Over 15 per cent of visitors come from Bangladesh and many of them for medical purposes. But otherwise, Bangladeshi visitors are not high spenders? Will we need a better mix of foreign visitors to increase revenue?
A good mix is very important. At the same time, I do not underestimate Bangladesh at all because if anybody comes here for medical tourism they are going to spend a lot of money. They are going to stay for longer period. They are going to hospitals, spending money there. I do not care where they come from.
Which will be our main focus markets?
I would like to focus on the Buddhist circuit which means attracting tourists from Japan, Korea and of course China. Gautam Buddha lived all his life in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and our so our focus is on hugely developing infrastructure around the Buddhist circuit. Secondly like our Prime Minister said we want to increase domestic travel. Twenty-three million Indians went abroad. We do not mind that. Let them go and see the world but let them see India. If that happens that is going to provide a huge impetus to tourism and economy.
Last year the Parliamentary Standing Committee had expressed displeasure over poor budgetary allocation and spending in the tourism sector. How are you addressing that?
The government has its own priorities — rural development, agriculture, sanitation and so on. I have asked for more funds in the upcoming budget but I can not reveal the budgetary demands. I would be happy with what I get. I can not complain.
Foreign tourists participating in 'Tug of War' competition during the ongoing 25th International Camel Festival in Bikaner. Photo: PTI
Apart from GST rate, hotel and tourism sector is seeking simplification in rules and also export status as it brings foreign exchange? What is your view?
GST has been the biggest tax reform in the country and whenever such changes take place there are teething problems. Earlier the tax rate on restaurants was 18 per cent and now it is made 5 per cent. The five-star hotels are complaining that India becomes less competitive due to the higher tax rate. We should remember that this a small segment of the overall tourism sector. Also, the government has to generate revenue. I would be happy if tax rate is lowered and am pursuing this demand with the finance ministry
What kind of investment will be required to achieve the growth target? How much of it will come from the government?
The government can not spend too much money on tourism. The investment will come through the private sector and we will work as a facilitator and create the right atmosphere for investment. For instance, there is a requirement for 190,000 hotel rooms in the country and those will have to be built by the private sector. There are not enough rooms in Gaya and we are talking to the industry. We are discussing with other government departments like the ministry of roads to improve the infrastructure. Recently the government has decided to waive the requirement of biometric scan for tourists coming on cruise ships.