Travel journalism plays a growing role today in an otherwise hard news obsessed world. Journalists writing about tourism and travel nowadays exhibit greater as well as global understanding of events they cover and places they discover.
In India, travel journalism comprises both small birds and revered travel writers who come with good research skills, accuracy and thoroughness, as well as an understanding of what motivates the reader. In the last few years, passionate travelers have appeared on the journalism scene, keen to share their experiences, discoveries, joys and disasters. Yet, there is a feeling that the country is letting down this growing breed of enthusiastic travel journalists as well as their curious audience.
For about a decade now, travel journalism has been part of every major newspaper and television channel. The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu – leading newspapers carry regular travel articles that include experiences of the readers, advertorials as well as special articles written by hired journalists.
In newspapers, it is the culture of advertorials, especially for tourism, that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. These columns look into various places and activities that are easily accessible within a day’s drive from where the column is published. Among these too, there are growing areas with columns at times specifically focusing on, for instance, historical travelling, hiking, senior citizen travelling, family trips and holistic holidays.
Travel and food are two concepts that have swept the current television content. There are high definition travel channels catering to the needs of today’s travelers keeping them well informed and influencing their needs. Inspirational, informative and entertaining, travel channels present a uniquely panoramic and objective perspective. These primarily include NDTV Good Times, Fox Traveller, BBC Travel and Discovery Channel India. News channels too have an hour or so slotted for travel shows.
They run special themed programmes including a mouth-watering array of food from around the world to fun journeys, personalized diaries, mad adventures and special destinations.
Another growing area is online travel channels. For instance, YouTube has a list of travel channels which offer wonderful travel videos. People can easily forget the typical stuff they find on TV and drool over these unique YouTube travel channels. These are run by companies like Lonely Planet as well as wanderlust individuals.
One can also not forget the numerous travel magazines being published from India which are full of not just articles, but information as well as tips on how travelers can make the best out of their trips. Despite this growth, travel journalism in India is being let down by its tourist spots and their lack of development. According to a survey of 1,200 tour operators conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India, travel to India may have dropped by as much as 25% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013.
According to the World Bank’s figures from 2011, Malaysia attracts nearly 25 million tourists, Mexico 23 million, Ukraine 21 million, Thailand 19 million, Singapore 10 million, Egypt 9.5 million. In sharp contrast, India attracts under 6.5 million visitors — fewer than Indonesia and Bulgaria. Only half as many as Poland. Vietnam, about the size of Madhya Pradesh, attracts just as many foreign tourists as India.
This unlimited potential, in reality, is about too few hotel rooms, inadequate infrastructure, political indifference, mounting garbage, tawdry scams and violent crime. One can find many places with high tourist potential being bruised and tattered, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Lack of tourist infrastructure has put the dream of mega destinations and circuits stuck in red tape and cumbersome procedures. India has history and culture but no proper facilities and infrastructure for tourists to visit them.
The lack of public amenities near major tourist sports is another problem. The Taj Mahal is our star attraction but there are neither any budget hotels nor proper facilities. Tourists are often exploited economically and criminal elements make visits to India unsafe for women and elderly tourists. The world-popular Goan beaches have also been found lacking on infrastructure.
It is not just journalism that suffers due to these issues plaguing India’s travel industry. Travel and tourism are big businesses in India, supporting more jobs in 2011 than the country’s much-vaunted communications sector, according to a study by the World Travel and Tourism Council. Until recently, they were growing quickly, and indeed generated over 6% of India’s GDP while supporting tens of millions of jobs. Industry players need dynamic and far sighted policies by the government to help them boost tourism. Often, the major problem is that policies are formulated but aren’t clear and lack proper implementation.
Indian tourist spots need to be aggressively promoted. However, that can only be done when popular perceptions like them being “dirty”, “unsafe”, “underdeveloped” and “dilapidating” are put to ancient history books. This needs to be done urgently so that travel journalists can produce articles and images telling the world the story of Incredible India.