Alphons Joseph Kannanthanam, Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, who was in Mumbai recently, spoke to BusinessLine on the growth of the tourism sector in India, and challenges posed by the GST and issues surrounding the H1B visa. Excerpts.

In the last four years since the NDA government came to power, what are the major achievements of the tourism Ministry?

The greatest achievement of the government has been the creation of jobs in the tourism sector. Around 13.92 million people have found employment in tourism, the highest among all sectors. However, we are not happy with just this much. India has a lot of things that can be promoted for tourism purposes: the culture, heritage, music and beaches...we have to promote these more like other countries do.

And as of today, there are 82 million people employed in the tourism sector. Our income from tourism last year was $234 billion, which is equivalent to about ₹16.5 lakh crore, and that’s an enormous amount of money. According to the latest WTTC report, India is at number three after China and the US.

The government has roped in corporates for managing historical sites. Has it worked?

It’s working out fantastically and we will continue to do so. Eventually, our idea is to get them associated, and we want to work with them towards improving all our heritage sites. All these heritage belong to the people of India, and therefore, we need to involve those who can aid in the development and preservation of these heritage sites.

What new initiatives are you planning to improve tourism in India?

We have spent heavily on our five promotional videos. They have been ranked ‘best promotional videos’ by CNN.

Our strategy is different. We are not promoting India with the tagline ‘Come, visit India’.

We are creating stories around important segments like Ayurveda, yoga and cuisine and promoting them as products.

The H1B visa is becoming a huge issue. How are you dealing with this? What efforts are you taking to make the US understand our concerns?

Indians get most of the H1B visa . We are in continuous negotiations with the US and with other countries, and things have been fruitful so far. Yes, there are hiccups up once in a while, and as and when they crop up, we talk to the US and get them sorted out.

How does India compare with its neighbouring countries such as China or Sri Lanka when it comes to investments in creating tourism infrastructure?

Many countries have created fantastic tourism products — mostly beach-based or heritage-based. We too have a long coastline and a lot of heritage. However, I agree we need to have better infrastructure around our heritage sites and along the coastline.