September 17, 2018

Speaking at India Tourism Mart 2018, in New Delhi

For several years in the government build up a very good reputation as an upright action-oriented officer and is now setting, probably, one of the most ambitious goals that tourism has ever seen in India before a 100 billion target in 5 years, for which I compliment you Dr. Alphons. His Excellency, Mohammad Bhai, the Minister of Tourism from Morocco; Shri Navjot Singh Sidhuji, honourable Minister of Tourism from Punjab; Shri Surendran, honourable Minister from Kerala; the Secretary of the department of tourism, Mr Ashwini Vermaji, Mr Nakul Anand, President of ….; Subhash Goyalji, the Chairman of the organizing committee; other distinguished guests on the dais, off the dais; delegates who have flown in from different parts of the world; distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

It’s indeed a matter of pride for all of us that the Tourism Ministry has organized the first ever India Tourism Mart in Delhi today, and I compliment you Minister and the entire department and the hospitality industry today. You have also chosen a very important day for all of us, the honourable Prime Minister’s birthday today – 17th September. And on behalf of all of us present, I would like to convey my greetings to the Prime Minister and our best wishes for a long and health life in the service of the nation.

Of course, Prime Minister doesn’t celebrate his birthday, so today we are as a party, as a government, we are looking at serving society on his birthday through Seva Divas. We are going to have a ‘Service Day’ today, where all of us are going to look at different avenues of service – go to some hospital, go to some place on our cleanliness mission, go to an old-age home, orphanage – different forms of projects that all of us are taking up as Seva Divas today.

Prime Minister Modi personally is very passionate about tourism. He believes that tourism can change the destiny of India, and as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he did exemplary work to promote tourism – be it the beautiful Kutch coastline, be it the Gir Forest development, the developments at Dwarka. But in his vision of promoting tourism, the most important element that he lays a lot of stress upon is to prepare India, the fundamentals of the Indian society and the Indian infrastructure as an enabler to look at that kind of massive growth in tourism that Dr. Alphons has set for the nation.

I think unless the fundamentals are set right, we cannot compete with the kind of tourism that Italy, for instance, attracts or what France could attract. In fact, even China, even though it has emerged as a tourism destination only in the last 30-35 years has made rapid strides in tourism on the back of their infrastructure thrust. And towards that end, I have been quite fortunate to have been associated with 3 or 4 of the important areas, which I believe are very fundamental to the development of tourism in this country.

In my initial years as Power Minister, I was grappling with huge power shortages and the inability of the country to meet power, particularly in the remote areas of the country. And I am delighted that under Prime Minister Modi’s visionary leadership the nation has moved from an era of power shortages to power surpluses, and today we have one nation, one grid, which serves the entire country, so that at any point of time, no part of India will be deprived of power, will have any power shortage and tourists can be reassured about that.

In fact, Ms. Rashmi Verma’s brother was Power Secretary when I took office, and I think wonderful support that I had to make this vision happen, currently is the Cabinet Secretary and helping us steer the tourism and amongst other agendas of the government of India. But truly, I think getting electricity access through the length and breadth of the country was very important to give confidence and comfort to all our tourists, both domestic and international, that India is a safe country, you can come here and you will always have availability of electricity.

Another area in which I had an opportunity to serve was to address the problems of climate change. I think pollution is another area that we have to address; the world is concerned about it. I have had very good discussions with my counterparts on the energy side, also from Morocco in the past. And under Prime Minister’s leadership, I think India has clearly demonstrated to the world its leadership position in tackling climate change, in tackling the adverse effects of pollution.

I had the opportunity to head Renewable Energy Ministry, where we embarked upon the world’s largest scale-up of solar power and other renewable energies, with a ambition to scale-up solar power to 40x in about 6 years – 40 times, from 2500 MW to about a 100,000 MW by 2022, and taking the overall renewable energy capacity of the country to 175,000 MW by 2022, thereby contributing to clean energy providing that electricity which the whole country today needs.

I also am happy to be a part of the connectivity mission that this government has fast tracked in the last four years. As Minister of Railways, I am supporting the effort to connect remotest corners and parts of India with efficient transport modes, along with airlines, along with the roadways, along with the shipping routes that my colleague and senior Minister, Shri Nitin Gadkariji is promoting.

