Welcome to all the dignitaries present in this webinar. Today's new India is moving forward with a new work culture. This year’s budget has received a lot of applause and the people of the country have taken it very positively. Had the same old work culture continued, no one would have thought of such budget webinars. But today our government discusses in detail with every stakeholder before and after the presentation of the budget and endeavours to take them along. This webinar acts as a catalyst in getting the maximum outcome of the budget, the implementation of the budget proposals within the stipulated time frame and achieving the budget targets. You also know that I have had experience of more than 20 years while working as the Head of the Government. An essence of this experience is that when all the stakeholders are involved in a policy decision, then the desired result also comes within the time limit. We have seen that thousands of people joined us in the webinars that took place in the last few days. Everyone kept brainstorming throughout the day and I can say that very important suggestions came up for the future. Everybody focused on the budget and there were very good suggestions on how to move forward. Today we are holding this budget webinar for the transformation of the tourism sector of the country.
We have to think out of the box and consider long term planning to give a new height to the tourism sector in India. There are some important points to be considered while developing a tourist destination. What is the potential of that place? What is the infrastructural need there for ease of travel and how will it be accomplished? What other innovative methods can we adopt to promote the entire tourist destination? The answers to all these questions will help you a lot in planning the future roadmap. We have great potential for tourism in our country. Coastal tourism, beach tourism, mangrove tourism, Himalayan tourism, adventure tourism, wildlife tourism, eco-tourism, heritage tourism, spiritual tourism, wedding destinations, tourism through conferences, tourism through sports are many such areas which we can explore. You see, there are Ramayana Circuit, Buddha Circuit, Krishna Circuit, North East Circuit, Gandhi Circuit, etc. Then there is the tradition of our great Sikh Gurus and Punjab is dotted with their entire pilgrimage centres. We have to work together keeping all these in mind. Several tourist destinations in India have been identified through the route of competitive spirit and challenge in this year’s budget. This challenge will inspire every stakeholder to make concerted efforts. The budget has also focused on the holistic development of tourist destinations. There should be a detailed discussion on how we can engage different stakeholders in this regard.
When we talk about tourism, some people think that it is a fancy word and it represents only those people from the high income group of the society. But the scope of tourism is very wide and old in the context of India. Yatras have been undertaken in our country for centuries. It has been a part of our cultural-social life. And that too, when there were no resources and transport systems. But still people used to go on pilgrimages despite many challenges. Be it the Char Dham Yatra, the Dwadash Jyotirling Yatra, or the 51 Shaktipeeth Yatra, there were many such yatras that connected our places of faith. The yatras have also helped in strengthening the unity of the country. The entire economy of many big cities of the country depended on the yatras. Despite this age-old tradition of yatras, it is unfortunate that no attention was paid to enhance facilities in these places. The hundreds of years of slavery followed by the political neglect of these places in the decades after independence did a lot of damage to the country.
Now today's India is changing this situation. We have seen how the attraction among the tourists increases when the facilities for them are developed and there is a huge increase in the number of tourists. Around 70-80 lakh people used to visit Kashi Vishwanath Dham in Varanasi annually before it was rebuilt. After the reconstruction of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham, the number of people visiting Varanasi crossed 7 crores last year. Similarly, only 4-5 lakh people used to come to Kedarghati in a year before its reconstruction. But more than 15 lakh devotees visited Baba Kedar last year. I have an old experience of Gujarat which I would like to share with you. There is a pilgrimage center called Pavagadh near Baroda in Gujarat. Hardly two to five thousand people used to visit it when it was in a dilapidated condition and reconstruction work was not carried out. Now, on an average, around 80,000 people visit the Pavagadh Temple after it was renovated and infrastructure and other facilities were developed. In other words, the improvement in facilities had a direct bearing on the number of tourists and other tourism-related businesses also grew. And the increase in the number of tourists means more opportunities for employment and self-employment. I would also like to give you the example of the Statue of Unity, the tallest statue in the world. About 27 lakh people visited the statue within a year after it was built. This shows that India’s tourism sector can grow manifold if there are improved civic amenities, better digital connectivity, good hotels and hospitals with no trace of filth and excellent infrastructure.
While talking to you, I would also like to share something about Kankaria Lake in Ahmedabad. People would hardly visit it before the Kankaria Lake Project was taken up. Not only did we re-develop the lake, we also developed the skills of those working in food stalls. Along with modern infrastructure, we also laid a lot of emphasis on cleanliness there. Can you imagine that on an average 10,000 people visit there every day despite the entry fees? Similarly, every tourist destination can also develop its own revenue model.
This is the time when our villages are also becoming centers of tourism. Our remote villages are now coming on the map of tourism due to better infrastructure. The Central Government has started the Vibrant Border Village Scheme in the villages situated on the border. We all have to work together to support people engaged in businesses like home stay, small hotels or restaurants as much as possible.
