We hear a lot of talk about eGovernance nowadays. It is of course an interesting prospect in a country like India where the general view of bureaucracy is that of a roadblock rather than a facilitator. The government has overtly expressed its interest in e-Governance but it is not easy to implement such things overnight. Now, Intel India is partnering the GOI through its #DigitalIndia campaign and so I thought I will discuss a few aspects that I can relate to. As a matter of fact some of these issues are beyond the scope of a travel blog but I do want to talk about a few things that are related to tourism.
Let me start with a personal experience. Sometime ago I visited Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh with some of my friends. The original plan consisted of four people. One person was supposed to join us from the US. But as soon as he landed in Delhi, he got the real taste of Indian bureaucracy. He was told that there has to be at least two foreigners together to get the permit for Arunachal (For the uninitiated, both Indians and Foreigners need certain permits to enter the state of Arunachal Pradesh). So, he was flatly denied the pass for no practical reason and hence we arranged for him to visit Kaziranga. The remaining three, all natives of Assam, got our Inner Line Permits from Guwahati and decided to move on.
Now, let us diagnose the problem,
1. Firstly I am not very fond of the very idea of such permits. But assuming that circumstances have made it necessary, why are the requirements and conditions not made clearly visible? It must be there hidden in some corner, just like unfavourable terms and conditions of the insurance policy. But when we talk of digitizing the system, I expect the focus to be on user-friendliness.
2. Secondly, why does the permit system still act like a worthy relic of the Licence Raj era? It requires two visits in general to get the inner line permit to Arunachal in the Guwahati office. One is supposed submit the documents on one day and go back to collect the permit the next day. Imagine someone travelling on a tight schedule and having to waste two days only for the permit. An online system will be much appreciated. But even if physical verification is necessary, I’m sure the process can be managed in a way where one visit to the office is enough.
Now, let me cite another issue, it also happened in the same trip. Do not think that I am targeting this one place. It is just a coincidence and I’m sure such issues exist in many places in India, especially the ones where tourism has not yet developed properly. In fact one person in the Forest office was very helpful to us and the experience was good overall. However, I must mention the pain points.
This incident happened just when we were about to enter the gates of the Namdapha National Park after Miao. At the gate the guards charge certain amount of entry fees per head. But the problem was that they were charging INR 500 per day per camera for SLRs. We had to pay INR 2000 for two cameras of us and we were mere tourists, not doing any commercial activity.
Now, what exactly is the problem in this case? Let us see,
1. A small camera fee is understandable but this cost us more than our accommodation which did not make any sense.
2. Again this cost was nowhere mentioned. We did not see it online and were taken aback at the gate. If at all they have to charge such an amount, visitors should be informed beforehand.
3. Now, you may think that I am whining too much about a thousand rupees. In that case considers this, it is a very remote area with no ATMs. We had taken some extra cash with us but as we shelled out extra money at the gate, we had to cut down on our food later on so as not to run out of money.
The Unified Approach:
It was just one example. We all face such situations all the time. Of course I’ve also had a number of great experiences where people have unexpectedly helped out. But the point is that the systematic processes can be easily improved with the use of IT. In general different attractions such as archaeological sites and national parks have their own websites. But most of them are poorly designed and insufficiently updated. It is better to have a centralized resource. The current Incredible India website is good-looking but it should have more information and must improve its navigation. Here is what I suggest,
•List every major attraction in the same site and categorize them accordingly
•Include every piece of important information regarding permits, entree fees, camera fees and every possible expense in one page.
•Also include other practical information such as nearest ATM, Petrol Pump, availability of mobile network etc.
•Make the application processes for inner line permits (ILPs) and other such documents online. At least enable people to apply online and then collect physically.
•Make the government accommodations such as Forest Rest Houses bookable online if possible. Tie up with online booking services for PPP if needed.
•If available, list the registered guides and tour operators and provide their contacts for the convenience as well as safety of the visitors and avoid Dehradun like incidents.
•Have a dedicated social media account, preferably on Twitter that is monitored 24/7 and interacts with tourists on real time.
I am not saying anything new or revolutionary here. But I’m sure even by implementing such simple measures, tourism can be taken to the next level. Just to wind up, I’d like to cite the example of the Great Himalayan National Park Website. This is a website that has got a lot of things right in terms of visual appeal, user friendliness and quality of information. It should work as a model for rest of the destinations.