In fact, we now are looking at cruise liners coming to India in a big way. And we are hoping to become a destination also for transient modes of transport like cruise liners, or come into the international circuits of tourism, so that India becomes also a preferred choice for international tourists, along with providing for the large amount of potential that the domestic tourism provides to the country.

In the railways, I remember travelling on the luxury train, the Orient Express, it was called or similar to the Palace on Wheels, during the millennium weekend, I think 28th or 29th of December, 1999 to the 3rd of January 2000, I had an opportunity to spend a week on the Palace of Wheels equivalent to Orient Express about 18 years ago. And truly a delightful journey that was covering about 7 cities, through Gujarat, through Rajasthan, and I believe such initiatives need to be promoted in much bigger way. And very recently, we have significantly reduced the pricing of these luxury trains to encourage more and more tourists to travel on these trains and explore the beauty of Gujarat, to explore the beauty of Rajasthan.

We have a Deccan Odyssey, which is working in areas in Maharashtra. So, newer and newer opportunities are available. I would urge all of you to crowd-source ideas and help us with newer initiatives, which can help us truly take forward this ambitious and very aspirational target that Minister Alphons has set today and ensure that we meet that target. But amongst all of these various infrastructure initiatives, to my mind, the most important element, which will help promote tourism in a big way is the cleanliness drive that this government has embarked on, the Swachhta Abhiyan.

No country can attract international tourists unless the tourist feels that the country is clean, the country is neat and one can comfortably go around the country without heaps of garbage, without heaps of muck all around us. And I think Prime Minister Modi recognizes that for a country to truly emerge as a global superpower and as a global destination for tourism, we will need to have a clean India. And towards that end in the last four years, we have been focusing on making the entire country aware about the importance of cleanliness, and day before yesterday on the 15th September, we have launched a 15-day Swachhta Pakhwada, a fortnight where all of us, in and out of government, every non-government NGO, different organisations across the country are all collectively working towards making the awareness amongst school children, amongst other stakeholders about the importance of cleanliness.

We are all participating in it in mission mode as our humble tribute to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who had focused on cleanliness so much so that he had said cleanliness is above godliness. It’s more important to focus on cleanliness than even offering your prayers to god, and to that end, I think this focus on cleanliness that we have embarked upon over the last 4 years is certainly going to be one of the defining features to promote tourism in a big way in India.

Dr. Alphons also spoke about the number of jobs that have been created through the efforts of this government in the last four years. And very clearly, I think all of us in this industry recognize that you can create the maximum number of jobs for every dollar that is invested in this industry. And I am sure that with the collective efforts that all of you are putting in, with the enthusiasm that we can see at the celebrations in and around India Gate, the large participation in this India Tourism Mart, I am very confident that this will become the driver of newer and newer opportunities, newer and newer working opportunities for the youth of India, for the people of India, not always necessarily in the form of a formal job, but collectively, as opportunities to become entrepreneurs, as opportunities to become service providers.

And these opportunities are endless. I think a simple thing like translating into different languages, interpreters – you would probably in the country have an opportunity for maybe a million people, just if we could provide good interpretation facilities at different tourism interest spots. Looking at the profile of tourists that come into India, if we can focus along with the Ministry of Skill Development in preparing the youth, preparing youngsters to know different languages – my own sense is Japanese, Italian, French, even English in many places.

And then, the regional language connect, if we could for example in Himachal Pradesh have people who translate into Telugu, have people who translate into Malayalam and be available for tourists in Himachal Pradesh coming from these states, I am sure we would be able to promote domestic tourism in a big way. Because a person feels very comfortable when he is spoken to, where he has somebody who assists him in his local language, which he understands well.

I remember at a recent programme, in fact, Prime Minister Modi spoke about it in a recent cabinet meeting how he had in a programme given an idea, which came to his mind just off the cuff, came to his mind while addressing an audience like today. And it will show you the incisive thinking that Prime Minister Modi has when it comes to promoting tourism. He has asked the Ministry of External Affairs and they are already working on it. I think the Tourism Ministry may also be involved in that project, and if not, I would urge Rashmiji to talk to a counterpart.

He suggested that everywhere you may not be able to provide interpreters or people who can translate into different languages, why don’t we create a simple app. And most tourists today would have a smart phone with them, which they can download this app, and an app which provides in different languages a translation for maybe a 100 commonly used sentences.

