By 2050, Wing Commander (retired) Rakesh Sharma, Indian Air Force test pilot and cosmonaut, feels that space tourism will be routine and affordable. He expresses his view on the challenges that India tourism faces and selling right that special ‘Indian experience’. By Reema Lokesh
What according to you is the strength of India’s tourism?
Our diversity is definitely our strength. Our country ought to delight any tourist. After all a tourist has the opportunity to visit and interact with diverse landscapes, cultures, dialects, cuisines, etc. It is like visiting many countries for the price of one ticket.
What are the challenges that you feel is causing hindrance to the growth of tourism in India?
The are quite a few challenges that are causing a hindrance to the growth of tourism in India. Poor infrastructure is an issue, followed by poor standard of services on offer, difficulties experienced by tourists while booking rail tickets online due to a system that can be manipulated to keep alive touts and railway employees engaged in the allocation of ‘no-show’ seats on the day of journey and a lack of basic cleanliness on view.
Are there any particular destinations you are passionate about in the country?
Personally, I like to visit places that are off beat to better absorb the beauty of nature that our country is blessed with.
Do you think we need to position and brand India in an effective manner as a tourism product?
|Astronauts Sunita Williams and Rakesh Sharma|
Yes for sure. Our messaging appears a bit confused. We have beaches that are endless but filthy, hills that are pretty and green but choked with plastic; deserts that are desolate and stunning but lack ‘touristy’ infrastructure and mountains that are breathtakingly beautiful but badly connected. Tourists reach our shores looking for an ‘Indian experience’ at reasonable cost while keeping travel times to a minimum between destinations. We need to work much more towards enhancing that experience for them. Creative itineraries, comfortable travel/stay and an exposure to culturally diverse and aesthetically pleasing entertainment programmes are required. A tighter public-private-partnership protocol is required for this to happen.
What is your opinion on the potential of space tourism and its future?
Space tourism is waiting in the wings. Initially it will be affordable only by the very rich and (till safety standards are established), by the very foolish. By 2050, I expect that space tourism will be routine and affordable. Vacations will, however, take a while longer as colonising our nearest neighbour, the Moon, and making it safe to accept tourists for extended stays, will take some serious R&D work.
|Rakesh Sharma joined the Indian Air Force and progressed rapidly through the ranks. While he was a Squadron Leader and pilot with the Indian Air Force, in the year 1984 we embarked on a historic mission as part of a joint space programme between the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Soviet Intercosmos space programme, and spent eight days in space abroad the Salyut 7 space station. He was conferred with the honour of Hero of Soviet Union upon his return from space. The Government of India conferred its highest gallantry award (during peace time), the Ashoka Chakra on him and the other two Soviet members of his mission. He retired with the rank of Wing Commander. In 1987 he joined Hindustan Aeronautics and served as Chief Test Pilot in the HAL Nashik Division until 1992, before moving on to Bengaluru to work as the Chief Test Pilot of HAL. He retired from test flying in 2001.|