( The Times of India, July 15,2002 )
From films & stardom to spirituality & politics Vinod Khanna has come a long way to become the new minister of state for tourism & culture. As he comes to grips with his new role, he tells Chandrika Mago that he sees the government playing the role of a facilitator
What needs to be done to promote tourism?
We need to promote it in an aggressive manner. The year 2000 was supposed to be Destination India Year - it never took off. We have to market India as a tourism destination - leisure, spiritualistic,healing. Unfortunately, previous governments have never given much importance to spirituality. All the gurus have gone & settled abroad, we should have facilitated them here. Millions of people come to Osho. We should focus around people of that stature - such as Sri Ravi Shankar.
There are several ideas. We should facilitate everything that can drive tourism. We could have packages for non-resident Indians. Allow more airlines to come into India. Civil aviation, tourism & culture,railways, these three have to work together. Of course, we would need more money.
Do you think there is a need to sell the concept of tourism to people here, who may still look on it as an elite industry?
I think so. Tourism is the largest employer worldwide. That factor will change mindsets. We have suggested catering & management institutes could do roadshows for dhabas - on simple things like hygiene, etc. That will also change things.
Given the allocation of work, how do you perceive your role?
The whole thrust has to be to increase awareness of our cultural heritage. There is so much in our museums. People don't know about it. Maybe, we need more publicity on television. We need to improve our websites so that even children can access information. Outside the Louvre in Paris, there are these huge shops with posters & mementoes. There is so much that can be done.
In tourism, we have to market India, the focus can be both foreign & domestic tourism. Maybe we could look at reviving the Festivals of India, these have been on a very low key. Maybe we could have some great roadshows. We could have cultural ambassadors. We need to focus on spirituality, yoga, ayurveda - these are our jewels. There is no other country which talks of nirvana & moksha. Of course, I have just assumed office. We need to do a lot of brainstorming. In principle, we have agreed to give a thrust.
I am also very impressed with the concept of integrated tourism circuits. It would be very good if implemented nicely. We have beautiful sanctuaries & mountains. A long coastline - there are not cruises happening. We need to bring in adventure sports. We can be facilitators, the private sector has to come in. Some film producers have been seeking incentives to promote shootings within the country. We have been working for the industry. It has gained recognition as an industry, several sops from the finance ministry. We've made a great beginning. There are about 15 members of Parliament from the film industry. Some of us have been working towards this, quietly. We have got relief in excise & customs duties. Now, the tourism industry also has to be looked at as an industry; we have to give sops if we want tourism, particularly domestic tourism, to take off.
Do you see any potential for packaging Mumbai & Bollywood for tourism?
Yes. We can work closely with the film industry Los Angeles alone eams $10 billion a year from Hollywood. We should think of this. One of the demands has been single - window clearance for shootings.
Countries like Switzerland privide single-window clearance; you can go & shoot anywhere. In India tourism is, more or less,a state subject. But we must have single-window clearance in each state at least. If you want to shoot on a train, for instance, it is so difficult. Defence clearances are easier than railway clearances
Several countries are wooing Bollywood to promote tourism through films. Can we do something similar?
There has been a problem since we lost Kashmir for shootings. It had all the infrastructure. You could go with a unit of 400 people, there were hotels, generators, horses, camels, whatever you needed. You need that infrastructure. I wanted to shoot my own film at Auli, a skiing resort There was no infrastructure. In contrast, if you go to Switzerland, you don't even have to take a camera, just a cameraman, the rest comes as a package there. And air fares are the same It's more economical.
You have visited ITDC's flagship Ashok Hotel in Delhi. What do you see as the problems?
It is a regal priperty with great potential. I hope we can get enough money to turn it around. It has been without a chairman for five years, it had deteriorated, it is 47. Things have started looking up, it is getting its act together, they have made their vision plans quite clear, people are willing to work.
We haven't made maximum use of space. I'm sure with the right people in place, it can easily be turned around. There are a number of things we can talk about once a revival package is approved.