Tourism has been a major social phenomenon from time immemorial. Motivated by the natural urge of every human being for new experiences, adventure, education and entertainment, these also include social, cultural and business interests.
Travel for pilgrimage and learning has been an integral part of Indian culture and thus several centuries of learning and religious worship developed all over the country. This gave further impetus to the mass movement of people from one place to another. Development of traditional industries and trade created yet another stream of travellers. Several trading routes were established and traders started frequenting the centres of trade from distant places. The ancient rulers gave due consideration to these travellers and created many wayside facilities like inns, sarais, dharamsalas and caravans for their benefit. Thus, India has been experiencing a massive movement of domestic tourists for several decades.
A few centuries ago the Moghul rulers introduced pleasure tourism by building luxurious palaces and gardens in places of natural scenic attraction, including many in the beautiful valley of Kashmir. It was, however, during the British rule in India, that domestic tourism received new direction and meaning. Several hill stations were also developed during the period, which became the core of the Indian leisure tourism.
The emergence of a large 'urban middle class' coupled with better transport and communication facilities has created a new class of holiday and leisure tourists in contemporary India. Millions of pilgrims and devotees now travelling from one part of the country to another make an effort to understand the spirit and mystique of India and take pride in its ancient cultural traditions and ethos.
Domestic tourism is also one of the most vibrant expressions of Indian heritage. It is the single unifying force, which helps in achieving understanding between various linguistic, religious and communal groups living in different parts of the country. In the contemporary India, the phenomenon of domestic tourism with its vibrant and changing dimensions can be expected to make an even greater contribution toward strengthening the fabric of the unity of India.
Despite its great significance in the national integration and development, domestic tourism has not received adequate attention in the process of development planning. However, there has been the almost unobtrusive and yet inexorable rise of domestic tourism in the Indian paradigm. From approximately 270 million domestic visits in 2003, the number rose to almost 432 million in 2006. The ministry of tourism's vision is to achieve a level of 760 million domestic tourist visits by the year 2011, the end of the 11th Plan at an annual average growth of 12 per cent.
The average Indian is also an avid sightseer and can travel thousands of miles to different environments. A significant pointer to this is travel during the summer months, a time when most foreign tourists avoid India. The bulk of the affluent middle class, however, flock to the tourist stations of the Himalayas and test the carrying capacity of these resorts to the maximum. Even in winter, the Indian traveller is on the move, targeting seaside resorts, forests sanctuaries, desert safaris and historical monuments for special attention. Domestic tourism is also fuelled by business travel to various parts of the country, as also by agriculture demands.
Hitherto, domestic tourism was confined to lower spectrum of spending and so did not figure in hotel and restaurant receipts. Now the domestic tourist demand is shifting to expansive tourist resorts, hotels and resorts.
As the rich domestic tourist will look after himself, there is a need to make domestic tourism reach within the capacity of the lower middle class and millions of pilgrims and devotees. It should be the job of the Central and state governments, travel agencies and tour operators and other agencies to work out packages which they could conveniently afford.
Since accommodation is the core of the tourism industry, efforts need to be made to provide the domestic visitors economy accommodation. There are a large number of dharamsalas, sarais, choultries, agarshalas etc., which were built round the places of worship only during ancient times through the efforts of private individuals, institutions and rulers. The British administration then built a number of circuit houses, dak bungalows and rest houses and hill resorts. Most of the dharamsalas and sarais are today in a dilapidated condition. These could be made fit for staying with a small expenditure.
Dharamasalas and sarias at the pilgrimage and religious places should be improved and provided with more facilities. Some of our pilgrim places woefully lack even basic hygienic amenities. During the festival days, millions of pilgrims and devotees visit the shrines, a large majority of them sleeping in the open with hardly any sanitary facilities. Basic facilities at these places including camping sites and budget hotels, which the ordinary travellers could afford should be developed not only at the pilgrimage and religious places but at other places of interest. Presently, tariffs of hotels run by the tourism corporations in northern India are beyond the reach of average domestic traveller.
Former tourism minister, Jagmohan had rightly said that domestic tourism must be the backbone for international tourism. It is the base on which the pyramid of international tourism is built. He said that tourism was more of a civilisational issue and thus a total change in mindset was needed to usher in a tourism friendly atmosphere. Ours is a vast and a varied country, pluralistic in food, language, custom and religion. Tourism contributes significantly to our ethos of unity in diversity and integration. Hence the primary importance of domestic tourism, which needs more importance than it has received. Today in pilgrim tourism alone, there are more than 150 million people travelling within the country in each year. This class of tourists requires special attention. National Tourism Policy also focuses on domestic tourism as a major driver of tourism growth.
Talking about the importance of domestic tourism, Jafar Jafri says that " In order to attract foreign exchange and promote understanding across the boundaries, perhaps, each country should first look within and develop its domestic tourism industry for internal bridges of understanding and stronger economic structure. Then the country can more surely receive international tourists for foreign exchange and promote cross-cultural communication for a global communication".
With exposure to their countries past heritage and resources, contemporary efforts, and future aspirations, the people travelling within their own country, can witness the dynamism of their own country at work, and see and learn about their own nation. Consequently, the country, with its problems and prospects in sight will become a more real rather than a national country. Domestic tourists repeatedly zigzagging the country further reinforce the many cultural themes with national characteristics or potentials.
Apart from the cultural benefits, domestic more than international tourism, help in the development of local products including handicrafts and cottage industry products which the visitors take back as souvenirs and gifts for their relatives and friends. The economically backward regions also get benefited on account of the visit of the domestic tourists from creation of employment and income opportunities.
Often the local infrastructure and standards are more readily acceptable to domestic than to international tourists. As the demand for international tourism depends upon many external factors such as international economic prospects, international political climate, air accessibility, and seasonal oscillations, domestic tourism is more stable. Northern Indian states would do well to promote domestic tourism by providing them reasonably priced facilities and design inter state packages.