India is on the cusp of economic greatness. And it is because of its population, the ultimate resource that the economy needs. We have a young working population. More potential breadwinners in the age group of 15-64 than the dependents mainly children and senior citizens. But India faces a major challenge too. There aren’t enough jobs for this population nor are the available jobs exactly suitable for the largely unskilled population. Formal sector jobs provide for only about 12 pc of the total working population. India is young but without sustainable livelihoods. To reap this demographic dividend, the economy needs to create jobs. Both skilled and unskilled ones. In this article, I try to examine this unique situation in the context of travel and tourism sector which, I believe, holds much potential to solve a part of the problem.
On our trips across India, I have met some very bright young boys and girls who were in some ways connected with the travel sector. Every one of them had a dream of a career different than the present one. A guide at the Vittala Temple wanted to farm on his own land, an autorickshaw driver in Hosptet wanted to own a hotel, another in Bombay wanted to stay back closer to his wife and old parents, a househelp of our B&B at Varanasi wanted to become a chef, a front desk staff at an hotel in Aurangabad dreamt of joining the State Bank of India where his father worked as a guard, a caretaker of a cottage in Kihim wanted to join Govt Service, bus conductor of a TN State Bus to Pondicherry dreamt of going back to the Army, a guide in the Sahyadris dreamt of donning the Khaki..there would be a billion dreams I am sure. Most of them remain unfulfilled. Due to economic conditions, improper guidance and unsustainable livelihoods these youth lose their time in making ends meet and also the burning desire to make their dreams come true.
Travel and Tourism: Solving Part of the Problem
Tourism industry is set to boom. I have been hearing this since about five years now and although not in the real economic sense of the term, I can see steady upward movement in the sector. The growing interest in travel along with the proliferation of social media which only aids this trend has resulted into opening up of the market. The government has been taking interest in promoting India as a the ultimate tourist destination too. Although we have a long way to go in achieving that status, we are well on our way subject to major changes in the social outlook of the people and available infrastructure.
Therefore, can the sector help in reaping the demographic dividend? The simple answer is yes, to a certain extent. Let’s look at how.
Reaping the Demographic Dividend
There are three principal pillars to this
- Bottom up small, Multiple Investments
- Training and Skill Development – Hand Holding
- Major Infrastructure Development – Social as well as Physical
Let’s examine each point in greater detail
- Bottom Up Small & Multiple Investments
2100 feet above mean sea level in the village of Prabalmachi, on the outskirts of Mumbai, Nilesh Bhutambara, 27, has set up a small lodge,an a eatery and guide services for the trekkers who frequent this plateau to scale Prabalgad and Kalavantindurg that lie in his backyard. Belonging to the Thakar/Thakur tribe, his initiative in this remote part of the hilly area is a boon to hikers like us who replenish, rest at his facility run lovingly by his family including his parents, two brothers, an uncle and two sisters. He works with a government entity in Chennai and coordinates the bookings remotely. It is a fantastic example of how small initiatives taken by a local can empower the community. There are many such examples from Spiti Ecosphere in Himachal to Friends of Orchha homestay or the Kelichapada Tourism Centre, Jawhar that directly share the benefits of tourism with the local community.
Provision of public and private funds to help set up such initiatives would go a long way in creating sustainable livelihoods. Investments can be broadly divided under the following heads.
- Investments in Accommodation: The success of Airbnb has shown that travellers are not averse to living with the locals. This is a game changer. There is therefore an urgent need to enable small but many investments in helping the locals set up homestays, Bed and Breakfasts, Small Cottages for accommodation.
- Investment in Sustainability: The facilities could be eco friendly, built from locally available materials in preferably the local style of architecture, powered by solar/wind energy and attached with a recyclable pit for wastes. Provision could be made for local food and a chance to partake in festivals and local traditions.
- Investments in Motorable Vehicles: The locals would need motor vehicles, small boats, coracles for internal transportation and sightseeing. One can even think of a Hop on and Hop off buses/tumtums in popular destinations such as Hampi, Badami – Aihole-Pattadakal, Orchha, Mandu, Khajuraho, Varanasi which have points of interest scattered across a wide geographical area. This could help so many backpackers who otherwise have to cough up huge sums on private taxis.
