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What the Growth in Foreign Tourist Arrivals Tells Us

Foreign Tourist

Key Takeaways:

  • Foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) in 2017 were 101.77 lakh, exhibiting a growth of 15.6% over 2016
  • 3% growth in FTAs on e-tourist visa in December 2017 over December 2016
  • 2% growth in FTAs on e-tourist visa in 2017 over 2016

Almost a good two years before the run-up to the 2014 general elections, India’s domestic indicators had started sliding and, soon, it was seen that India was apparently abdicating on the world stage. While the Indian economy had begun slowing down, New Delhi was also seen to be steadily, if somewhat inexplicably for international observers, withdrawing itself from strategic, defence and trade cooperation. At the least, India was seen to doing little, let alone pushing itself to be heard and counted.

This, fortunately, began to change soon after the change of guard at the Centre in May 2014. For one, India’s foreign policy was immediately back, and seemed to have acquired both direction and vigour. Even critics had to grant this. The push given to the revitalise and re-establish the India story in the global arena appeared to have an outward marker – the Prime Minister’s visit to the United Nations and the United States in September 2014, although the renewal had begun earlier.

The Importance of Tourism

An important indicator of how a country is perceived abroad and how successfully it is promoting itself is the tourism sector. In particular, data pertaining to foreign tourists who come to visit the country. This is not merely a question of economic well-being, although that is very important for an emerging big economy. It also extends beyond the cultural attraction that the host country pulls foreign tourists in with. What also counts is the security of the country within its borders and without, and how such security is perceived by prospective tourists.

Now, if we look at the performance of India’s tourism sector in recent years, it would seem that a lot of the factors mentioned above must be seen as positive and healthy on foreign shores.

That foreign tourist arrivals, or FTAs, also translate into forex earnings for the local economy and revenue for the state is a given. Moreover, tourism also generates employment, creating jobs from the aviation sector to the hospitality industry, as well as providing livelihood to artisans, street vendors and so on.

India’s Improved Indicators

In 2013, India was 65 among 140 nations in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) global tourism and travel rankings. By 2017, three years after the change in government, India had risen to rank 40, among 136 nations. Not only did India’s rank move up by 25 places but this was also the first time in its post-Independence history that India had cumulatively improved its ranking. Therefore, in recent years, India has exhibited nothing less than a remarkable growth in tourism.

Growth in Foreign Tourist Arrivals

We will begin our exploration of this trend by first looking at the latest data on foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs). (See below)

The data of FTAs above clearly shows a steady and continuous improvement in numbers. For details about the progress over the last three and a half years, please read our earlier article: Tourism Growth: Scripting a New ‘Incredible India’ Story on the World Stage.

The Cause Behind the Effect

This increase in the number of FTAs is not merely India’s innate attractions for the foreign tourist. Such attractions have surely existed for long, but why is it only now that we seem to be witnessing this steadily increasing trend in FTAs?

The answer also lies in the enabling action that lies behind the trend. For one, the current administration appears to have given constant attention and worked hard to promote India as a tourist destination across the world.

For instance, there has been a sustained media campaign by the Ministry of Tourism abroad. It has been cirulating and/ or conducting print, electronic, online and outdoor campaigns under the “Incredible India” brand. This is a direct attempt at increasing FTAs by systematically promoting Indian tourism destinations and products.

This promotional campaign has been primarily conducted by the India Tourism offices in the following cities: New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Dubai, Johannesburg, Sydney, Beijing, Singapore and Tokyo.

Apart from the campaign abroad discussed above, there have been tangible policy formulation and implementation at home. Some of these are mentioned below:

  • Facility of e-visa has been extended to citizens of 163 countries
  • 24×7 toll-free multi-lingual tourist helpline 1800111363 has been launched in 12 languages
  • Medical & Wellness Tourism Promotion Board has been constituted


While the above measures have targeted FTAs directly, overall, with a liberalised visa regime (visa-on-arrival & e-visa), India has further legitimised its credentials for openness internationally.

Again, reforms like 100% FDI in tourism via the direct route for construction of hotels and resorts, etc, are also bearing fruit. And the success of a nationwide mission like Swachh Bharat could also contribute to making India a more attractive tourist destination.

What is significant is that policy has not ignored the domestic tourist at all. In fact, in recent months, we have seen a slew of programmes from the Ministry to promote travel across the country for Indian tourists themselves:

  • In October 2017, we witnessed the “Paryatan Parv”.
  • Our earlier article mentioned above was written when the festivities of the Paryatan Parv were underway and it had the following to say about it: “The core theme of Paryatan Parv is ‘Tourism for All’, as it is an endeavour to associate every section of society and all stakeholders, both in organised and unorganised sectors, for developing and promoting tourism in the country. For the Paryatan Parv, sensitisation programmes, skill development programmes and training programmes are being organised to inculcate appropriate tourism traits and knowledge among the service providers to enable them to act/ work as tourist facilitators. College students, including those enrolled with youth associations and organisations, have been enrolled to create a tourism-sensitive citizenry.”
  • Two particular flagship schemes of the Ministry — Swadesh Darshan and Prasad — focus on infrastructure development of circuits and sites.
  • The salient feature of these two schemes is comprehensive development of tourism, including the creation of employment opportunities by means of active participation of local communities and the development of a “Responsible Tourism” initiative.


There are other measures, too, which have been taken to promote tourism for both domestic and foreign tourists:

  • Incredible India 2.0” campaign
  • UDAN Scheme
  • Five special tourism zones
  • Susanskrit Bharat, Sanrakshit Bharat
  • Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana — HRIDAY
  • Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive – PRASAD
  • ADARSH SMARAK YOJANA: 25 ASI monuments named as Aadarsh Smaarak for the upgrade of tourist-related amenities
  • Dedicated tourist trains: Jyotirling circuit, Sukhmangal circuit (Bengaluru-Madurai) & Dakshin Dham Circuit
  • Renovation of tourist ghats in pilgrimage cities like Varanasi


The 2017 WEF report had the following to say: “India continues to enrich its cultural resources, protecting more cultural sites and intangible expressions through UNESCO World Heritage lists, and via a greater digital presence”.

Now, it also appears that the administration has approached tourism in a holistic manner and not merely from an economic point of view. It also seems to have understood that promotion of domestic tourism is equally or perhaps more important in order to boost FTAs, create the necessary infrastructure and services, etc.

The spirit of all this also appears to have been caught in what the Prime Minister had said in his Mann ki Baat radio programme in September 2017: ““There will be a value addition in tourism only when we travel not only as a visitor but also like a student and make efforts to assimilate, understand and adapt. This is my personal experience, I had a chance of visiting more than five hundred districts of India. I request you too, to feel the ‘Unity in Diversity’ which is not a mere slogan but is a storehouse of enormous energy. The dream of ‘Ek Bharat – Shreshtha Bharat’ is inherent in this. How many varieties of cuisines there are! If we eat a new dish every day, we won’t have to repeat any variety throughout our life. This is the power of our tourism.”

India is also working on a new tourism policy to replace the National Tourism Policy of 2002. The new policy exists as draft and its main features can be accessed here: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=169063

These include:

Undoubtedly, the tourism industry plays a major role in both the service sector and is making a bigger contribution to economic growth. Given its civilizational-archaeological heritage and natural attractions, India by rights should be an important global tourist destination. Tourism also creates employment and earns foreign exchange for the economy. If India had not managed to realise its tourism potential for long, it bodes well for the future that it seems to have made a beginning.