With 29 states, each the size of a small country, a rich history and remarkable diversity of culture, India should have no problem attracting tourists. And yet, while its domestic tourism market is thriving with over 100 million travellers internally, it only welcomed 9 million foreign tourists in 2016.

India has much untapped potential here, especially when you compare it to a city like Barcelona, which received 32 million tourists, or a country like France, which benefited from 84 million international arrivals in 2015.

India has done quite a lot in recent years to grow its travel and tourism industry. This is clear from its improvements in our 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, in which India has risen from 65th position in 2013 to 40th in this year's edition. Today, India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.

The numbers of foreign travellers to India is rising, but there is still much untapped potential for growth
The numbers of foreign travellers to India is rising, but there is still much untapped potential for growth
Image: Indian Government

But there is still much more that could be done. In carrying out the research for our new report, Incredible India 2.0 - India’s $20 Billion Tourism Opportunity, Bain & Company undertook set out to demonstrate the monetary opportunities available if India was to invest in and prioritize its aviation, travel and tourism industry.

They estimated that a growth in international arrivals into India of 20 million people would lead to $19.9 billion in incremental tourism receipts from international travellers and the creation of approximately 1 million additional jobs.

So what does India need to do to get there? Our report tries to provide an answer to this question. It explains how India can enhance its value proposition while fostering an enabling environment in which the industry can prosper. The report puts forward the following five recommendations, highlighting the need for public private cooperation in execution:

1) Take advantage of 600,000 villages, each with their own cultures and heritage; eco-tourism; and cruise tourism to create unique experiences for travellers.

2) Integrate the “Incredible India” campaign into a more holistic campaign that includes not only print but also other channels such as digital, social, placement, review sites, and global media – and that focuses on the positives of visitor-created content, while also addressing the challenges these visitors report.

3) Enhance the perception and reality of India as a safe destination by designing and implementing enhanced security protocols.

4) Invest in the development of both physical and digital infrastructure in order to confront the issue of last-mile connectivity. Hazardous road travel and a lack of affordable hotels hamper international travellers' experience, while high taxes hinder the industry’s profitability.

5) Take advantage of the labour force available in India in order to improve tourists' experiences by training skilled and unskilled workers in the hospitality industry, through both public and private programmes.

While there are more than 50 active tourism boards from foreign countries represented in India, India doesn’t have a tourism board itself. The report also proposes the creation of a national tourism board to unify today’s fragmented travel and tourism industry. In effect, the lack of a unified body hinders the tourism industry's ability to achieve its potential. This board could support enhanced industry coordination, joint messaging, building Indian talent, driving forward industry-wide policy recommendations and enacting change through policies as well as public-private policy initiatives and SME growth – while considering India’s reality alongside best practice gleaned from other countries.

To complement the holistic approach at the national level, India should also have a state-level approach, with a proposal to create a pilot in a state which has traditionally welcomed fewer international visitors, and to develop a few of its destinations via public-private cooperation.

The future of both India and especially its travel and tourism industry is bright - if it continues to focus on its opportunities and address its current limitations.