The Social Challenges of Travel in India
by Pulin Shakur
India has a wealth of amazing places that need to be visited and appreciated. It has an huge untapped tourism potential, but still India receives very small number of tourists every year.
Despite recent growth, the Indian tourism market constitutes only 0.4% of the world market. There are many social issues hampering the growth of tourism in India. India’s image across the world has not been portrayed in in the most favorable light. Today the country faces political instability, unemployment, rampant mysticism, illiteracy, grinding poverty, terrorism, communal discord and lack of social services and corruptions. This directly de-motivates tourists visiting India and the neighboring Asian countries.
Though India has lot to offer, tourists especially like the cultural beauty, diversity, and colorful lifestyles. Traditionally, the lack of proper accommodation, transport facilities, restaurants, shopping and recreational facilities, trained labor force and other support services have hampered the growth of tourism. Health problems, political instability and unemployment are just a few of the social elements which travelers come across while traveling in India.
Adding to this are aggressive touts, unhygienic waste, beggars, and extreme poverty. These have proved stumbling blocks against the free movement of affluent foreign tourists.
Tourist help desks and information centres are generally found empty or unmanned outside of major tourism areas. This cold welcome spoils the hopes for any revisit by upscale tourists.
In addition, recent terrorist attacks have created havoc among tourists. They now avoid going to places which are prone to terrorist attacks like Kashmir and other Northeastern states.
The attack on Mumbai cut the tourist flow for a long time. Harassment by local people scares the hell out of tourists and they do not want to visit India because of these safety concerns.
Cultural differences also create problems for many travelers. Tourists wearing revealing clothes are often harassed by local people. It is recommended by the officials in many rural areas that tourists should not wear clothing which exposes any skin to avoid unwanted attention. . Many local drivers and shopkeepers try to exploit tourists and charge double or more for providing any services to them. Tourist destinations are also becoming more polluted day by day.
Most of Indians do not hesitate to spit anywhere, they throw garbage wherever they like and many men even pee in public places. Industrial pollution is adding a lot to this. Oil refinery smoke is deteriorating the beauty of the Taj Mahal, and coastal ecosystems and the Himalayas are being battered.
The Indian government’s insensitive approach towards public health is also affecting tourists. Many athletes chose to not attend recently held Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, citing security and health concerns.
Many Indians say there is a lack of public involvement in preserving cultural heritage. Most of famous monuments and forts in India are getting damaged due to local people not being educated about the financial value of tourism.
Indian masses needs to develop a consciousness to preserve the flora and fauna, the ancient monuments, scriptures and other archeological beauties.
India is a fascinating tourist destination with an amazing mix of ancient beauties, colorful folk and classical dances and above all hospitable people but a more friendly approach towards tourists could definitely help to drive the country towards capitalization of global tourism.
Pulin Shakur is a tour guide and driver in Mumbai. He wants to see his country pay more attention to global tourism and has written this editorial for Vagobond in an attempt to bring about positive social change.