Suppose a French tourist in Punjab needs medical help, needs a doctor, needs to go to the hospital. Maybe, if he knows English he may be able to get by, given that we have a very high English-speaking population in India, but suppose he wants to convey to the local person, maybe in the hotel where he is staying or a local taxi driver that he wants to go to a hospital or meet a doctor, but he is talking in French. The person who is being asked doesn’t know French, how does he convey that? And if a small app can be made with a 100 commonly used sentences, and along with the translation, or along with the language or the diction with which you can use it, you could also probably record in different languages.

So the French person scrolls down and finds the place where he can say that I want to go to a hospital and then chooses the language looking at the state where he is. He will find Punjabi or maybe Hindi and the words will come out as a recording from the app that मुझे नज़दीक के अस्पताल में जाना है या Navjotji would put it better, कि मैनू नज़दीक दे अस्पताल पहुंचा दो| I hope I am okay.

Now, it sounds very simple. But it can be an excellent aid for an international tourist, which he may download even before he starts the journey so he has that comfort and the confidence that I will be able to get by for my immediate and day-to-day needs.

We have different potential for international tourists, but one thing I would like to flag off today is that a little more focus needs to be done on providing facilities and attracting high spending and high quality tourists to India, when it comes to international tourists. I think the profile of international tourists coming to India needs to be studied a little bit more in detail, so we can attract the high-spending tourists and probably see how we can leverage the beautiful beaches of Gujarat and Goa or Kerala, how we can leverage the mountains that we have.

I mean, literally, this is probably one of those rare countries where you have the sun and snow 365 days in a year, but we yet have to leverage that and provide facilities which can attract high-spending tourists and maybe wean them away from some of the usual destinations which everybody goes year on year, and possibly is tired of going year on year and is looking for newer opportunities. So I think it may be interesting to look at that.

On the domestic tourism side, I think we have huge amount of potential for religious tourism. We have huge potential for vacation tourism, for sports tourism. And it may be a good idea if we can, along with the states and the central government, we can work at handholding newer initiatives coming up in the country. So if you have international company or even a domestic company wanting to set up rafting facility, for example. Can we ensure that he doesn’t have to go to 20 places to get all the licenses and permissions and can we facilitate maybe through a transparent, competitive process, attract people from all over the world to come and invest in creating infrastructure, which can help provide more avenues for tourists, which can help keep tourists for longer duration in India.

Very often, we find the tourists come to even a city like Mumbai or Delhi go to the four or five known places and then don’t know what to do. But I wonder whether the Birla Mandir, which I don’t think is anywhere in our tourism maps, would not be a beautiful place for a tourist, both domestic or international, to go and visit. While certainly, we would like all our tourists to go the Red Fort, to go to the Humayun’s Tomb, to go to the Qutub Minar. But there are so many hidden jewels in the country, in the city, and all over the country, which yet need to be explored where some small infrastructure interventions, good toilet facilities, for example, tourist assistance mart or a small kiosk could just become a way to attract tourists over there.

And given the large network of roads, highways, railways, now through the UDAN scheme remote connectivity through airways, cruise terminals being set up, with all of these things coming into play, I personally believe that we can really look at having an exponential growth, which Minister Alphons just mentioned, truly come to India, provide opportunities for the world to see India, to understand what we mean when we say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, when we say the world is one family, what we mean by that, what our culture, heritage, our tradition holds for the people from across the world, what truly is Atithi Devo Bhava, when we say that our guest is like god coming to our house.

Let us provide that enabling environment, let us prepare India to invite tourists from all across the globe with this spirit of Atithi Devo Bhava. Let them all go back feeling that we have truly experienced an enchanting journey to India, we have truly felt like we have been welcome like the gods in India. And I think no better leader than Prime Minister Modi to lead India in this mission and no better support soldier or committed and enthusiastic Minister than Mr Alphons to make this happen. My best wishes to you, to your team. I am confident that collectively all of you in this federation, all of you associated with the tourism industry will work as a team, will work to make this happen and will truly empower every state, every city, the remotest parts of India to become the change agent, to make tourism the premium industry in India, to make India the preferred destination of tourists from around the world and attract people from across the globe, give them whatever they desire.

Somebody wants heritage, he gets heritage; somebody wants religion, he gets religion; somebody wants the sun or the snow or the rain, he can go to Cherrapunji and experience rain like never before. Everything that a tourist wants is available in India. Let us become the enablers to make this happen. My best wishes to this exposition and my best wishes to the Paryatan Parv that you are celebrating today.

Thank you.

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