Today I would like to tell you something in the context of foreign tourists visiting India. As the attraction towards India is increasing in the world, the number of foreign tourists visiting India is also on the rise. Only two lakh foreign tourists visited India in January last year. While more than eight lakh foreign tourists came to India in January this year. We will have to profile the tourists visiting India from abroad and determine our target group. The people living abroad have the capacity to spend more. Therefore, we need to develop a special strategy to attract them to India in maximum numbers. Such tourists may stay in India for a short period of time but they spend a lot of money. Today the foreign tourists who come to India spend an average of $1700, while international travellers spend an average of $2500 in America and around $5000 in Australia. India also has a lot to offer to high-spend tourists. Every state needs to change its tourism policy keeping this in mind. Now I will give you another example. It is generally said that the tourist who stays the most at any place is a bird watcher. These people camp in some country for months together. There are so many different species of birds in India. We have to make our policies by targeting such potential tourists as well.
Amidst all these efforts, you also have to work on a basic challenge of the tourism sector. We lack professional tourist guides in our country. There should be a certificate course in local colleges for guides and there should be competition on a regular basis. As a result, talented youth will come forward in this profession and we will get good multi-lingual tourist guides. Similarly, digital tourist guides are also available. It can also be done by using technology. The guides working in a particular tourist destination should also have a specific dress or uniform. It will help people identify the tourist guide at first sight. We also have to keep this in mind that a tourist visiting any place has several questions in his mind. He wants quick answers to his queries. In such a situation, the guide can help him.
I am sure you will seriously consider every aspect related to tourism during this webinar. You will come out with better solutions.
I would like to say one more thing. For example, every state makes efforts to develop one or two very good tourist destinations. How can we make a beginning? Almost every school organises trips for their students for about two or three days. So you can plan that initially 100 students will visit a particular destination every day. You can gradually increase this number to 200, 300 and finally 1000 per day. Those who come from different schools will naturally spend some money. The locals in that tourist destination will be enthused to set up shops or make arrangements for water etc. once they see such a large number of visitors. Everything will fall into place automatically. Now for example, all the states can make plans to organise trips to the North East where there are eight states. Every state can select eight universities for this purpose. Each of these eight universities should visit one North-Eastern state for about five or seven days. You will find that there are eight universities in your state whose students have complete knowledge about the eight states of the North East.
Similarly, nowadays, wedding destinations have become a major business. It has emerged as a major tourist destination. People go to foreign countries for weddings. Can’t we develop special packages as wedding destinations in our states? I think we should create such an environment in our country so that people of Gujarat can consider Tamil Nadu as a wedding destination and the marriage can be solemnised according to Tamil traditions. If there are two children in a family then they should decide to hold one marriage in Assamese tradition and the other in Punjabi tradition. Accordingly, wedding destinations can be planned there. Can you imagine the wedding destination having such a huge business potential? The high-end class people of our country visit abroad for marriages, but middle class and upper middle class people also prefer wedding destinations in India nowadays and when there is novelty, it becomes a memorable event in their life. We are not fully utilising this concept yet and have only a few select places for such wedding destinations. Similarly, there is a lot of potential in conferences. People from all over the world come here to attend conferences. We should develop such an infrastructure in public private partnership. When people come for conferences, they will stay in hotels and the hospitality industry will also grow. In a way, a complete eco-system will develop. Similarly, sports tourism is a very important area. You see, Qatar recently hosted the FIFA World Cup. Lakhs of people from all over the world visited Qatar to watch football matches which had a huge impact on the economy of Qatar. We can take small steps to start with. We will have to find these ways and develop infrastructure. People may not come initially but we can organise meetings of school and college students there to start with. Once we develop a destination, people will start coming there automatically and all the arrangements will fall into place gradually.
We should develop at least 50 tourist destinations in India in such a way that people from any part of the world should know about them so that they would consider visiting that place during their visit to India. Every state should be proud of the fact that people from so many countries of the world come there. They should target some countries of the world for inviting their tourists. We can send brochures to their embassies and list our destinations and the kind of help available for tourists. I also urge the tourist operators to think from a new perspective. We will have to modernise our apps and digital connectivity. There should be apps in all the languages of the UN and India regarding a particular tourist destination. It will not be useful if we develop websites only in English and Hindi languages. The signage in our tourist destinations should be written in all the languages. If an ordinary Tamil family visits any tourist place and finds signage there in Tamil language, it is very useful for him. These are small issues, but once we understand their importance, we can definitely take tourism forward in a scientific way.
I expect you to discuss in detail in today's webinar. As there are many employment opportunities in agriculture, real estate, infrastructure and textile, similarly there is a huge scope in the tourism sector. I wish you the very best for today's webinar. Thank you very much