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Published on: Aug. 12, 2022, 10:21 a.m.
India: Incredible and how
  • Then and now: Launched by the Tatas, the Air India has gone back to the Tatas

By Suman Tarafdar

The land of the Taj. Of Himalayas. Of fabled palaces, mighty forts and magical backwaters. Of a vast, myriad range of monuments and festivals. And a dazzling array of cuisines. Where unique wellness concepts are on offer. Even by just scratching the surface, it is – and has been – evident to the world for a while that India has immense potential to attract tourists.

As the nation marks its 75th anniversary of independence, a significant way of expressing it has been through initiatives in travel and tourism. However, arguably, the real story in India’s tourism and the related spaces of travel and hospitality has come from the private sector, which in recent years has grown manifold.

Indeed, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism generated Rs16.91 lakh crore ($210 billion) – 9.2 per cent of India’s GDP in 2018 – and supported 42.673 million jobs (8.1 per cent of its total employment). The sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 6.9 per cent to Rs32.05 lakh crore ($400 billion) by 2028 (9.9 per cent of GDP).

Covid-induced lockdowns may have put a temporary spanner in the sector’s growth, but the challenging period – covering most of 2020 and 2021 – also indicated an appetite for Indians to spend on travel. Not just for work, but also pleasure.

The previous years have seen enormous strides in tourism in the country. From just a trickle of tourists visiting in the early years post-independence to over 10 million annually since 2017 – 2020 and 2021 have been aberrations – there has been a manifold growth in the number of inbound tourists. Just as significantly, Indians have started travelling in unprecedented numbers domestically, both for work and pleasure.

In certain destinations and states, tourism is the top or a significant contributor and employer already. Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan stand out as states that have become associated with tourism so much so that their brands benefit from the association. Many other states are striving hard. Notably, once India’s top destination, Kashmir, plagued by political upheaval, has been adversely affected.

The Indian tourism sector has also grown in complexity. Once, the volumes came from pilgrim/ religious tourism and visiting relatives which, while adding numbers, were not such a significant contributor economically. As India modernised from the early 1990s, increased disposable incomes, greater connectivity, easing of travel rules and awareness of global travel trends have led to an unleashing of the travel genie amongst the well-heeled Indians, as evidenced starkly when Covid restrictions on travel were lifted.

Beyond the traditional tours, today many specialised segments have emerged, many of them high value indeed. These include MICE, especially incentive tourism, wedding tourism, leisure holidays, adventure tourism, wellness tourism, ecotourism, food and wine tourism, glamping, bleisure trips and many more. Of course, Indians are also crossing borders as never before, leading to global tourism bodies to offer inducements to Indians.

  • Mumbai's CST and BMC headquarters offer a historical perspective of the city

Challenges do remain, and India, despite its acknowledged potential, is still not globally at par with the top tourist destinations, whether in desirability, number of visitors, average visitor spends or even tourism infrastructure. Successive governments, both at the federal and state levels, have made attempts to lure tourists, but global comparisons are still not favourable.

Most of the segments of this space, such as travel and hospitality, still do not have industry status, denying them access to capital. The lack of training institutes and right skilling for the sector has often meant a lack of adequately trained personnel and also those who have little loyalty to the sector, shifting if opportunities in other sectors were better.

Covid and the resultant lock-downs have dealt a considerable blow to the sector, and indeed the sector saw many closures and job losses. Indeed, as India keeps transforming to a more modern economy, it is estimated that both the share of the sector in the nation’s GDP and percentage of people it employs will only grow.

Huge strides have nevertheless been made. Travel infrastructure has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with better roads and modern airports catering to ever rising volumes of travellers.

Railways has been slower to change, but now looks set for makeovers, some incremental, others path-breaking. Civil aviation, with the advent of private airlines has been revolutionary in the way Indians travel. Policies permitting greater investment, especially from the private sector have been crucial in this regard.

Hospitality has covered the wide chasm that existed between luxury outposts in metros catering largely to the foreign guest and often seedy establishments in inner towns. Today, almost all major global chains are present in India and expanding fast. India is now estimated to have about 144,000 branded hotel rooms and, while this might be about the same as single cities such as Bangkok or Las Vegas, it is a huge increment when compared to just a decade ago.

Also, the pipeline of expansion is considerable. The restaurant sector has also grown rapidly, and despite a rapid turnover rate, is still one of the most vibrant sectors of the Indian economy.

India’s soft power, expressed in myriad ways – from yoga to cinema, food and even the smiles of its regular citizens – mean the land holds considerable allure. Concerted, sustained effort in the right direction should help India take its place as a tourism superpower. Or super destination!

  • Hawa Mahal, Jaipur: luring tourists always


1840 First modern hotel, Great Eastern, opened in Calcutta, now Kolkata.

 1853 India’s first passenger operated by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway between Bombay, now Mumbai and Thane.

 1863 Summer capital of the British Raj moved to Shimla, beginning the trend of hill stations.

 1873 A horse-drawn tram service opened in Calcutta between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street.

 1903 First Taj hotel opened in Bombay.

• The ‘toy train’ of Shimla began operations.

1908 Taj Mahal restoration work completed, garden remodelled with European-style lawns that are still in place.  

1920 Electric signal lighting for railways introduced between Currey Road and Dadar in Bombay.

 1928 India’s first civil aviation airport founded at Juhu

1934 First Oberoi hotels open in Delhi and Shimla.

 1936 Jim Corbett National Park opens as the first national park in India

 1946 Tata Airlines became a public limited company under the name Air India.

 1948 Tourist Traffic Committee, an ad-hoc body, set up to suggest ways and means to promote tourism in India.

• Air India’s first international flight when on 8 June 1948, a Lockheed Constellation L-749A named Malabar Princess flew from Bombay for London.

