Tourism Promotion Board proposal stirs debate at industry conclave

September 6th, 2008 - 8:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), Sep 6 (IANS) A two decade-old proposal to create a Tourism Promotion Board to drive the sector generated much heat at an industry conclave here Saturday, with at least one speaker pointing out that even the US, the world’s largest tourist market, did not have such a body.”It was over 20 years ago that a committee of which I was a member recommended the constitution of a professional Tourism Promotion Board. Only lip service has been paid to this ever since,” said S.K. Mishra, a former principal secretary to the prime minister of India.

He was speaking on the concluding day of a two-day retreat of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) India Initiative on ‘Mapping the Future’ here.

“It had been intended that the board be fully autonomous (of the tourism ministry),” said Mishra, who has been credited with creating much of the tourist infrastructure of the northern Indian state of Haryana.

“The report (recommending the creation of the board) covers a wide range of issues. If even half of them are implemented, then the job (of promoting tourism in India) would have been done,” Mishra maintained.

V.K. Duggal, who retired as Delhi’s chief secretary and has served as director general (tourism) in the tourism ministry, immediately opposed Mishra.

“The question has been debated in the ministry pretty often but it has been felt that the private players haven’t done enough (to be put in charge of an autonomous board),” Duggal, currently a member of the Commission on Inter-State Relations, maintained.

“In any case, the focus of the board will not be as broad as that of the government,” he added.

This elicited an immediate riposte from a visibly angry Mishra.

“This is indicative of the totally negative bureaucratic approach,” Mishra contended.

Amitabh Kant, a principal secretary with the Kerala government who has served in the tourism ministry as a joint secretary, too joined in the debate - on Mishra’s side.

“The need for the board is imperative. Tourism is all about brand building and creativity. It is impossible to do all this in the government,” said Kant, during whose tenure the tourism ministry launched its worldwide ‘Incredible India’ publicity blitz to promote the country as a tourist destination.

It was then left to the WTTC’s London-based chief Jean-Paul Baumgarten to provide the perspective.

“The United States is the largest tourist economy in the world and yet it does not have a tourism board or a tourism minister,” he pointed out.

“If you are looking at the evolutionary tree (to promote tourism), you have to see how you can incorporate public-private partnerships into the existing sector,” Baumgarten maintained.

The retreat, the fourth to be held in India, brought together a cross-section of experts from the tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors, as also filmmakers, politicians and bureaucrats to devise a roadmap to take the tourism sector forward in a rapidly globalising world.

Among those who participated in the retreat were Sri Lanka Tourism chairman Renton de Alwis, India’s Tourism Secretary Sheelbhadra Banerjee, Kerala’s special commissioner for industries Amitabh Kant, WTTC India Initiative chair Radha Bhata, film directors Kapur and Shyam Benegal, former civil aviation minister Rajeev Pratap Rudy and Rajya Sabha MP Jay Panda.

Explaining the concept of the retreat, WTTC India Initiative secretary general Rathi Vinay Jha said: “This is a unique platform that brings together industry leaders and policy makers to identify best practices and find constructive solutions for the growth of tourism in India.”

Jha has just completed a hugely-successful stint as director general of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) that saw the organization scaling dizzying heights.

WTTC launched the India Initiative in February 2000 to raise awareness of the crucial role that travel and tourism plays in the development and growth of the country’s economy.

On its part, the India Initiative has identified these priorities in a manifesto titled “The Tourism Imperative and India Impact of Travel and Tourism on Jobs and the Economy”.

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