Canny Crusader - An Exclusive Interview with Tourism Minister of India

June 19, 2018

 

 

India’s Tourism Minister Alphons Kannanthanam’s fundamental objective, that of making the world a happier place, translates into his entire modus operandi for India’s tourism policy.
 

 

It’s a venerable truism that most people are happier when they give than when they receive. Such people also seem to have a certain reverence for life, a certain moral integrity that consists in maintaining and enhancing life.

Gutsy crusader and firebrand bureaucrat politician, Tourism Minister Alphons Kannanthanam, is one such person – one, who, in his own words, dares to dream big, has an innate confidence, thinks differently and has the courage to stand by his convictions. In a comprehensive one-to-one with Today’s Traveller, Alphons ruminates on his philosophy of life, his vision for India Tourism and long-term plans.

When questioned about what drives his thought processes, Alphons reveals, “I think what drives me is the fundamental belief that each individual is born to change the world and make it a happier place. So, everything about me – my entire outlook, the way I am linked to people, the way I communicate, the way I sort out issues – is geared towards the singular objective of making this world happier. I believe every human being can do that, it’s just not me, just not I who can do it, everybody can do it in their own way.” 

 

 

  "My vision is driven by Indian philosophy, which believes that the entire universe is one. This is the foundation of my tourism promotion as well. For tourists, coming to India should be a transformational experience. You will never be the same again."

                                                                                             Alphons Kannanthanam, Tourism Minister, Govt. of India

 

 

  

Continuing, the intrepid politician emphasises the fact that the world needs to recognise India’s incredible beauty and heritage: “It’s my belief that India is an amazing country, it’s the most beautiful country as far as I’m concerned and therefore we just need to make India very proud for the whole world.”

Alphons explains how this idea can be taken forward and marketed.“We have more heritage sites than anywhere else in the world. We want people to come and see such sites,” emphasises Alphons, reiterating that it is imperative to have an innate pride in one’s country and to be able to convince the rest of the world so that it translates into commerce.

The intrepid leader is eloquent on what drives him: “My fundamental belief is that each of us – every human being – is born with intelligence and capabilities, so everybody can contribute and dream big. It’s all about big dreams, so are we willing to dream big? That’s the fundamental issue with each human being and that’s where I like to motivate people to believe it. ‘Yes, I can dream big’ – it’s possible, and though it may not strictly pertain to my job, this is the overall philosophy that guides me.” As far as his vision for India is concerned, Alphons states categorically, “My vision is driven by Indian philosophy, which believes that the entire universe is one. This is the foundation of my tourism promotion as well. For tourists, coming to India should be a transformational experience. You will never be the same again.”

                                            

Extolling the benefits of India’s age-old wellness practices, such as Yoga and Ayurveda, as being drivers of tourism, Alphons opines that they should be made appealing to the millennial generation as well. Also, India’s treasure trove of historical sites – 36 UNESCO Heritage Sites and 6500 ASI-protected monuments – is guaranteed to attract tourist numbers.
                                                                                         When quizzed about how this vision would translate into numbers, Alphons responds, “We did very well in tourism last year. The number of tourists arriving in India went up by 15.67% and the receipts for tourism increased by 20.8%. We want the numbers to be doubled roads transport to improve connectivity, with all of them responding positively. While lauding India’s excellent rail connectivity, Alphons stresses the need for timely running of trains and comfort for passengers.

 

 On the subject of air transport, Alphons believes that although a number of destinations have been connected under the UDAAN scheme, those which cannot be accommodated by the same, could be handled by Air India. “For instance, Khajuraho, which has good hotels, has infrequent flights. So, we requested Air India to operate additional daily flights and promised to underwrite their losses due to low footfall,” states Alphons, revealing that though the railway station in Khajuraho is beautiful, connectivity is poor and there are no luxury coaches. All such bottlenecks would need to be taken care of to ensure tourist arrivals.

