‘Traditionally, Rajasthan was promoted through films. If you go as far back as Sonar Kella (Satyajit Ray, 1974), because of that we had lots of Bengali tourists arriving in the state.’
COVID-19 severely hit Tourism and Hotel & Hospitality Sector business and the sector came to a standstill. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism was one of the most important sectors in the world economy contributing to nearly 10 percent of global GDP and providing employment to over 320 million people worldwide. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated a loss of $4 trillion to global GDP because of the losses incurred in the tourism sector. India’s tourism also suffered great losses but with vaccination rollouts and easing of travel restrictions, India’s tourism industry is looking to regain its past glory. Infact the domestic tourism has surpassed 2019 levels. India’s rising middle class and increasing disposable income has supported the growth of domestic and outbound tourism. By 2028, the Indian tourism and hospitality industry is expected to earn 50.9 billion dollars as compared with 28.9 billion dollar in 2018. Rajasthan is India’s leading tourist destination. As part of the Delhi-Jaipur-Agra golden triangle, it is considered one of the must see destinations for foreign tourists. Tourism and travel accounts for about 15% of the economy of Rajasthan. Rajasthan contributes about 11.2 per cent and 3.3 per cent share in India’s foreign and domestic tourist arrivals respectively. The Rajasthan government is taking multiple initiatives to boost the Covid-hit tourism industry in Rajasthan. FinancialExpress.com caught up with Gayatri Rathore, Principal Secretary Tourism, Government of Rajasthan to talk about her views on the tourism industry with special focus on Rajasthan. Excerpts:
According to recent estimates around 21.5 Million people involved in the tourism industry have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. What are your plans to revive the sentiments of people associated with the sector in Rajasthan?
Traditionally, Rajasthan has been a tourism-focussed state. The pandemic did hit the economy, especially the tourism sector very hard during the first round of lockdowns when everything was shut. That quarter and the subsequent months before the vaccination drive were very difficult. We all acknowledge that tourism had been the worst affected sector by the pandemic. By rolling out vaccines and taking some safety measures, Rajasthan tried to again get its tourism back on track. But again, the second wave was very deadly. Though there were no complete lockdowns, people were reluctant to step out of their houses. Fortunately, since last August, there has been a positive environment and people have been coming forward as travel opened after almost two years.
The Rajasthan government made use of this opportunity and took it because as a challenge, every problem there is an opportunity to put our tourism back on track. We had a series of consultations with all our stakeholders — the tour operators, the hotel associations, event organisers, wedding planners, and we tried to understand what they actually wanted. Keeping their expectations in mind and keeping the demand of the tourists in mind, we tried to find out ways how we could give them a supporting environment.
We took a consultative, participative approach. Firstly, we provided immediate relief to our hoteliers and tour operators in the form of reimbursement of their SGST, which was due. We waived the tax on motor vehicles, reduced bar licences, and provided ease of doing business by having a single-window system for approving new tourism units. Very recently, the government earmarked almost Rs 1,000 crores for branding and marketing of tourism and also for developing infrastructure facilities. That has created a lot of positivity, a lot of buoyancy in the tourism sector.
Since March, we have started a marketing strategy on a very big scale and we can see that the number of tourists has actually surpassed the pre-pandemic times. The numbers of domestic tourists that we are getting now is at par or above the 2019 and 2018 levels, Even in May- June, which is not part of the tourist season in Rajasthan, we have a steady influx of tourists. There is an increase of almost 21% in the domestic tourists visiting Rajasthan. Now, with the relaxation in international flights, we are getting inbound international tourists as well. We hope that if things remain good then during our tourist season from October onwards, we will have a handsome number of foreign tourists as well, bringing back the travel economy and the tourism sector back on track in the state.
Watch – Rajasthan Tourism’s new initiatives to attract more tourists in the state
It will take some major confidence boost for investors to put their money in the travel sector. How are you planning to attract investment in Rajasthan through upcoming Roadshows?
