What do you see as the main challenge before the minister for tourism?
The very fact that we've never recognised tourism as a national priority. In 2002, we've framed the New Tourism Policy. Our budget has increased five-fold. No other ministry has seen a five-fold increase. Besides, we feel India can become one of the world's finest destinations. Look at what we can offer - monuments, destinations, hospitality, diversity.
We will develop six integrated circuits per year. I firmly believe tourism must be shifted from the state to the concurrent list.
How do you propose to tackle the slump in tourism, post 9/11? Now Israel fears a possible attack in Goa during New Year eve celebrations.
Tourism has picked up from October last year. The number of tourists has gone up by 18% and foreign exchange eamings have gone up by 23%/ Travel warnings send out wrong signals. The Pushkar advisory, for instance, was crazy. Freign tourists in India say they feel safer here than in a mall in New York.
We're planning for the long term. For the first time, India has been branded as "Incredible India". We are focusing on domestic tourism. We're doing a northeast circuit. Also a new Buddhist circuit.
You've also spoken of a Sufi circuit. How do you propose to market spiritual tourism abroad at a time when India is making news internationally for religious strife?
Spirituality is not something we need to market. The whole world
is aware of India's spiriitual strength. When they look at India, it is the first thing that comes to mind after the Taj Mahal. The average international tourist's stay in India is almost one month - the highest in the world. Despite the chaos in this country, they see people are smilling, lau
There's a demand that the Gautama, the Buddha hall at the Osho Commune International in Pune be declared a heritage site.
This place is already on the tourist map of Maharashtra. Apparently there were moves to demolish that hall and disciples wanted the hall be kept as it was. People are willing to contribute for its maintenance. If they bring down a place like this, it will be very sad
So will you promote Osho tourism?
I'm talking of spiritual tourism. It can be Osho, Sri Sri Ravishankar, other gurus.
But our best known gurus have made their home abroad
Gurus will go abroad. What they have understood, they will give to the whole world. Becaause it is easier for them to go and settle elsewhere. We need to give them land to set up their ashrams here, finance them, make them self-sufficient, organise events around them. They need our help.