and Eco Tourism as a concept is virtually non existent. At the same time the mountains are straining under the weight of human influx, gross mismanagement and general apathy. The bounty which quenches the northern plains is facing problems of water shortage. Littering, noise and air pollution, timber mafia is slowly turning these mountains into a sad reminder of our cities. Installation of dustbins, better rule enforcement, more awareness and regulations, toll roads can go a long way in preserving the Himalayas.
2. The North East
The North East is so amazingly beautiful and a basket case for tourism development. Yet it is plagued with it’s own set of myriad problems the most persistent being the lack of infrastructure and awareness. Accessibility is a major concern, with convoluted trip routes. The Central Govt. is often accused of having a myopic view on these states.
These beautiful places fail to register in the mainstream national consciousness. There are no Bollywood panoramic shot of the Dzouko Valley or the Living Root bridge. Maybe we could incentivize it for the film industry. Most travellers are unaware of the plethora of tourist spots that will make entire nations pale in comparison.
India is blessed with a coastline of 7500 km and yet we have very few beaches or coastal towns with well developed tourism. Goa stands out as an exception when it should have been a norm. A lot of coastal places with great potential are languishing in the dark, waiting for their day in the Sun.
4. Inland Waterways
India has a great network of rivers and water-bodies criss-crossing its landmass and a lot of them remain under-developed in terms of tourism, particularly river cruises. The only activity happening on the riverbanks right now are religious in nature and they too end up putting a strain on the river ecosystem.
5. Foreign Tourists
Foreign tourists coming to India often have to go through a lot. Extending Visa on Arrival to more countries would be a great move. We could remove bureaucratic road-blocks and make their stay a lot more enjoyable by addressing their safety concerns. Safety concerns are true for women and solo travellers as well and it makes sense to prioritize it in places with great tourist influx. Maybe constituting a different division of the law enforcement agencies that focuses only on tourist safety. We need to build trust and confidence in the international travel community.
6. Train tickets
Closer home, something as simple as booking a train ticket is a major hassle with an entire sub-industry of touts flourishing on the loopholes. It makes us doubt if the concerns of the normal citizens are actually paramount while implementing measures. The time-window for reservation has been fiddled with for the umpteenth time when what is actually required is a structural change in the entire set-up.
7. Places to Stay
While there has been 12% annual growth in tourism, the accommodation and hospitality sector has not caught up, thereby deepening the divide between demand and supply. As this article points out, in the luxury category, the New York Metropolitan region alone has about as many hotel rooms as all of India. We have a scarcity of decent places to stay especially in the budget range (1,2,3-star). The government needs to step in and build facilities at a quick pace.
8. Public Amenities
A recent video doing the rounds on the internet compares public loos around the world and suffice it to say that the Indian part makes us flinch. Public Amenities especially near tourist spots should be kept clean and functional and given utmost importance.
The list could go on for long and probably turn into a rant. But my objective here is to have a dialogue. A lot of these problems have simple solutions and just requires the correct direction and political will. I hope that one day “Atithi Devo Bhavah” is not just an empty adage but a reality where every tourist feels like divinity in this miracle that is our motherland.
On that note, Sir, a very happy birthday to you once again!