India is not built for visitors

One of the questions I always get asked by visiting investors or colleagues is why India does not look anything like China, Thailand, Brazil, Eastern Europe or any of the other emerging countries of the world.

I visited Thailand and Indonesia for the holidays this year and I think I have the answer for my distressed India watching friends.

India is not designed or built for visitors. India is barely sufficiently built for Indians.

India had 5 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2009. Compare this to Indonesia (6.5 million), Singapore (8 million), Thailand (16 million), Turkey (22 million) and China (50 million).

India however had 562 million domestic tourist visits in 2009.

Malls, airports, hotels, restaurants in India are full of Indians. If you are at any international airport in the world with a direct flight to India, you can distinctly notice the gate with the India bound flight because all the passengers at he gate are Indian. Most other destination flights would have passengers with a healthy mix of nationalities and ethinicities.

Bangkok on the other hand could not be more different. We stayed at a serviced appartment and spent a lot of time visiting the malls. The crowds were almost entirely of foreign origin.

A new mall called Express Avenue has opened in Chennai, India (where I live). The mall is packed on most days - with Indians.

Indians are getting wealthy and are eager to spend their money. Their demand is insatiable. India will first get built for Indians. Then the visitors will have something built that will be tailored to their requirements.

Until then, visitors will have to bear with getting lost in the crowd of locals.