This is very important because besides promoting Rajasthan as a tourism destination we are also promoting it as a destination for investment in tourism. Keeping the emerging trends in mind, people do want to travel, do want to experience and do want to have varied experiences and we are also targeting repeat tourists. There is a wide variety of tourists, from luxury tourists to adventure tourists or those who are coming for pilgrimage, workations, medical and wellness tourism, there are millennial tourists who just want to go and explore experiential tourism. We are trying to offer a bouquet of services to the potential investors. It is not just the hotel or a resort that you can put up but you can pick and choose among the variety of options that we are offering. We have started the guest house scheme – if someone wants to put up a small budget hotel having 6 to 15 or 20 rooms, they can avail a lot of benefits from the government. We have also initiated the paying guest-house scheme. It is a kind of bed and breakfast scheme. If you invest in a smaller property and offer the bed and breakfast services, you can tie up with chains like Oyo, AirBnB and offer your property for that.
For the bigger properties, we are giving better incentives under our Rajasthan Industrial Promotion Scheme (RIPS) where we have declared tourism as a thrust sector and if you are investing more than Rs 5 crore we are giving the capital subsidy of Rs 25 lakhs or interest subsidy of 5% for 5 years. Under RIPS, we are giving exemptions in conversion charges, in the stamp duty charges, and there is a customised package for reimbursement of SGST and other taxes due to the government.
In addition to this, we have our focus on offbeat areas as well. We are also operating experiential tourism. If someone wants to come, experience the rural life, see how the cattle rearers live, how they work, we are promoting that also. Someone can come and invest there. We are promoting Jhalawar as an orange country. Jhalawar has bumper orange production, so if someone wants to see how the fruit harvests there, how the fruits are plucked, how they are packed and marketed, one can come and stay in those orchards and experience the same.
There are a variety of options that we are offering to the investors. We have also opened up adventure tourism. We have a lot of water bodies, we have mountains, and eco trails. If someone wants to come and set up paragliding, parasailing, seaplanes, river cruise they can come and invest. We are approaching investors through roadshows, webinars and personal meetings. The Rajasthan Domestic Travel Mart will be organised in July. We will be calling all the stakeholders, sellers and buyers and offering them to the investors.
Tourism and Hospitality are now in the industry category as announced in the Budget 2022 -2023 by the Chief Minister, Rajasthan. Tell us how it will help the sector.
This had been a long pending demand of the tourism sector because in 1989 there was a notification that tourism would be considered as an industry. But the actual benefits were never rolled out. So, the honourable chief minister had been not only kind but he actually grasped the pulse, the requirement of the tourism sector and declared tourism as an industry and now all the benefits of the industry will be extended to the tourism units. These benefits are in the form of tariffs for the electricity – till now they were being made to tariffs pay on commercial rates and now all the units which are existing and the prospective ones, they will be paying on industrial rates. So, there is a big gap between the two. Then on the land tax, the land building tax, the urban development tax, the industrial rates will be applicable not the commercial rates. For stamp duty and registration as well, industrial rates will be applicable. If someone has a plot in RIICO, they will also benefit from this scheme.
This one initiative, one announcement has brought in a lot of positivity and the entire tourism and hospitality sector is very buoyant about it because this will give them a lot of support and more investment will come in and we will be able to offer better quality of services to our tourists.
The recovery in tourism is largely driven by domestic tourism so far. How are you planning to tap into Rajasthan’s domestic tourism potential?
In the pre-pandemic time, we almost had a balance of domestic and international tourists. This travel season, we are expecting international tourist arrivals but considerably not in those numbers. We are focusing on our domestic tourists. With the roadshows that we are planning, we are trying to go to prominent cities, have one-to-one meetings with tour operators there who make customised packages for their clients. We are offering almost 21 varieties of tourism products, whether it is adventure tourism, rural tourism, agro tourism, niche tourism, business tourism, or be it the forts and palaces tourism to adventure tourism or eco trails, we are trying to market everything. We are also trying to get influencers and bloggers – the young generation who are there and who actually have a lot of followers on social media. They can tell more than what the government can because of their informal use of the social media platforms. We are getting very good influencers and bloggers. We are witnessing a definite increase in the number of domestic tourists.
