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Tour operators sniff gold in ‘election tourism’

Claim on Facebook they ‘work at’ Gujarat Tourism,minister,tourism department deny any knowledge.

Written by Lakshmi Ajay | Ahmedabad |
October 28, 2012 2:00:16 am

Claim on Facebook they ‘work at’ Gujarat Tourism,minister,tourism department deny any knowledge.

A group of travel operators claiming to “work at” Gujarat Tourism are busy promoting “Election Tourism Gujarat 2012”,inviting clients to come and see the upcoming Assembly polls and even tour the Vidhan Sabha and meet political leaders.

A post on Facebook by this group reads,“Enjoy world’s biggest democratic election in Gujarat 2012; Visit Gujarat to experience the peaceful election of the world’s biggest democratic country India; Visit and see how people elect their leaders; How political leaders convenience the local public to get votes from them (sic) “and so on.

Information posted about the group on Facebook says it “works at” Gujarat Tourism,which is a link of the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd,a Gujarat government arm.

The group of travel operators under the banner of Gujarat Association of Tour Operators (GATO),which is promoting this concept,claims it has already received a lot of queries from visitors.

Coming right after Diwali,the tour operators are selling the elections as a “festival”,perhaps taking cue from Chief Minister Narendra Modi who had tweeted on October 3,“Elections are the biggest festival of democracy. We will take part with true festive spirit. I welcome announcement of the poll dates.”

GATO had even written to the state’s Chief Electoral Officer Anita Karwal on October 18,seeking an appointment to discuss the concept. It got no response,says Manish Sharma,president of GATO who also runs a travel company.

“We will be happy if the Election Commission endorses our idea. However,they are yet to respond. The whole idea is to give the tourists an opportunity to see how political parties campaign during elections,both in rural as well as urban areas. We have already talked to several political parties and they have no objections,” says Sharma.

To attract tourists during the elections in December,these tour operators also plan to exhibit their concept of “Election Tourism” at the World Travel Market (WTM) being held in the first week of November in London,where 100-odd countries will participate.

Sharma’s Akshar Travels had ferried tourists to the desert festival “Rannotsav” organised by the state’s tourism department. In fact,the travel company’s toll-free number for enquiries posted on its poster promoting election tourism and the one posted on the Gujarat government’s official tourism website are the same.

Sharma claims international tour operators,especially in China and Middle East countries,have already started enquiring about the concept. He says the bookings are likely to start after Diwali.

The state’s tourism department denied any official sanction for such tour packages. “Considering that the code of conduct is in place,all government bodies are strictly adhering to the same and it is no different for the tourism department,” said an official spokesperson from TCGL (Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited).

State’s Tourism and Health Minister Jay Narayan Vyas also denied any knowledge of it. “We are not offering any ‘election packages’. But it definitely looks like a market opportunity that some tour operators have utilised. After the UK restarted dialogue with us and normalised ties,we are getting a lot of attention not only from investors but from other people as well. If any tour operator’s website or page is linked with Gujarat Tourism,it will ultimately bring more tourists to Gujarat.”

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