What the world cup says about tourism

For more than a month, India played host to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023. Who did it play host to? If the crowds in the stands in various venues were anything to go by, Indians. True, a fair proportion of a billion-plus cricket fanatics would obviously make up the venue-visiting audiences thronging to see the world’s best male cricketers playing in their own backyard. However, unlike what we see in other international sporting spectacles like the Olympics or the football World Cup, a cricket World Cup with the ‘world’ not quite attending is something that deserves a dekho to a larger malaise: India punching way below its weight as an international tourist destination.

Tourism provides 4.6% of India’s GDP, much of which comes from domestic travellers. The sector is predicted to grow at an average of 7.8% annually over the next decade, to reach the figure of about ₹33.8 trillion. For a country its size, the types of cultural, historical, culinary, scenic experiences it has on tap, India’s growing soft power is still woefully soft. The World Cup itself was an occasion to draw travellers from across the world to provide them Cricket Plus – a visiting opportunity much beyond only attending games at stadiums. And yet, TV cameras had to blink hard to find foreign visitors in the stands.

Much of this could be because of the ‘last-minute’ match schedulings, ‘opacity’ (read: chaos) of ticket sales while the rest could have been due to India’s standard bugbear for tourists, especially high-value ones: bad infrastructure and less than hospitable urban environments. Between airports and luxury hotels – and stadium seats – lies the India outside that needs to be made much more world-ready, easy to navigate, and a pleasure to discover.


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