It was only after the 1980’s that tourism activity gained momentum in India. The Government took several significant steps to achieve this end. A National Policy on tourism was announced in 1982. Later in 1988, the National Committee on Tourism formulated a comprehensive plan for achieving a sustainable growth in tourism. In 1992, a National Action Plan was prepared and in 1996 the National Strategy for Promotion of Tourism was drafted. In 1997, a draft new tourism policy in tune with the economic policies of the Government and the trends in tourism development was published for public debate. The draft policy is now under revision. The proposed policy recognizes the roles of Central and State governments, public sector undertakings and the private sector in the development of tourism.
Panchayati Raj institutions, local bodies, non-governmental organizations and the local youth have been involved in the development process. The other significant development that took place were the setting up of the India Tourism Development Corporation in 1966 to promote India as a tourist destination and the Tourism Finance Corporation in 1989 to finance tourism projects. Altogether, 21 Government-run Hotel Management and Catering Technology Institutes and 14 Food Craft Institutes were also established for imparting specialized training in hoteliering and catering.
India is renowned for its lavish and heartfelt treatment of all visitors, no matter which corner of the world they come from. This, coupled with its diverse traditions, varied lifestyles and cultural heritage and colorful fairs and festivals pose an irresistible attraction for the tourists. The other attractions include sensuous beaches, dense green forests and wild life and landscapes for eco-tourism, snow, river and mountain peaks for adventure tourism, technological parks and science museums for science tourism; centers of pilgrimage for spiritual tourism; heritage trains and hotels for heritage tourism. Yoga, Ayurveda and natural health resorts also attract tourists with the promise of rejuvenating their souls and bodies. The Indian handicrafts, particularly, jewelry, carpets, leather goods, ivory and brass hold international appeal. Surveys indicate that nearly forty per cent of the tourist expenditure on shopping is spent on such items.
In order to speed up the development of tourism in the country several thrust areas have been identified for accomplishment during the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002). The areas where there has been conspicuous development are infrastructure, products, trekking, winter sports, wildlife and beach resorts and streamlining of facilitation procedures at airports, human resource development and facilitating private sector participation in the growth of infrastructure.
Some of the recent initiatives taken by the Government to boost tourism include grant of export house status to the tourism sector and incentives for promoting private investment in the form of Income Tax exemptions, interest subsidy and reduced import duty. The hotel and tourism-related industry has been declared a high priority industry for foreign investment which entails automatic approval of direct investment up to 51 per cent of foreign equity and allowing 100 per cent non-resident Indian investment and simplifying rules regarding the grant of approval to travel agents, tour operators and tourist transport operators.
In a nutshell, Indian tourism has huge untapped potential for generating employment and ensuring a steady flow of foreign exchange besides giving a much-needed boost to the country’s overall economic and social development. There have been significant improvements in the spheres of increasing air seat capacity, trains and railway connectivity to important tourist destinations, four-laning of roads connecting important tourist centers. Accommodation facilities have been redefined for the convenience of the visitors. Right from luxury resorts to paying guest accommodations, there is something for everybody, to suit every pocket. Heritage hotels have been brought into the fold of the hotel industry as well.