The Indian tourism industry has recorded healthy growth, fuelled by robust inflow of foreign tourists as well as increased tourist movement within the country. It has become one of the leading players in the global industry. Yet, there is a lacuna that remains when it comes to conservation which is both sustainable and leads to growth. WCRC Leaders Asia explores on how going a step further than just beautifying the ancient masterpieces can spur social, economic and cultural development. By Supriya Batra
At present, India ranks 42nd in the United Nations World Tourism Organisation rankings in foreign tourist arrivals list. The cultural heritage of India, dating back to several thousand years is among humanity’s priceless assets. But when it comes to conserving the heritage, the statistics narrate an altogether different story. For instance, in New York city alone, more than 30,000 buildings of heritage value are protected whereas in India there are less than 15,000. In a country where culture can be a catalyst for development, urban poverty still remains a massive challenge.
Tourism is one of the most promising drivers of growth for the world economy. Projects Director at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in India, Ratish Nanda, the man behind the restored Humayun’s Tomb and other monuments worldwide, believes that conservation and development can go hand in hand and fulfil a lot of developmental objectives. “The critical aspect of conservation is that we need to treat our monuments as huge economic resources because they are irreplaceable assets for mankind. One cannot build these monuments or great buildings today,” says Nanda.
Nanda explains that having worked in different locations for years to protect heritage structures and sites, it can be concluded that conservation is possible only when one can ensure that people benefit from it not only through incentives but through improved quality of life such as access to health, education, sanitation, etc. for communities residing in nearby areas. Tourism has emerged as an instrument of employment generation, poverty alleviation and sustainable human development. Quoting examples from the successful project of the restoration of Humayun’s Tomb and the Urban Renewal Initiative — in partnership with Central Public Works Department and the Archaeological Survey of India — which seeks to restore the glory of Nizamuddin, Nanda told that the conservation of Humayun’s tomb required 2,00,000 man days of work by master employment. And a growth of over 1000 per cent has been recorded in the number of tourists visiting the monument in just about eight months’ time after its restoration. Not just employment, conservation also generates understanding of various cultures. Whether it’s religion or regional cultures, people gain to attain communal harmony through conservation. The restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public space can be done in ways that can spur social, economic and cultural development. Such efforts also encourage tourism and revenue generation, creating wealth that can be ploughed back into conservation-led development. This not only helps to boost the nation’s economy for the sake of the present but also ensures capital for the future.
India registered 6.97 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2013, registering an annual growth of 5.9 per cent over the previous years. R.K. Okhandiar, Director (Commercial and Marketing), India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), says, “The country needs to properly market and capitalise on the valuable heritage that it has.” The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key pillars driving the growth of the services sector in India. India’s cultural property is extremely valuable which is seriously threatened today and although there are ongoing efforts to protect and preserve this heritage, these are fragmented or lack institutional and legal frameworks. It is unfortunate for a nation as big as India that maintenance of its cultural heritage remains a problem in places where the government has not intervened.
Tourism accounts for about 6.8 per cent of the GDP and is the third largest foreign exchange earner for the country. It is fast becoming a major global destination both for inbound and outbound tourism. A lot is expected from the government but the need of the hour is for NGOs, civil society organisations and school groups to come together and see conservation as a route to development.