“We want to build up Indian tourism as a brand”

RENUKA CHOWDHURY, India’s tourism minister, tells SHAFQUAT ALI how she’s promoting the country
Chowdhury … innovative

Renuka Chowdhury, India’s Union tourism minister, is doing she can to aggressively promote the country around the world has not gone unnoticed. But the question is whether she can change the mindset of the people.

In a freewheeling interview with TTN, she talks about what she has set out to do. Excerpts from an interview:

TTN: You are doing a lot to promote India as a tourist destination and encouraging tourists to explore different kinds of tourism that the country has to offer. Are you happy with the response?
Renuka Chowdhury: I am very happy. Everything is going in leaps and bounds. We did some very out-of-the-box thinking, we spread the net and opened up new areas – from cruise tourism to rural tourism, a concept where you go back into the villages and discover how we used to live before. In particular, I feel, medical tourism is likely to become India’s next big success story as India is, perhaps, the cheapest destination for medical care of highest standards. The possibilities are immense.

What about the infrastructure? You have to ensure that India has the right infrastructure and network before wooing international tourists?
For one, we have expanded our network of bringing in the tourists and we are interacting with other ministries and departments to facilitate the experience because quiet often it’s not enough if we are pro-active and the rest aren’t. The word is out that investing in tourism segment in India gets you better yields and returns than in the neighbouring countries of India. All the top hotels have already come in and some more are knocking at our doors.
Also, we now have an open sky policy and the cheaper airlines have been a huge helping hand for us in this quantum leap forward. We have been working closely with the ministry of civil aviation to achieve the desired result.

Air India Express is a great idea to encourage more people – both foreigners and Indian expats – to travel to India my making air travel affordable. Are you also helping India’s national carrier to come up with better deals?
Well, if you look at it, Air India has been overhauling and, therefore, we’ve been giving them great packages. It is our national airline and we are working on our partnerships with them so that we will be able to work out special offers.

Given that India is such a vast country, the advent of low-cost airlines are surely going to increase the possibility of exploring the hidden treasures of the country…
Yes, there are still people who come to India with the very confused idea that we are living in the Dark Ages. They will now have the chance to go to parts they couldn’t reach earlier and see all of India for themselves. Come on, this is incredible India.
Well, the Incredible India! campaign has been a huge success…
I think Incredible India! has been responsible for the incredible growth that we have achieved.

Now, what about changing the mindset of the person on the street?
Among others, we have launched a five-year domestic training programme called the Atithi Devo Bhava, wherein we are providing training and orientation to around 26,000 people, including taxi-drivers, guides, immigration officers, tourist police and restaurant-owners to provide the best possible welcome to tourists. I’m happy to say that we are yielding huge results. The point is, we want to eventually build up Indian tourism as a brand.

Finally, despite the fact the Middle East is a lucrative market, we haven’t seen any major initiative to woo tourists from here?
Yes, we have never really gone out of the way to market India to the Middle East. But I am looking into this and things will change soon. We are looking at developing a special package for the Middle East travellers and I am sure it’s going to be very successful.