 

 

 

 

The visionary leader also indicates that long-term visas in three years. In five years, I want tourism receipts to touch $100 billion. While some would argue that such targets are simply impractical, I believe that in order to achieve big, you have to dream big. We have adopted a gamut of innovative marketing strategies, such as making promotional films in different languages. We will make a total of six films, all of which, we hope, would be huge hits like the one we made on Yoga, titled ‘Yogi of The Race Track.‘ It garnered 20 million views in 25 days.” Enumerating on the subjects of the six films, the dynamic Minister says the first film was on Yoga, the second one will be on Ayurveda and plans are afoot to make films on Kaziranga National Park and on Indian heritage.


On the all-important issue of improving connectivity to various tourist destinations, Alphons informs that he has spoken with the ministers of Civil Aviation, Railways and Roads Transport to improve connectivity, with all of them responding positively. While lauding India’s excellent rail connectivity, Alphons stresses the need for timely running of trains and comfort for passengers. On the subject of air transport, Alphons believes that although a number of destinations have been connected under the UDAAN scheme, those which cannot be accommodated by the same, could be handled by Air India. “For instance, Khajuraho, which has good hotels, has infrequent flights. So, we requested Air India to operate additional daily flights and promised to underwrite their losses due to low footfall,” states Alphons, revealing that though the railway station in Khajuraho is beautiful, connectivity is poor and there are no luxury coaches. All such bottlenecks would need to be taken care of to ensure tourist arrivals.


The visionary leader also indicates that long-term visas need to be implemented to attract tourists. Elaborating, Alphons says, “We do need to start issuing long-term, multiple-entry visas if we really want to attract more tourists. Several countries in the world do this and we need to follow suit. We have already initiated the practice of issuing e-visas since 2014, which has been immensely successful. Now, you can apply for your visa online and get it approved in 24 hours. As of now, we have extended this facility to 163 countries and we shall keep on adding to this list. We have already discussed the matter with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the External Affairs Ministry, and both of them have given me assurance that they will provide me with whatever help I require.”

 

“ We will make a total of six films, all of which, we hope, would be huge hits like the one we made on Yoga, titled ‘Yogi of The Race Track.‘ It garnered 20 million views in 25 days.”

Alphons Kannanthanam, Tourism Minister, Govt. of India

 

On the anvil are plans to open up the Northeast to tourists and remove travel restrictions. The Home Ministry has already made it operational for Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. “We will continue to work towards making travel easier for everyone,” reiterates Alphons.

 

When probed about China’s burgeoning market and the efforts to tap into it, Alphons articulated swiftly, “But let me also tell you first, the way the world looks upon India has dramatically changed, and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomacy, we’re respected, hugely respected and which is we feel very proud to be Indian.”


Continuing, Alphons explains, “As far as China is concerned, there is no doubt that it is indeed a huge market. Last year, the number of outbound tourists from China reached 122 million. However, India received only 2.5 lakh of such tourists. We are hoping to dramatically increase this number in the coming years. We are aggressively promoting India in the Chinese language media through print, television and digital advertisements.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As far as the question of directives issued by the Chinese government to tourists is concerned, it is a non-issue according to Alphons. Opines Alphons, “The Chinese government has been very liberal and we welcome that. However, there is a discrepancy between the number of Indian visitors going to China and that of Chinese visitors coming to India. We want to correct that. We are therefore focussing on our Buddhist Circuits in India. There are almost 490 million people who follow Buddhism in China and for them these Buddhist Circuits hold a special attraction. We are hoping that they will throng to these places in huge numbers, once we have put the infrastructure and the connectivity in place.”
The new highway coming up between Sarnath and Varanasi Airport is slated to further augment tourist flow.

Alphons apprises that “The Government is building roads and highways at lightning speed. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway has been completed in a record time of 17 months. Further, Phase 1 of the Delhi Meerut Expressway has also come up. This has significantly reduced the travel time of people coming to Delhi. I think that this is quite remarkable,” concludes the dynamic Minister, who, by his own admission, ‘Dared to dream big. I didn’t stop at that. Whatever I dreamt of, I worked very hard to realize it. Anybody can do whatever I did, if he/she wants to do it. But, they should want it desperately.

 

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