At a casual dinner table discussion with some of my Spanish colleagues, I was impressed in the way they spoke of tourism in Spain, as a major contributor for their annual GDP. Quite understandable from any Indian's point of veiw.(Don't many of us fantasise of that golden honeymoon at Spain!) What is interesting is that the seriousness with which many tourist dominated countries , look at their tourist guests from other part of the world. This seriousness is a result of a very candid understanding of the nature of the business itself. Tourism in that sense is slightly different from that of other service businesses. Tourism is not just about making available "places" for people to visit, its about making a tourist feel like a king. Its about the people who make him feel that way.
As I get down from my bus at Bangalore KBS at 4 AM , returning from my trip to Vijayawada, I am greeted by a flurry of Auto Rickshaw drivers (the capital 'A' is out of respect), waiting at the door of my bus, compelling me to accept thier services, often quoting favourable phrases like "pre-paid" "meter only" etc. I dont feel like a king waiting to be served by a million Auto Rickshaw drivers.I feel like a guinea pig, waiting to get experimented on by smart, sinister cunning Auto Rickshaw drivers, and only count the seconds before I fall prey to the devious plans of somebody waiting to cheat me. If this is the way touting makes me feel, I cant imagine how abused a tourist from a distant country is bound to feel. Surely not like a king at all!
Touting leaves a bad taste on everyone. I hope somebody understands this. I understand the competition to catch the unknowing tourist from a foreign country (read as white skinned idiot!) I realise that the taxi drivers in the Airport, Railway station or the tourist guides in front of the Taj Mahal or Charminar or the beggars in MG Road are all waiting to make some business. But little do they realise that touting may make them money in the short run, but in the long run they are themselves burning their own business. The disturbed tourist is not likely to speak well of the Charminar or MG Road, to his friends back home. The chances that he chooses India for his next holiday,is that much reduced.
India has a huge possibility of a much increased tourist revenue. But that can be possible only if a few things are to be taken in serious interest by all of us.The most important of all those things is to respect and recognise tourist as a guest. Tourists come to India because they think of it as the land which has welcomed millions of cultures open heartedly. We need to appreciate the cultures of our guests , and demonstrate our open heartedness towards guests. We cannot afford to depict a closed mind towards tourists.
The government and the private sectors have already identified tourism as an important avenue for revenue. A lot of investment is already underway to realise this hidden potential of ' Incredible India'. But all these investments will only make better places for tourists to visit and enjoy. What is more important is that we as Indians make ourselves better people to meet and get to know.
As a closing note I want to tell you about a Swedish passenger , with whom I travelled once. He was 52 years of age! After he realised I was an Indian, he struck into a very incredible conversation with me. He said that he loved India and he loved Indians. He said that he saved money working for 10 months a year (without any leave) and then travelled to a village in North Rajastan to spend the remaining 2 months of his year! He looked like a satisfied tourist. He didn't come to the Taj Mahal, or the Charminar to see India. He straight went to a remote village in the North of Rajasthan to meet the Indians he loved. The Indians who open heartedly allowed him into their village and made him feel like a part of the family! Made him feel good about having to come here every year. I am sure , we city dwellers have an important lesson to learn from those villagers in North Rajastan. A lesson India is supposed to have taught the rest of the world from long long ago. The lesson is simple. 'Athithi Devo Bhava' .