The Indian government has appointed Dr Mahesh Sharma as its new Minister of State for Tourism & Culture.
The move follows a major reshuffle of Narendra Modi’s cabinet, with former tourism minister Shripad Yesso Naik being named as the country’s first ever Minister of Yoga.
Dr Sharma will now be given the formidable task of boosting India’s tourism arrivals and revenues, which have, for many years, failed to reflect India’s size and importance. India welcomed approximately seven million international visitors in 2013 – fewer than Singapore.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, new minister’s priorities will include “improving safety and security for international tourists and promoting domestic tourism among youth”.
Highlighting the increased importance Prime Minister Modi is placing on tourism, Dr Shama said the government has a “great vision for this sector” and that he would “make all efforts to take this sector to a new high”.
“One of the important action points will be to explore tourism potential of new areas like medical tourism and also promote domestic tourism among the youth,” he added.
Dr Shama also expressed concerns over the country’s tourism infrastructure, security and use of technology, the improvement of which will be key areas of focus over the next three months. The minister also said that he plans to “fast-track” the repatriation of Indian heritage artefacts currently located overseas.
Meanwhile, the new role of Yoga Minister raised eyebrows among some international media. Shripad Yesso Naik has been tasked with promoting traditional medicines and practices of Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy and homeopathy. If tied in well with the tourism industry, the enhanced focus on sector could see India welcome a global centre for wellness and medical tourism.