Tourism : Act Global, Think Regional – By M.P.Bezbaruah, Member, Governing Council


Asian Confluence, Nadi Festival 2016 Souvenir

“Tourism is the force that will make the global village truly one world” wrote John Naisbitt in 1994 in his book ‘The Global Paradox’. In the two decades from then the world has seen that as a contributor to world economy tourism has no equal. It has been an economic and social phenomenon without parallel. Till the beginning of the new millennium

• Income from international travel grew at a staggering average of 11 per cent a year since 1950.
• Arrivals had grown at an average rate of 6.5 per cent for last fifty years.
• Inflation adjusted income excluding domestic tourism grew twice as fast -11.2%.
• This growth far outstrips the growth in the world economy as a whole during this period.

However, the new millennium started with many ominous developments. For the first time the vehicle of mass tourism- an aircraft – was used as a weapon of mass destruction in 9/11. Continuous crises were created around the world by terrorist attacks. Travel and tourism was badly affected by unknown viruses SARS and Avian flu which affected some parts.

As a result growth rate of tourism dipped. In 50 years from 1950 only twice Tourism growth had dipped – during the Falkland War and during the Gulf War. In 9 years of new millennium it happened 4 times.

But tourism is resilient and it bounced back. The years of crisis taught quite a few lessons. Three among them stand out.

Those countries that withered the storm better largely benefited from robust domestic tourism, large intra-regional travel and a system inbuilt response to crisis situations.

South Asia, it is universally recognized, has all that the new tourist is looking for—a unique experience. But actual performance of SA in world tourism has been only a miniscule of its potential. While the growth pattern in last few years has been promising—particularly in India, regional tourism has played very little part in it. The ratio of intra regional to inter regional tourism in India, for example, is about 20:80 whereas globally it is just the other way round. The same is true generally of all other SA countries as well.

The problems of regional cooperation in this region are known and have been talked about for long, like lack of continuous networking among the private sectors, focus of government action being lost in too many initiatives not properly coordinated, poor connectivity and facilitation arrangements and geo-political realities and compulsions often pushing tourism efforts to the background.

New opportunities are now emerging in the horizon but they will be only illusory rainbows unless SA gears up its activities and takes concrete plan of action in hand. Competition is fierce and tourists today are more value conscious than before. In this connection two factors need special mention. Outbound tourism from the Asia Pacific region is the highest in the world and is growing at a fast pace. This is an asset for South Asia to exploit.
Talking of the potential of SA Mr. Kuroda, the then President of ADB said-“for South Asia, the potential opportunities and benefits from regional cooperation will be significantly increased if this cooperation could be extended beyond the region’s own geographical boundaries—to Southeast and East Asia ….” SA has to reposition its marketing strategy and product development to meet the demand originating just across its borders. Even within the region Indian outbound is growing at a fast rate of around 15 per cent and the region has not much benefited from this growth.

SA has one of the most treasured attractions for a huge number of the Asia Pacific travellers—Buddhism in all its variety—religion, culture, philosophy, archaeology, and in a world torn with strife, examples of living Buddhism. The recent SASEC initiative has shown that common action for marketing the region is possible. Excellent publicity materials on this common theme have been jointly produced and promoted.

The second important development for the NE and for SA is the connectivity corridor that is being created between the NE of India and Bangladesh and Myanmar. At least the NE of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan can benefit directly from an easier access provided by the many land, river, rail and sea routes now taking shape. It will bring the large volume of East Asian travelers nearer than ever before for the NE and SA.

Concrete action to make regional cooperation in tourism possible will have to be multi-pronged. Some key elements could be-

• That each country should develop a networking of the key private sector players and civil society organisations like the Asian Confluence to create awareness about regional cooperation and to plan action for achieving that together.
• The national initiatives led by the national industry organizations should be interwoven to the regional platform, to create a continuous pressure group to pursue policy initiatives at government levels.
• Regional cooperation should be based on the objective that it can remove physical and non-physical barriers, improve connectivity, and open up markets and promote people to people contact.
There are many agencies working for the common objective of regional cooperation. It is necessary to coordinate the many initiatives flowing from such organisations.
• Product development should be planned and services should be provided matching the demand of the potential tourists. To start with a few travel circuits should be identified and modalities of servicing the circuits should be jointly worked out by the tour operators of the region.

The basic groundwork has already been done. The SASEC Tourism plan has identified the strengths which can be exploited and the areas in which such regional cooperation in tourism can develop. It has identified the products and the possibilities, the resources, the way to market and develop brand of regional tourism. It is necessary now for some organization like the Asian Confluence to pick up the threads and play the role of facilitator with active patronage of the regional governments.

The River connectivity can be a bonding stream for tourism development. There are many examples of building tourism and cultural connectivity around a river. The best is the Greater Mekong Sub regional (GMS) programmes. The war ravaged countries have built their development plans around the river and have made spectacular progress. Tourism arrivals to the GMS recorded a 72% growth between 1995 and 2002 and the momentum continues. China celebrates every year the Yellow River Festival that highlights how the river, once dubbed as the ‘river of sorrow’ is now a river of prosperity and example of cooperative efforts of nine states. The mighty Brahmaputra, the historic Ganges, the Irrawaddy and hundreds of tributaries provide this region a golden opportunity to build connectivity of culture and tourism for development.

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