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Eyes on India - From Megasthenes to Ayodhya!

- Keyur Vora

"India has many huge mountains which abound in fruit trees of every kind and many vast plains of great fertility-more or less beautiful, but all alike intersected by a multitude of rivers. It teems at the same time with animals of all sorts…It is said that India, being of enormous size when taken as a whole, is peopled by races both numerous and diverse."
- Extract from Indika by Megasthenes, who travelled to India during around 300 BCE.

Over millennia, as a fabled land, India has captured the fascination and imagination of people around the world. Tourism, with its ebb and flows, is perhaps one of the oldest thriving themes of India, a crucible of the world's many cultures and religions, endowed with rich and diverse cultural heritage going back to thousands of years, natural beauty and dotted with historical sites across the country. The country boasts of a wide diversity of tourism types including historic monument, culture & heritage, beaches / water sports, hill stations, nature, spiritual. In a global context, the country has been ranked 7th most beautiful country by Forbes in 2022, it is home to 42 UNESCO World Heritage sites (and ranks 6th globally) and one of only three countries in the world to have both hot and cold deserts.

Setting the stage for the sector to bloom

For all its famed attraction, India never quite realized the full potential of tourism. While the destinations were always there, there were glaring gaps when it came to developing tourist sites, investing in infrastructure, and a coherent policy framework to promote Tourism. Initiatives, policies, and propaganda at the government level in the past nine years do bear out both a sense of urgency as well as comprehensive focus to address the challenges the sector faced and pave the way forward for the sector to take-off sustainably.

National Tourism Policy

National Tourism Policy 2022 is part of the vision of New India aimed at improving framework conditions for tourism development in the country, supporting tourism industries, strengthening tourism support functions, and develop tourism sectors.

Strong growth in connectivity and infrastructure

The government has been actively investing in expanding and modernizing airports, railways & road networks to enhance connectivity not only to popular tourist destinations but to also remote offbeat locations. The number of active airports has doubled to 148 over the last 10 years- this compares with only 74 airports in 65 years post-independence. National Highway length has increased by 55,000km and railway route length by 26,000km over the last 10 years.

Strong government push

Underlining its emphasis on promoting tourism and in the context of India's G20 Presidency and Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the ministry of tourism had declared 2023 as a 'Visit India' year. The government has actively promoted lesser-known destinations through initiatives such as 'Dekho Apna Desh' and 'Swadesh Darshan'. To ease the travel for foreigners, GoI issued new visa reforms: offering E- tourist Visas, and a scheme which offers 500k free tourist visas.

Hosting major international events - promoting Brand India

The holding of the G20 presidency was an unprecedented opportunity for the country's tourism sector through meetings across 60 locations in India and all the 28 States and 8 UTs, thousands of delegates got an opportunity to travel across the country and get a feel of the rich heritage and culture.

More recently, the grand opening of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, was hailed as a big religious event and the city could potentially attract 50m+tourists/year. A US$10bn makeover will drive a multiplier effect with new hotels & other economic activities and transform the ancient city into a global religious and spiritual tourist hotspot.

Tourism inflexion in a post-covid era

India's tourism industry has been experiencing a remarkable growth, especially post-pandemic. While the government continues to do its bit in shaping the sector, confluence of factors has delivered the much needed upward thrust to the sector such as rising disposable income, more affordable air travel, increasing awareness of India's diverse tourism offerings, and the widespread use of social media and online booking platforms. As per data, a new trend is emerging, where the lesser-known gems are now capturing the wanderlust of travelers. Cities such as Varanasi, Gurugram and Coimbatore are increasingly showing up in bookings with remarkable growth.

Another important catalyst in the sector has been advancement and integration of technology over the past few years both on the demand and supply side. The Travel Tech industry continues to march ahead in taking the lead in leveraging cutting-edge technologies to help solve customer and supply-side complex issues. The impact of these technologies is profound, offering a seamless and customized journey for travelers while ensuring operational efficiency for businesses.

At the cusp of multi-decade growth

Strong recovery from the pandemic notwithstanding, India's tourism to GDP ratio at 6.8% of GDP is still below most of the large emerging/developed economies by 3-5 percentage points. Even as India's global ranking has materially improved from 41 in 2012 to 17 in 2021, its share of international tourist arrivals is quite low at 1.5%, implying significant room for growth. The tourism sector is expected to grow to US$443bn by FY33 implying an 8% CAGR. The government recently unveiled an ambitious plan to reach $1 trillion from the sector by 2047.

India's growing middle class and rising disposable income are also expected to boost domestic tourism. By addressing the challenges and promoting sustainable tourism practices, India can attract even more tourists and become a top destination in the world.


The Indian travel and tourism industry's role in fueling the nation's economic resurgence stands out prominently, underpinning the favorable outlook on the sector. Tourism was one of the sectors highlighted by the Finance Minister in her commentary. Some of the key budgetary measures to promote the sector were -

  1. Long term interest free loans to states for Tourism. States are being encouraged to take up “comprehensive” development of iconic tourist centres and undertake their branding and marketing at a global scale.

  2. To address the emerging fervour for domestic tourism, Infrastructure and port connectivity projects in its islands, including Lakshadweep.

  3. Conversion of 40,000 regular train bogies into Vande Bharat coaches, marking a substantial leap forward in passenger safety, convenience, and comfort. By expanding the fleet of Vande Bharat coaches, the government aims to reduce travel time, enhance passenger experience, and accelerate tourism growth throughout the nation.

Investments in hospitality, travel platforms, aviation companies, luggage etc are some of the ways to gain exposure to the secular trends in the sector. Beyond the universe of listed equities, the Indian startup ecosystem in the tourism sector is vibrant with 1,300+ DPIIT-recognized startups. Many of these will potentially list themselves on the bourses in the years to come, expanding the investible universe in the sector.

Tourism will continue to remain an incredibly exciting space for tourists and investors alike!