- Investments in Alternate Sources of Employment: Tourism is a sunshine business. Just like the Peninsular rivers, it is not a perennial source of income. Therefore investments must be made to secure alternate sources of employment for the local community. More on this in point number 2 and 3.
The focus on the locals is deliberate. A bottom up approach will empower the local community and protect them against the big corporate hotel chains that are the prime beneficiaries of a tourist destination. Sure, they employ many locals but due to lack of skilled labour their upward mobility within the organisation is pretty much restricted to menial tasks and lower level management. The dependence on the trickle down effect through such big ticket investments has not worked so far. A detailed analysis of the socio-economic conditions of the staff employed at major tourist destinations such as Goa or Kerala will confirm this. Another added advantage is that it creates a pride for their own heritage and thus conserving it becomes possible in today’s seemingly uniform global culture.
2. Training and Skill Development: Post Investment Hand Holding
This is a crucial exercise in the post investment period. While empowering the community, investments will not be enough. There will be several barriers for instance – E-illiteracy, low or no proficiency in English/Hindi, understanding of the needs and tastes of the tourists. Hand holding will be inevitable.
Specific services to help first generation entrepreneurs could be as following
- Training of Internet Use to enable communication, wider access to markets
- Social Media marketing to promote the services
- Basics of accounting
- Legal knowledge about registrations and safety standards
- Financial planning of the profits
- Insurance for the property and the staff
- Soft skills training
- Language proficiency training especially in English
- History lessons to train guides
- Biodiversity lessons to train amateur naturalists that will help conservation efforts
In addition to these hand holding services, provisions could be made for providing vocational training as there will be a need for bus and car drivers, auto rickshaw drivers, plumbers, electricians, boatmen, cooks.
Training could also be imparted to the local youth by the artisans of the area. If there was a dance form – classical or folk of that area, a school could be established and performance troupes could be sent across India to showcase their art. Ditto for handicrafts, drama, puppetry, paintings, pottery, sculpture. This not only conserves local heritage but also makes it remunerative for practitioners of the art.
Major Infrastructure Development: Social and Physical
This is by far the biggest hindrance to an equitable growth in the Tourism sector. Absence of physical infrastructure leads to isolation of regions leading to a skewed inflow of visitors, hinders development of the local population and leads to an outflow of immigrants to other areas. This regional imbalance can be corrected by major investments in road and inland water transport. All weather roads are key.
In addition to this, there is an urgent need to upgrade the training and fleet of the local state run buses, many of them not only are uncomfortable but also risky. Local population has no option but to rely on them.
Sanitation facilities are not common in many rural areas while grossly inadequate in urban areas. In spite of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the previous programmes of similar nature (Nirmal Gram Yojana), proliferation of toilets for personal and public use is minimal.
In addition to this social infrastructure by way of quality education, healthcare, low cost housing remain a key challenge. Though not directly related to tourism, they are the base for developing the demographic into an able, healthy, educated young workforce.
Education upto University level not only helps the youth opt for alternate employment opportunities in the private as well as public sector but also equips them with the confidence to opt for an unconventional career in tourism.
Affordable quality healthcare and insurance ensures a healthy population which is hedged from the risks of a life threatening disease/accident which results into heavy out of pocket expenditure. A leading cause for poverty as per a recent paper published in the Lancet.
In addition to creating basic healthcare, India must also focus on developing super specialised facilities that could cater to the increasing number of Medical tourists that are only increasing by the day. By creating a well trained workforce, medical tourism could provide the necessary boost to the tourism and healthcare sector.
The data from the Economic Survey of India for 15-16 tells us that the nearly 8 million tourists visited India in the last one year, leading to an earnings of US $ 19.7 billion. However, India’s share in the International Tourists Arrivals pie is a mere 0.7 % as compared to France which is at 7 %. The survey notes that even Indonesia and Vietnam has higher shares. The survey also says that domestic tourism is responsible for providing resilience to the sector. Domestic consumption and demand is responsible for sustaining the Indian economy in other sectors as well. A trend that must be further encouraged.
If all three pillars are worked upon simultaneously, the sector will definitely be able to provide sustainable jobs for the young population. Right from encouraging small businesses to creating world class facilities and alternate employment outside of the tourism sector, it will definitely help the economy reap the demographic dividend in part.
Text by Rushikesh Kulkarni for Breakfree Journeys
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