 1949 Tourist traffic branch was set up, with regional offices in Delhi and Mumbai, and in 1951, in Kolkata and Chennai.

1950 Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), electric locomotive manufacturer began.

 1951 The organisation of Indian railways into regional zones began when the Southern, Central and Western zones were created. Fans and lights were mandated for all compartments in all passenger classes, and sleeping accommodations were introduced in coaches.

1953 Government of India purchased a majority stake in the carrier from Tata Sons though its founder J.R.D. Tata would continue as Chairman till 1977.

1954 First Institute of Hotel Management opened in Mumbai.

1955 Integral Coach Factory (ICF), manufacturer of rail coaches began in Perambur.

1956 First fully air-conditioned train, Rajdhani Express was introduced between Howrah and Delhi.

• Fares of railway passengers were standardised at 30 paise, 16 paise, 9 paise, and 5 paise per mile for 1st, 2nd, Inter, and 3rd class, respectively.

1958 A separate department of tourism under the government was first, part of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

1961 Government constituted a committee to find reasons for falling tourism that year. The committee attributed it to the Chinese aggression in the backdrop of the Sino-Indian War. As per the committee’s recommendations, visa norms were liberalised.

1965 India gets its first minister of tourism, Raj Bahadur.

Intercontinental, now IHG, becomes the first international hotel chain to open a hotel in India with Oberoi Intercontinental, Delhi.

 1966 India Tourism Development Corporation was established as an agency of the Department of Tourism.

  • An eternal attraction: moon-blanched beaches of Goa

1972 Wildlife (Protection) Act passed, which provided for the safeguard and protection of the wildlife (flora and fauna) in the country.

1973 Project Tiger is a tiger conservation programme launched by the government of India

1982 A National Policy on tourism was announced.

1983 First Indian sites on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in India – Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Agra Fort, and Taj Mahal.

1984 First metro line opened connecting Esplanade to Bhowanipur in Calcutta.

1986 Planning Commission set up the National Committee on Tourism to prepare perspective plan for tourism sector headed by Mohammed Yunus.

Kerala Tourism subsequently adopted the tagline God’s Own Country.   

1987 Yunus report recommended that the existing Department of Tourism would be replaced by a National Tourism Board.

• Tourism Development Finance Corporation was set up

1988 National Committee on Tourism made to achieve sustainable growth.

• First Shatabdi Express was introduced between Delhi and Jhansi.

1991 Government de-regularises the civil aviation sector; East-West Airlines is the first national-level private airline to operate in the country.

1992 National Action plan for Tourism was announced.

 1993  Existing Export Promotion of Capital Goods Scheme (EPCG) extended to tourism and related services.

• Jet Airways began operations.  

1994 Air Corporation Act was repealed and private airlines could now operate scheduled services. • Private airlines like Air Sahara, Modiluft, Damania Airways and NEPC Airlines among others commenced domestic operations

• Cochin International Airport is the first public–private partnership airport, owned by a public limited company called Cochin International Airport Limited, CIAL.

1996 Air India Regional was established as Alliance Air.

  • A majestic view of the mighty Himalayas

1997 New Tourism Policy announced, demarcating the roles of Central and state governments, public sector and private sector undertakings in the development of tourism.

1998 On 25 January, the first Indian Tourism Day was marked.

2002 Incredible India, an international tourism campaign, launched by government to promote tourism in India.

• National Tourism Policy announced, to position tourism as a major driver of economic growth.

2004 Air India launched a wholly owned low cost subsidiary, 

Air-India Express.

2006 Indigo airlines started operations, first flight from Delhi to Imphal via Guwahati.  

 2007 Atithi devo bhavah programme announced to complement the Incredible India Campaign; main aim to create awareness about the effect of tourism and sensitise people about our country’s rich heritage, culture, cleanliness and hospitality.

• Air India and Indian Airlines were merged under Air India Limited

• Air Sahara and Air Deccan were acquired by Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines respectively.

2009 Visit India 2009 campaign launched to boost the inflow of visitors and tourists after the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 as well as global economic crises.

2012 A study commissioned by the Corporate Affairs Ministry recommended that Air India should be partly privatised

Kingfisher Airlines shut down.

  • Kerala offers backwaters and fresh air

2014 Government implemented a new visa policy, allowing tourists and business visitors to obtain a ‘visa on arrival’ at 28 international airports.

• Air India became the 27th member of the Star Alliance, first Indian airline to be part of a global alliance.

• Tata Sons launches AirAsia India, a low-cost carrier operating as a joint venture with Air Asia and Vistara, full service carrier as a joint venture with Singapore Airlines.

2016 Government of India launched Udan-RCS scheme, which increased number of operational airports from 49 to 70 within first round.

2017 India registers more than 10 million arrivals for the first time.

• Mumbai Port Trust upgraded to be a cruise terminal.

2019 Ministry of Civil Aviation released a report – Vision 2040. The report predicts that air passenger traffic will increase six-fold to 1.1 billion by 2040 including 821 million domestic and 303 million international passengers.

• Indigo became the first Indian airline to operate 1,500 daily flights and to have a fleet size of more than 250 aircraft.

2021 Air India, along with its low-cost carrier Air India Express and 50% of AISATS, a ground handling company, were sold to Tata Sons.

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