We have marked certain areas like those adjoining Delhi and the NCR, there we are projecting our Shekhawati region and Alwar as the weekend destinations. For the tourists coming from Gujarat and Maharashtra, our entire Udaipur belt is marketed. Mewar is not only a weekend destination but an all round place because Udaipur has good climate throughout the year. That way our focus is on domestic tourists. We will be going to Odisha, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu so that people know that other than forts, palaces and sand dunes, Rajasthan has many things to offer.
Pushkar fair has been a crown jewel for Rajasthan’s tourism sector. Are planning to publicize Rajasthan’s other fairs and festivals?
Rajasthan is known for its colourful, vibrant, lively fairs and festivals and that is a major attraction, be it the Pushkar fair or the desert festival of Jaisalmer, the camel festival of Bikaner, the Chandrabhaga fair, etc. On our official calendar, we have listed some 74 fairs and festivals. We are trying to popularise these by taking them to a next level which means till now they have been primarily cattle-related fairs and then there were some additions by the tourism department. Now we are trying to market it as experiential tourism. We are trying to bring smaller brands as well as bigger brands, we are trying to add more activities like hot air ballooning, paragliding, so that it creates a feeling of adventure and someone looks forward to it. In addition to Pushkar, we will also be starting the Sambhar festival. Sambhar is a very good destination but less explored. We’ll be promoting it. We will be starting astro-tourism, night tourism in Sambhar because it has beautiful long patches where you do not have any habitation and you can see the night sky with stars and the Milky Way very clearly.
Secondly, we are also trying to bring a world music festival to Udaipur. There were one or two rounds earlier in 2016, 2017 but that was discontinued. Then we are trying jazz festivals also. It is a combination of those traditional fairs and festivals, adding up some element to it. We are trying to bring Jahan-e-Khusrau also, adding it to one of the festivals of Jaipur. So that will add value to our fairs and festivals and we will market them in a big manner.
Rajasthan is a border state but it is yet to utilise its potential in Border tourism, what are your plans in this regard?
We have realised that we also have potential for border tourism. We had discussions with our BSF people. Most of us have seen the Wagah border and we have seen how tourists go there and are filled with patriotism. It really gives a lot of excitement. We have Tanot in Jaisalmer and it was famous after the 1971 war where the bombshells from Pakistan did not explode and it has become a place for religious sentiment also. We are tying up with the BSF to develop a border tourism complex where people will come and they can see the border, the retreat ceremony and can experience the life of the BSF personnel. They can see the art, the handicraft and local folk performers in that remote area which is situated very close to Pakistan. Our tourism development will facilitate some visits to Sanchu in Bikaner as well so that people can actually see how life is at the desert border region, how the army people, the BSF people live and safeguard our country, and we are so much indebted to them.
We are living in the age of promotion and publicity and movies are one aspect of it. What is in Rajasthan’s New Film Policy to attract movie makers and tourists in the state?
Traditionally, Rajasthan was promoted through films. If you go as far back as Sonar Kella (Satyajit Ray, 1974), because of that we had lots of Bengali tourists arriving in the state. Till now when they come they want to see those places where Sonar Kella was actually filmed. Recently, we talked about films like Aamir Khan’s PK, they create a lot of traction for people who do not belong to Rajasthan but want to see. We are definitely trying to rope in the potential of our state with the new film tourism promotion policy. We have just issued the notification, almost a fortnight back, in which we are offering a lot of incentives to the producers or the people who are coming and shooting in Rajasthan, be it feature films, TV shows or OTT. There are certain conditions that if they shoot for more than 45 days or almost 40% of their schedule in Rajasthan, the government will be giving them handsome incentives almost up to the tune of Rs 2 crores and will also be exempting them from all kinds of fees and charges. If they are shooting at monuments in the state or are staying in some forest property, PWD property, irrigation property, RTDC property that will be also at a concessional rate. Very soon we will be having this launched on a grand scale so that the producers, directors can come and see the state. We’ll be having a fam tour for them to see Rajasthan and then decide and shoot in the state and in return we can get a lot of tourists to Rajasthan.