India’s Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, announced in the interim budget that the government would focus on developing new tourist destinations in India, boosting domestic tourism, and promoting spiritual tourism, said a report in Mint.
However, despite this, the tourism ministry has set aside a mere ₹3 crore for overseas promotion of India for its ‘Incredible India’ campaign. The long-running, award-winning campaign—under the sub-head of overseas promotion and publicity and market development assistance—was left by the wayside this year, as the ministry shrank its allocation by 97 percent from last year’s ₹100 crore.
The trend for tourism promotion has been declining. Last year, the budget slashed overseas tourism promotion by a staggering amount. The ministry spent just ₹89 crore in 2021-22 from its allocated ₹524 crore. The amount spent in FY23 further fell to ₹15.89 crore, only to rise somewhat in FY24 to ₹100 crore.
On the other hand, the tourism ministry has lowered its budget estimate from last year’s ₹2,400 crore to ₹2,080.03 crore for FY25, even though that is still a 22 percent increase from the ₹1,692 crore it actually spent. More than two thirds of the FY25 allocation, or ₹1,750 crore, has been kept aside for its Swadesh Darshan scheme. This scheme, set up in 2014-15, provides financial assistance to state governments to develop tourism infrastructure.
It has also completely removed the subhead of the ‘Champion Services Sector Scheme’, which was set up in 2023, for which ₹196 crore had been put aside last year. This year, the tourism ministry’s Prashad Darshan scheme has been allocated a similar amount as last year, at ₹240 crore.
The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) president Rajiv Mehra told Mint that with foreign offices of India’s overseas promotion being closed, many tour operators have removed India from their travel brochures altogether.
“With a mere ₹3 crore allotted for overseas promotion, the tourism industry should now forget that the government will spend any money abroad or operate any FAM (familiarization) tours to bring international travel agents in. The only commendable thing this year is that the government has allotted some money for giving loans to states to improve areas in and around monuments, which can drive some tourism,” he said.
The finance minister said that the success of organizing the G20 meetings in 60 places presented the diversity of India to a global audience. This economic strength has made the country an attractive destination for business and conference tourism. “Our middle class also now aspires to travel and explore. Tourism, including spiritual tourism, has tremendous opportunities for local entrepreneurship. To address the emerging fervor for domestic tourism, projects for port connectivity, tourism infrastructure, and amenities will be taken up on our islands, including Lakshadweep. This will help in generating employment also,” she said.
One travel expert said it was good that the country was focused on domestic tourism and could consider Gati Shakti and Swadesh Darshan schemes to help augment the development of new destinations. “The emphasis on domestic tourism is good, including Lakshadweep. However, its whole beauty and strength is very fragile, and development must not compromise the ecology. On the international front, I still feel we need a lot of promotion and marketing, and to neglect it completely will not be in the long-term [interest],” added M.P. Bezbaruah, secretary general of the Hotel Association of India and former tourism secretary in the government.