What is happening on India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) front? Does the government plan to sell iconic hotels?
I would like to clarify that the Minister for Tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma has given clear instructions that there would be no sale and loss making hotels would be given on lease. We can also transfer management control. The hotel business has become very competitive and ITDC is not for Indian hotel development. It should focus on development of tourism.What I feel is that time has come when ITDC should diversify into other areas where its core competencies lie. These areas include sound and light shows, event management, human resource development (HRD) in tourism and management of tourism infrastructure at monuments. We have great success in ‘Hunar Se Rozgar Tak’ (HSRT) and ITDC hotels including the Ashok and Samrat can be nucleus for this skill development or HRD for youth including rural unemployed. Every hotel of ITDC should become ‘Tourism School’. I would like to clarify that iconic the Ashok and Samrat in national capital would remain as they are – under complete control of ITDC.
Then why is Ministry mulling disinvestment of ITDC hotels?
ITDC board is not considering disinvestment. Our Minister has just asked to consider leasing out some loss making hotels or transfer management control. Disinvestment means offering of equity to public. Department of Disinvestment says every profit making (for last three years) Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) should offer 25 percent equity to public. We will also be doing the same for our Itanagar property Donyi Polo Ashok which is a profit making unit. And out of 16 properties, barring two iconic hotels, all loss making properties would be considered for leasing out or transfer of management control. Now a transaction adviser would be appointed and the board will take a final call. All top hotel groups are interested in our properties and are in touch with the Ministry and ITDC in this context.
Why all this started again?
Let us go back. The Ashok came into existence in 1956 and ITDC was set up in 1966. After 10 years, the Ashok became part of the Corporation. Between 1966 to 1972, ITDC was the largest hotel chain in the country with 38 hotels and 4,000 rooms. But between 1982 (with Asiad) and 1992, 25 new five-star hotels came up and now Aerocity has 14 hotels with 10,000 rooms. Earlier the Ashok used to offer a room at Rs 10,000 per day to cabin crew and now due to stiff competition, it offers a room at Rs 4,000. So it has become very difficult to sustain in this business. There is no point to continue to old model with huge losses. That is why emphasis is on diversification and expansion of core businesses.
How do you link this process with skill development or HRD in Tourism?
Skill development and bringing in professionalism into the sector is yet another challenge. Under ITDC, we had launched ‘Hunar Se Rozgar Tak’ vertical and especially youth was trained in different trades of the sector at our 16 hotels. We trained thousand of youth and substantial numbers were from rural areas. This process can be scaled up and our hotels would act as tourism school. The Ministry is setting up a Tourism University and a Culinary Institute. The Ashok and Samrat can be nucleus for HRD activities in the city. We aim to enhance the programme’s reach and delivery. The trades opened include food production, food & beverage services, house-keeping and bakery and patisserie. A total of about 1.94 lakh persons trained under HSRT in last five years, of which about 64,000 were trained during FY 2014-15.
New Tourism Policy aims to leverage potential of rural tourism. What are broader policy frameworks and roadmap for this?
The National Tourism Policy 2015 has been prepared after rounds of consultations held with stakeholders, state governments and union territory administrations, experts and veterans in the field of tourism. Adequate attention has been given to rural tourism. We have huge potential of rural tourism in the country and the policy aims to tap these opportunities fully. Pursuant to the announcement made in the Budget 2014-15, two new schemes were launched in 2014-15 under central sector: first is Swadesh Darshan – Integrated Development of Theme Based Tourist Circuits and the second is National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) to beautify and improve the amenities and infrastructure at pilgrimage centres of all faiths.
The government plans to encourage Panchayati Raj Institutions, local bodies, religious trusts, co-operatives and other community level institutions to take up tourism promotion activities through the general rural development and employment generation programmes and specific rural tourism development schemes. How could we make people’s participation more effective?
The Ministry has been implementing a scheme for development of rural tourism as an important component of infrastructure development scheme. The scheme of Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD also emphasise on active participation of people and creation of job opportunities for local people. The development of infrastructure in rural areas having potential for tourism is being supported under the existing scheme of destination development. The objective is to showcase rural life, art, culture and heritage at rural locations and in villages, which have core competence in art & craft, handloom, and textiles as also an asset base in the natural environment.
The Village Level Council (VLC) is the interactive forum for local community participation in work plan implementation, further supported by other community level institutions. For the visitor, whose expenditure creates revenue for host community service providers, rural tourism adds value through packaged programmes in art and craft imparted by skilled local artisans. Village entertainment groups unveil local history and culture, natural and oral treasures. The visitors thus come face to face with India’s rural traditions.
How do you plan to promote the Himalayan Circuit which has been identified under the new Swadesh Darshan Scheme?
Himalayan Circuit is one of the circuits identified under Swadesh Darshan. The projects conforming to the guidelines of Swadesh Darshan will be taken up under the scheme. The available allocation of Rs 600 crores is meant to be utilised for all the 5 circuits identified so far as well as the new circuits to be identified within the current financial year.