September 29, 2003
First, the jocular travellers’ tale: tourism in India took a nosedive as globe-trotters covered their noses because of the SARS scare and Mumbai became the ‘Getaway from India’ after the twin blasts rocked the city.
Then, the reality. Despite the images of terror and masks, India, for the first time, has entered the top ten tourist destinations of the world, according to the latest research by Conde NastUK Readers’ Travel Awards. In fact, a trip to India is preferred even above Greece, Malaysia and Switzerland by Europeans and Americans.
In its latest October issue, Europe’s biggest travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveller lists India at the number 9 spot, with the top three slots going to Italy, Australia and France.
Bureaucrats promoting India’s pretty picture postcards, high-flying airline executives and hoteliers are all celebrating this big leap forward in tourism.
Says Jitendra Bhargava, spokesperson of Air-India: ‘‘If Conde Nasthas chosen India, it is great news indeed. We have triumphed over terror, SARS and other hitches thanks to some aggressive tourism campaigns by various Indian states.’’
Bhargava adds that while November, December and January have traditionally been busy months in the airline’s calendar, this year, there is a steep increase in international bookings to India. ‘‘By December, Air-India is doubling its flight frequencies from US and Europe, which is an additional 4,300 seats per week. Thanks to the Conde Nastrating, we are sure to do big business this season,’’ he says.
While Agra’s Taj Mahal has been the legendary motif for the country’s tourism industry, newer attractions such as Kerala’s promos for Ayurvedic health resorts, Maharashtra’s grand karmic cleansing at the Kumbh Mela, historical Buddhist finds in several other states and, of course, the Goan beaches are surefire tourist magnets today.
Ashish Kumar Singh is also elated over the Conde Nastrating. ‘‘On our part, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Coporation (MTDC) has been marketing Bollywood in Europe (Selfridges), along with Ajanta-Ellora and the state’s pristine beaches dubbed ‘Konkan Riviera’ as the state’s USP. Nearly 40 per cent of India’s foreign tourists come to Maharashtra and the blasts won’t affect our ratings because terrorism is now a global phenomenon,’’ reasons the MTDC director.
Not surprisingly, MTDC’s budget has jumped from Rs 12 crore last year to Rs 90 crore this fiscal year. The 9/11 nightmare seems to have disappeared.
‘‘India’s result is very exciting and shows the countries increased popularity amongst the sophisticated traveller. It also reflects very positively on the individuals involved in promoting India as a premium tourist destination,’’ states the editor of Conde Nast Traveller, Sarah Miller.
If the latest trends are anything to go by, tourism trade watchers are hopeful that India will break the jinx of just 2.5 million foreign tourists a year. During January to August this year, tourist arrivals have increased by 14.2 per cent as compared to last year, totalling 16.74 lakh arrivals.
Credit for the turnaround is being given to a government-backed advertisement blitz in the electronic media, titled ‘Incredible India’.
Rajeev Menon, general manager of the Rennaissance-Marriot chain of hotels, says, ‘‘Marriot International, which has more than 2,600 operating units in over 68 counries, has seen a tremendous increase in the interest in India. So, all our hotels here have very high occupancy levels.’’
The recurrent terror attacks in the country too have not affected the spurt. ‘‘Despite the blasts, there is an increase in hotel bookings by nearly 10 to 15 per cent. This can be attributed to political stability and the fact that the Indian economy is growing steadily,’’ says Delyse Briganza, vice-president (sales) at The Orchid ecotel.
The icing on the cake is the Union Tourism Ministry proposal to set up a Rs 500 crore Tourism Development Fund. The fund, which is awaiting Cabinet clearance, will mainly focus on infrastructure creation. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made an announcement to this effect on August 15.
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