The Demand Uncovered
Highways have varied embedded connotations, like the backbone of modern economy, the philosophy of life signifying the ’voyage unremitting’ from birth till death, the history of mankind and its endeavor, the passion for speed and dart non-episodically etc. etc. Similarly, tourism - the industry of 21st Century, the expression of nomadic instinct of man, delicate interaction of cultures, symbol of un-satiated human desires and his quest for revelation – is the ‘phenomenon - unending’.
Now let us super-impose these varied embedded connotations of highways and tourism one on one respectively - the backbone of modern economy plus the industry of 21st Century, the philosophy of life signifying the ’voyage unremitting’ from birth till death plus the expression of nomadic instinct of man, the history of mankind and its endeavor plus delicate interaction of cultures and the passion for speed and dart non-episodically plus symbol of un-satiated human desires and his quest for revelation. The result - uncovering of huge and hidden demand for highway tourism emanating from the basic instincts of humans and contemporary economic policies.
Highway Tourism – The Indian Context
Dissection of related contemporary issues and initiatives prepares the case for development of highway tourism in India. These issues / initiatives are:
When one travels through India, one comes face to face with this country’s diverse tourism potential. India is home to a variety of people of different lineages following varied religions, practicing varied traditions and cultures; and speaking numerous dialects and languages. Also, people in India live in a variety of settings – from tribes through villages and towns to metropolitan cities.
Diversity in India is not limited only to the people, culture & tradition and languages. There is also a great deal of variety in the geography and ecology of the various regions. India stretches from Kashmir (J & K) in the north to Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) in the south and from Arunanchal Pradesh in the East to the Rann of Kutch (Gujarat) in the west. From snowcapped peaks to lush green valleys, gushing rivers, dense forests and caverns, the arid Thar Desert down to the sunlit sea – India has it all.
India is a multi-destination country with a variety of tourist attractions and facilities. It hosts a number of wildlife parks, bird sanctuaries, museums and hundreds of historical monuments. All in all, India has in abundance what a tourist desires.
The dramatic growth of tourism over the last 50 years is one of the most remarkable economic and social phenomena of the period worldwide. This phenomenal growth can be attributed to the social factors that enhance demand, the technology, which has made traveling easier and more economical; and the improved information technology, which has transformed the selling strategy of tourism. In India also, tourism sector is second largest net foreign exchange earner by way of invisible exports and it creates more jobs than any other sector for every rupee invested. It is the sector that integrates a wide range of economic activities having a major role in promoting large-scale employment opportunities.
Keeping in view the strategic importance of tourism in the economy, Central and State Governments have taken various initiatives to tap the potential of the tourism in the country. These initiatives aim at improving infrastructure at tourist centres, enhancing quality and diversifying tourism products, encouraging private participation in tourism industry while, the Government functions as a catalyst, establishing synergy between tourism and handicrafts industry, encouraging traditional fairs and festivals, weekend tourism, adventure tourism, domestic tourism, special tourist area, human resource development by providing them skills and getting them trained, preserving and protecting the environment and ecology, propagating ancient, cultural rich heritage and tradition of the country, restructuring and revitalizing the tourism promotion activities to suit the taste of present generation, while preserving the culture, heritage and traditions, evolving new strategies and adopt modern technology for giving worldwide publicity to attract large number of tourists both domestic and foreign, identifying new and naturally rich tourism potential sites and developing them by using the services to tourists through Human Resources Development and Training, ensuring safety and security to tourists by creating “Tourism Police” wing and strengthening of statistical machinery, reporting systems, and development of a comprehensive database to quantify and evaluate the socio economic benefits of tourism etc. etc.
New areas such as eco tourism, hinterland development, cultural heritage tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism, health resort tourism, golf tourism, conferencing & convention tourism, sports tourism, casino tourism, water sports, winter year round tourism, pilgrimage, wild life tourism, amusement and leisure tourism etc. have been proposed to be developed.
All these initiatives indicate towards the importance and priority that has been accorded to the tourism sector by the Central and State Governments.
