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Importing rural tourism — a way ahead for India

Recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to India was marked with the signature hugs from Prime Minster Modi, the foundation of International Solar Alliance and 14 key agreements inked between the two nations. While President Macron expressed his desire to make his country India’s gateway to the Europe, strategic agreements between the two nations were driven by the desire of both countries to counter Chinese aggression.

For the first time, the land of revolution and the land of spirituality appeared to be so close that in joint press conference PM Modi defined the ties between the duo as a relationship from soil to space. Whether their purpose is to attract each other’s talents and expertise or counter Chinese aggression, the new found deep and trustworthy Indo-French relationship can do wonders for each other.

One important aspect that can offer win-win situation for both nations is Rural Tourism. At a time when government of India is importing French expertise in defense and other industries, India needs to rediscover France’s core competence – Tourism and import it to India on a large scale. Government of India has launched a mission called National Rurban Mission which defines its vision as “Development of a cluster of villages that preserve and nurture the essence of rural community life with focus on equity and inclusiveness without compromising with the facilities perceived to be essentially urban in nature, thus creating a cluster of Rurban Villages”. Beware that the essential urban facilities here include such basic needs as electricity, safe drinking water, toilets etc.

With the Rurban Mission, stage is already set for France to offer development of rural tourism in selected villages throughout India. India can seek French expertise to design and build beautiful villages, customised for Indian needs, culture and heritage, on the lines of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. “The most beautiful villages of France” is an association, which promotes tourism in small rural villages with a rich cultural heritage. Development of villages resembling the architectural style of medieval and pre-medieval villages can be a sustainable model of revenue generation given the growing middle class in India. For instance, villages resembling those during the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji in 17th century can be developed in Sahyadri mountain ranges in Maharashtra; during the Chaulukya dynasty in 12th Century can be built in Gujarat; villages developed in 9th century during the Imperial medieval Cholas under Vijayalaya can be restored in Tamil Nadu.

A large and concentrated urban population in Indian cities offers large customer base for the villages developed near such cities. Thus, adding to revenue of French Tourism from Indian soil. It is interesting to note that exporting rural tourism won’t cannibalise the existing tourism revenue and the number of visitors visiting France as rural tourism is not the centre of attraction for the tourists coming from developing countries. Thus the business model can be an attractive proposition for French tourism industry.

The model of rural tourism will be beneficial for both the nations. It will provide all the basic facilities and a sustainable model of self reliance and growth for India’s rural population. Beauty and cleanliness offered by the rural tourism will be a big boost to the Swatch Bharat mission. Overall, it will result in an improved standard of living of the local population. The symbiotic relationship between the two countries vis-a-vis tourism industry will help in their respective economic growth.

Increasingly, India’s rural population is migrating towards cities for jobs, making already crowded cities densely packed. Infrastructure in cities is becoming incapable of bearing the burden of continuous influx. Rural tourism can provide job opportunities for the villagers which in turn can reduce the number of people migrating to overcrowded cities. On the other hand, urban population will flock to such villages for vacation. The biggest advantage of tourism is tourists are not permanent residents of the tourist place. Hence, the infrastructure is relatively easy to manage and maintain compared to cities where employees reside permanently.

If successful, the model can be extended in India as well as other developing countries. In fact, Europe being highly sought after for tourism, European countries can offer such models and their expertise in developing the rural tourism in developing countries. Rising aspirations of growing middle class in developing countries offer a big market for rural tourism as the urban population yearns for serene, beautiful and refreshing places where they can breathe fresh air and be away from their worries for a while.

Saket Aloni

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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