‘Tourism is serious business’

After spending three years in MOT, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Tourism, GoI, is getting repatriated to her parent cadre (IRS-IT) for a promotion. The MOT stint was full of learning, she claims.

Nisha Verma

When she joined the Union Ministry of Tourism in 2019, Rupinder Brar saw a lot of ups and downs within the industry, the biggest upheaval being the ongoing pandemic. Agreeing that she would be formally leaving the tourism ministry and joining an assignment with the IRS, she said, “It has been an eventful journey, where I learnt a lot professionally as well as personally. As we all know ongoing COVID-19 played the villain in terms of stopping travel from March 2020. It has been a tough two years for us all,” Brar said.

“This period,” Brar said, “has been a time of great learning for me. When you continue to do things the way they are being done, the change is incremental in terms of adopting and adapting to new practices. The ongoing COVID-19 was so upsetting that it required a lot of rethink; things needed to be done differently. We all had to put our hats down and think about how we should come out of the crisis. How travel and tourism should recover. It was a tremendous three years, active and engaging. I have personally and professionally grown a lot in the last three years,” she added.

Period of learning
Stating that when she joined the Tourism Ministry, she said, “I moved in from the IRS, which is an earning department and I was going to a spending department. The biggest learning for me has been that tourism is a sector with a huge opportunity for India. This learning has gotten reinforced every single day. Tourism is a game changer because there are certain natural attributes that India has, including tangible and intangible heritage: the sheer variety that we have is immense. Another thing that we have is hospitality and warmth, which is embedded in our DNA. We have a large population of youngsters and a huge demographic divide in India. Therefore, tourism can be a game changer not only in terms of employment, but also in terms of adding to the GDP. Tourism can be a revenue generator and directly or indirectly. People with skillsets to the not-so-skilled and to the highly unskilled get jobs at various levels.”

Brar said, “While there is always something to learn from those who perform better than India, all the things may or may not be the same since every country offers some unique things. You need to pick up from other countries in terms of how to showcase heritage and tourism. When I joined the ministry, I discovered that it has a huge focus on tourism in terms of creating huge infrastructure in hospitality sector, civil aviation network, extensive and good quality highways, inland waterways, ports and, health infrastructure.”

“The kind of work that is happening now in these sectors is contributing to the growth of domestic and inbound tourism for India. I think this is where the story looks upbeat. The surge in domestic tourists during ongoing COVID-19 exhibited the kind of interest that people today have in travelling to different parts of India and utilizing what we now call as experiential or immersive tourism. While tourism is considered a lot of fun, and at the same time, is a serious business and India truly has a huge and bright future.”

Brar was at the helm of Dekho Apna Desh webinar series, which has been a huge success. Talking about it as one of her biggest achievements in the past three years, she said, “It has been my passion and a journey of learning for myself. I am a student of History and I pride myself in being an avid traveller too. The more you unravel the layers of India, the more there is for you to learn. Therefore, the journey of Dekho Apna Desh became an unending journey for us. It is not only about old India, but also about moving to a vibrant one, and how the two co-exist—beautifully and seamlessly. I think what is incredible about India, for me personally, is Dekho Apna Desh. It will continue to inspire me.”

Message for trade
Sharing her message to the travel industry, Brar said, “It has been a tumultuous time and I must congratulate everyone for coming up with fantastic ideas, not just about survival, but about bouncing back from the ongoing pandemic. While some adopted digital technologies in an amazing manner, some experimented with new products such as homestays. They did amazing work and I wish good luck to all of them. I truly wish that everyone comes together and showcases different aspects of India to others around the world. Let us work together to make sure that the country becomes the number one destination.”

What’s needed?
Looking back at 2019, one can say whatever strategies were adopted in the last few years were on track. “A lot of simplification of processes is helping the tourism sector. We need to strategise and market ourselves strongly. We must enter non-traditional markets so that more nations start looking at India as a destination. On marketing side; we should be working with PR agencies in this regard,” said Brar.

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