Charminar, the iconic symbol of Hyderabad, recently bagged a national award with the Centre declaring the historic monument as the special Swachh Iconic Place under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Far from being a symbol of the bygone era surrounded by the ugly urban sprawl and unrelenting traffic-infested narrow bylanes, this crumbling structure has found a renewed hope and life with the ongoing conservation efforts.

Today, Charminar blushes and radiates a glimmer of hope and a promising future for the spirit of conservation and preservation of our historical monuments. This is a welcome revival and efforts put in by the government are commendable. It is also bound to increase the tourism potential of the State. However, let us also not forget that the Indian tourism sector is ridden with contradictions.

Address Basic Issues
While globally, tourism is growing in leaps and bounds, we are still busy sorting out basic infrastructural issues, systemic neglect, callousness and addressing lack of synergies among various players. It turns out to be a story of humongous potential as well as a wasted opportunity at the same time. We just do not seem to get our act together. In spite of our best efforts, a lot more needs to be done.

It is erroneous to assume that the problems are more brick and mortar and due to lack of capital. Add a dozen five-star hotels, spas and resorts and we are good to go, is a wrong notion. Often overlooked and detrimental is the problem of the disorganised tourism departments, synergy-less private sector professionals and operators.

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The sector often does not attract good talent pool. It is also a vocation of the last resorts of sorts. The tourism sector is in dire need of professionalisation across all levels. It needs well-groomed high calibre and trained personnel.

To start with, the tourism sector should start investing in creating a government-backed national platform grid and booking engine such as the one in New Zealand. This is to facilitate booking the entire travel itinerary, including stay, transport options and services, all from a single window anywhere in the country. Let us call it ‘Incredible India Centres’ located across the length and breadth of the tourism map of the country.

These government-authorised tourism ‘shops’ would be aided by high-quality communication material such as brochures, high production quality films and, to say the least, a comforting ambience and cheerful staff who will assist the visitors and walk them through the entire planning and booking process as per their budgets and preferences. A user review and feedback mechanism at the end of each transaction will help strengthen the service orientation of the staff.

Stories on Wheels
Remodel the bus and taxi drivers’ job and create some aspirational value for them by not being just mere ‘drivers’ but ‘story-tellers’. They can also act as guides while piloting the whole journey. Train them with a bit of history, culture, customs and heritage of the place and brush up their conversational skills.

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Tourist operators should be incentivised not just purely on the turnover basis but also for promoting sustainable tourism and environment-friendly practices. Ranking high in customer feedback should be made mandatory and rewarding as well.

Information dissemination through digital mediums is cost-effective and has a wider footprint and can instantly reach the global audience. A professional and contemporary tourism website is the starting point to resurrect our shabby professional image.

Convenient Connect
Seamless connectivity and interconnectivity are both vital and good frequency of transportation options, including rail, road, air and water, will provide a further fillip to increasing the tourist traffic. Air travel supplemented with a good convenient, comfortable, cost-effective and reliable road transportation can rev up the tourism sector’s fortunes.

Airport experience can be quite a sour or sugary one with a hangover that outlasts the actual trip. Immigration and Customs still are areas where professionalism and courtesy are on short supply and can be improved upon. Why not emulate international best practices to make the airport experience hassle-free in our country, something that you end-up noticing more due to its absence!

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We have a knack of converting even the best touristy destinations in our country to utterly un-touristy spots. This is our collective failing and unfortunately, this is the filthy social image we end up passing on to visitors from abroad.

Quiet Please
Let us declare all monuments, museums, religious places as ‘Quiet Zones’ with strict norms on how to behave at these places with fines for anybody found flouting.

Appointing custodians for such monuments from within the community will go a long way in integrating the local community with their own heritage and overall conservation efforts. Conservation cannot be a preserve of the high-brow. Unless grassroots and community connect is not established, it will not fructify into results.

Lastly, our history books singularly fail to catch the imagination of the younger generation. As such, history as a subject is treated quite dismissively. Schools need to ensure history is not taught as a dead subject but as a vibrant and lively narrative still alive amid us.

India can achieve a pole position on the global tourism map. Let us not waste the opportunity. The potential is huge, and India is punching well below its weight. It should be our collective will and responsibility to make it happen. #KhabarLive

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