Tourism represents over 10% of the global GDP, it is the second‐fastest-growing industry in attracting FDI, and the second‐largest job creator, thus making it an important segment not only for India’s economy but also the global economy. The tourism industry rests quite highly on the service providers available. The diversity and size of this great country tends to lead to the popping up of small organisations pan-India, particularly in the lesser-known/explored pockets of the country such as Ladakh.
The industry of tourism service providers dates back to the 1840s when Englishman Thomas Cook decided to organize a trip within the United Kingdom for his friends. The success of this journey prompted him to open the Thomas Cook Travel Agency in 1845 through which he wanted to help people not only reach their destinations but also gain a valuable experience from their visit. Over the years in addition to developing his own agency, Cook also set a standard that led to the establishment of the tourism service industry as it stands today.
Today, the services provided are vast including but not limited to – organizing activities (for both individuals and groups), making bookings, planning a long journey from start to finish, tourist guides, and in some cases, an agency may provide them all.
As important as service providers might be, the quality of services provided by them is equally important to customers. To this extent, the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) is working on creating an online database of all available service providers. Service providers pan-India will be able to register themselves on this website and will gain benefits not just of monetary value but will also get exposure and recognition by affiliating themselves with the ministry.
The current databases provided by the MoT are called the NIDHI (National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry) and SAATHI (System for Assessment, Awareness & Training for Hospitality Industry) portals.
The NIDHI portal provides various services and schemes which showcase and promote registered service providers on Incredible India, helps ease the process for project approvals, and creates opportunities to participate in events and conferences for capacity building, industry best practices, and skill-building. Further, the portal captures state-wise information of registered, unregistered, unclassified, and classified accommodation units, while providing a star ranking system for the same.
SAATHI was started in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to ensure preparedness and continuation of services while mitigating the risks that arose from the pandemic. It allows the stakeholder/service provider to self-certify procedures and safety measures being used by them to help attain maximum customers during this period. This portal further provides training and skill set development to best handle/attract customers during this global pandemic.
The eventual goal of this new voluntary database is to have a one-stop-shop for the consumers wherein they will be able to search for the different types of service providers, write reviews, and make online bookings. The database is an important step towards digitizing the tourism industry of India in today’s smart world.
The feedback given through the database can help both the Ministry and the service providers launch targeted marketing campaigns as well as help them realise areas that require development. Businesses will thus be able to enhance their business models and adopt digital technologies to effectively participate in the global value ecosystem.
According to the World Bank, the increasing availability and usage of digital tools have had a noticeable impact on tourism. The trend of travelers planning their trips relying on online travel agencies (OTAs), user‐generated content (UGC) and other digital tools is increasing at an extremely swift pace.
“Digital platforms allow users to rate the quality of a given good or service, attest to the veracity of the information provided by the seller, provide feedback to the seller, or comments that help other consumers make decisions. Such information helps verify whether or not a given seller is to be trusted and hence build trust on the reliability of the service or good being bought —as well as on the reliability of the digital platform itself. The World Bank (2018) argues that so‐called user‐generated content (UGC) is fast becoming the main source of tourism information, disrupting traditional travel planning resources”.
Thus, in the long-term, the information and statistics available on this new database could provide meaningful insights for the formulation of policies on tourism. This shall help the sector remain competitive by taking advantage of innovation, and potential value creation.