Literally stealing out time from his busy schedule, Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, stormed into the proceedings of the first-ever ‘India-Japan Tourism Meet’ organised by FICCI in partnership with the Embassy of Japan to formally inaugurate the said event. “Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is determined to make tourism the backbone of the Indian economy as the sector has a multiplier effect on employment generation and foreign exchange earnings. Besides it encourages cultural and people to people exchange. The historical ties between India and Japan can be traced back to the sixth century when Buddhism was introduced in Japan. Since then the Japanese have cherished their sentiments towards India. And now India is striving to make the travel to various destinations in the country a truly magnificent experience for Japanese tourists with a strong focus on infrastructure, experience and information,” said Sharma.
Sharma said in India the Buddhist circuit has been set up, which are a set of important locations where Lord Buddha had settled in his lifetime. This circuit should find favour with the Japanese as they are keen followers of Buddhism. He added that medical, wellness and Ayurveda were other areas which Japanese tourists would find endearing. He added that the Indian government was working towards creating appropriate tourism infrastructure, maintaining cleanliness of tourism destinations and making the environment safe and secure for foreign tourists.
In his special address, Kenji Hiramatsu, Ambassador of Japan to India, said that with the framework of ‘Indo-Japan Tourism Council’ and ‘Indo-Japan Tourism Summit’ that are set up and organized for the first time in India, the participants should pursue “action-oriented” outcomes to improve travel and tourism relationship between Japan and India in a visible way. This is a great opportunity for both governments and tourism industry to get together under one roof and to discuss the expansion of bilateral travel and tourism relations. The new networks that will be built among the participants today will create new opportunities, he added.
Hiramatsu said that travel and tourism between Japan and India was not as robust as we would expect, if we take into account the important relationship between the two countries. Japan welcomed about 100,000 visitors from India in 2015, and about 40,000 tourists among them. But 1.13 million Indians visited the United States during the same period. Therefore there is a tremendous potential of expanding travel and tourism between Japan and India.
In his keynote address, Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said that given Indian and Japan’s economic ties, the share of tourism between the two nations is miniscule and there is scope to improve the numbers. A marginal rise in the number of tourists visiting the Buddha circuit alone could enable Indian to earn USD 6-8 billion every year. He added that with significant steps tourism could increase five-fold between India and Japan from its current level.
Billa said that Indian tourists avoid Japan as there is a perception that traveling to the country is expensive. Such notions needed to be corrected with improved aviation services and easier visa norms. He added that language was a barrier for Japanese tourists as in India there are not many guides speaking Japanese. Hence there was need to have guides speaking Japanese top attract tourists from Japan.
Kuniharu Ebina, Senior Vice Commissioner, Japan Tourism Agency, said that the Japan National Tourism Organization will open an office in Delhi by the end of fiscal 2016 to promote the attractions of Japan, so that more Indians will be interested in traveling to Japan. Besides, at the Indo-Japan Tourism Council, a bilateral meeting to be held tomorrow, the stakeholders plan to discuss current undertakings and issues of inbound and outbound tourism of both countries, and measures to improve and expand tourism exchanges. The expansion of bidirectional tourism exchanges cannot be achieved without the understanding and assistance of the tourism industry, he added.
Jyotsna Suri, Immediate Past President-FICCI, Chairperson -FICCI Tourism Committee & CMD – The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, said that India has a very high potential to be one of the favored destinations amongst the Japanese tourists, given the large number of destinations important from Buddhist interest as well as the burgeoning number of business tourists coming to India. Japan is the 10th largest source market for India in terms of inbound tourist arrivals. “With the B2Bs and conference a growth agenda and road map would emerge to further the synergies between India and Japan through tourism,” she added.