I was recently visiting the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue at Kevadia and I was reminded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had compared the footfalls at the Statue of Unity (the name of the Patel statue) with the numbers visiting the Statue of Liberty off the coast of New York.
The 133-year-old Statue of Liberty gets around 10,000 visitors a day whereas less than a year - old Statue of Unity already brings in – seemingly in an endless convoy of buses, I saw – around 8,500 tourists. There is furious construction going on around the statue to build a series of cultural centres to keep visitors, especially the many children, engaged for what inevitably becomes a day-long visit as Kevadia is around two hours away from Baroda and it takes about twice that time to arrive via Ahmedabad. Sleepy Kevadia, it seemed, had been converted to a tourism destination of note.
This is, no doubt, part of the many transformations that have added to India swiftly jumping the ranks in a little-discussed list – the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. The index measures the factors that make a country better or worse as a place where tourism and travel investments could flow.
It is an index where India has been rapidly climbing the ranks in the last few years and moving from the 40th to the 34th position in the last one year. In the last four years, India has moved up by 18 positions on the index. In fact, in the last one year, India saw the biggest jump in its ranking on the index among the top 25% of all the countries listed in it.
The ranking is done on the basis of a host of parameters from the availability of natural and cultural resources to safety and hygiene, environmental sustainability and the state of the infrastructure.
The rapid construction of infrastructure no doubt has helped in India’s rise up the charts as has the building of destinations – for instance, the cleaning and revamp of the ghats in Benaras or the lighting of the banks of the Sarayu river in Ayodhya with millions of earthen lamps on Diwali have all contributed to a heightened sense of travel and tourism awareness within the country.
This is not only of cultural but also economic relevance – tourism has the potential to become one of the key grassroots employment providers in India. According to Invest India research, in the last four years tourism has created more than 14 million jobs. India now has the seventh largest tourism economy in the world with the ninth biggest source of cultural heritage that boosts travel potential. At the moment, foreign exchange earnings growth rate in India from tourism is a little more than 10%, and there is tremendous scope for growth as India has around 1.2% of the world tourism arrivals and 1.9% of the global tourism receipts.
This is set to grow with 100% foreign direct investment under the automatic route for investment in tourism and related infrastructure like the development of hotels, resorts and leisure facilities. In about a decade, 5.3% of employment in India is likely to come from tourism and the sector is likely to be bringing in nearly $51 billion a year. By 2030, India is set to become among the top five business travel destinations in the world.
This year Prime Minister Modi encouraged his country people to visit at least 15 domestic tourism destinations. People from around the world can’t be far behind.