The ambitious National Highway Development Program (NHDP) envisaged 4-6 laning of the existing high-density highway corridors linking the four mega-cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. It also aimed at the creation of north-south and east-west corridors — linking Srinagar in the north and Kanyakumari in the south with a spur between Salem to Kochi, and Porbandar in the west to Silchar in the east. The 11 major Indian ports also planned to be interconnected by this project. With an overall length of 14,162 kilometers, the NHDP is one of the largest highway projects in the world.
The modernization of the national highways is being implemented in two phases. The first phase involves the entire Golden Quadrilateral along with some stretches of the N-S and E-W corridors. Work on various areas of the GQ is already on. Phase II covers 5,744 km in the N-S and E-W corridors and is expected to be completed in December 2007. Mumbai - Pune, Delhi - Jaipur, Delhi - Mathura - Agra, Jalandhar - Ludhiana - Ambala - Panipat, Chilakaluripet - Vijayawada and Jagatpur - Chandikhol are some of the stretches where the work of 4-laning and strengthening of the existing highways have been successfully completed, bringing immense benefits to the local economies. Apart from the existing world-class roads, the project’s focus is on enhanced safety, better riding surface and road geometry, traffic management and noticeable signage. The other features are divided carriageways and service roads, grade separators, over-bridges and underpasses for uninterrupted traffic flow, bypasses and wayside amenities along with ambulances and cranes.
Financing the project was an uphill task. The estimated cost stands at Rs 58,000 crore. Apart from the Rs 20,000 crore contributed jointly by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation, the Centre has also adopted a multi-pronged approach to meet this challenge. It has started by ensuring the collection of an equal sum by imposing a cess on petrol and diesel in two consecutive Union budgets. Market borrowings to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore has also been arranged. The remaining money is expected to come from private sector participation.
To encourage the country’s road construction industry, the Central Government has offered many concessions and incentives to them. They include income tax exemption for 10 years from earnings from the Project and total customs duty exemption on road building equipment not being produced in the country. In the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme, grants up to 40 per cent has been permitted.
In addition, bonds floated by the National Highways Authority of India, which is charged with the execution of the project, have been exempted from capital gains. Attractive incentives have also been announced for time-bound completion of work by the participating companies.
Above discussed contemporary initiatives and highest priority accorded to both sectors i.e. tourism and national highway development prepares the case for development of highway tourism in India and indicates towards the opportune time for it.
Benefits of Highway Tourism
Besides catalyzing diversification of tourist traffic and tourist revenue from the urban centres, planned development of highway tourism opens tremendous opportunities for enhancing local employment and upliftment of rural economy through local feeder enterprises, which will find scope to grow in the vicinity of such highway tourist complexes.
How to go about
The need is to study the complete Road Network in the country in order to prepare a comprehensive Highway Tourism Development Master Plan. Such a plan should address, but not limited to, the following aspects:
Classification and categorization of highway network from tourism point of view. The present classification as National Highways, State Highways, Major District Roads and Rural Roads etc. will not serve the purpose. Thus, duly keeping in view the nature of traffic plying on various sections of the road network and extent plus nature of tourism activity in the area of influence of respective sections, tourism specific classification of highway network is eminent.
Study of strategic options covering level of business that can be generated, likely locations/regions that will benefit, type and quantity of employment likely to be generated etc.
Studying the market in order to segment the market, product development and outlining the market positioning strategy for perfect market – product match.
Prioritization of strategic options keeping in view of the scarcity of public resources.
Possible level of private sector investment, in which areas, what needs to be done, by whom.
Carrying Capacity of highway tourism considering infrastructure norms and availability, capacity of service providers, socio-cultural and environmental sustainability.
Maximization of benefits to different constituencies/stakeholders by adopting a mechanism to ensure community participation.
A beginning has been made in this direction. Recently, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation has entered in to agreement with Reliance Industries and IBP to develop highway amenities and highways plazas. So far 10 sites on National Highway No. 4 have been identified for development. More such initiatives are likely to be taken in the near future.