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Travel: Bound For India

Goa was scrapped off the list of safe travel destinations recommended for Russian tourists, according to a leading newspaper report last year

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When Sarah Cole from Halifax, Canada, visited the picturesque backwaters of Kerala in 2014, she never realised that the beautiful Indian landscapes would beckon her again. The very next year, she found herself atop a camel exploring the mysterious deserts of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. And again in 2016, she is pushing her way through the jostling crowds of the lanes of Chandni Chowk, Delhi.

The rising interest among the tourists, from all over the world, indicates a positive growth in inbound tourism to India. With Asian countries accounting for six of the top 10 markets, it shows an increase in the share of visitors looking at exotic Indian destinations.

A part of this increase can be attributed to the introduction of online visas extended to over 100 countries, along with reduced airfares.

Tourist destinations such as Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in the North, and Goa and Kerala in the West and South have the highest influx of travellers. Other states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkand are also seeing more foreign arrivals.

Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) in India in 2015 have increased to 8.27 million compared to 7.68 million in 2014 and 6.97 million in 2013. The growth rate in FTAs during 2014 over 2013 was 10.2 per cent compared to 5.9 per cent during 2013 over 2012. The double-digit growth of 10.2 per cent in 2014 for India was better than the growth rate of 4.2 per cent for the International Tourist Arrivals around the world in 2014, according to the Ministry of Tourism Statistics and Research.

“We are seeing an incremental growth in inbound travel from the APAC (Asia Pacific) region of late. The US, Europe, China and Singapore still lead the list,” says Vijay Dutt, general manager, The Ashok Hotel, New Delhi — a flagship hotel of ITDC.

However, certain Indian cities making headlines for sexual assault on foreign tourists have dented the country’s image, resulting in a drop in the flow of tourists. Last year, Delhi slipped from third to fourth position in the foreign tourist arrival list. Delhi Tourism officials revealed that after the Uber and the infamous 2012 Nirbhaya rape cases, the footfall of tourists declined.

“There hasn’t been any long-term impact. Unfortunately, we do live in a world where security and safety concerns exist. Did Paris stop getting tourists after the terror attack? Maybe for the short-term, but visitors to these destinations come back, so is the case with Delhi,” says Dhananjay Saliankar, regional director, Sales & Marketing and Starwood Sales Organisation, South Asia.

Media reports have labelled some cities in India as unsafe and this has stunted the growth of inbound FTAs. Goa was scrapped off the list of safe travel destinations recommended for Russian tourists, according to a leading newspaper report last year. The number of Russian tourists to Goa has halved since. “India is still not a top destination for mature markets like Russia, the US and Europe. There has been more influx from Asian countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka,” says Permender Kumar, director at IndiaTravellers — an inbound travel service agency.

Even so, tourism continues to play an important role as a foreign exchange earner for the country. In 2014, foreign exchange earnings from tourism were $20.2 billion compared to $18.5 billion in 2013, registering a growth of 9.7 per cent. Tourism in India is economically important, but it still is a single-digit contributor to the GDP. The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that tourism generated a revenue of $120 billion, or 6.3 per cent of the nation’s GDP in 2015 and supported 37.32 million jobs making up 8.7 per cent of India’s workforce.

India needs scores of hotels, a facelift to road infrastructure to be able to attract more tourists. According to the global hospitality consultancy HVS, India is expected to bolster its hotel room capacity by 54,000 over the next 3-4 years. The government’s report of the Working Group on Tourism, under the 12th Five- Year Plan (2012-2017) set up by the Planning Commission states that India requires 1,90,108 hotels rooms by 2016 to meet a projected 12 per cent growth in tourism.

“We must liberalise the aviation sector, get 100 per cent FDI in the Hotel and Tourism industry to attract eco, rural and medical tourism that are growing fast and contribute heavily to the sector,” said Harkirpal Singh, chief representative of the Travel Agents Association Of India. India’s medical tourism sector is a lucrative sector worth $3 billion. It however, receives no government support and no international accreditation. There are no simple laws to extend visas and no apex body for medical tourism. Even so, the sector is projected to grow to $270 billion by 2025. In 2014, 184,298 foreign patients travelled to India to seek medical treatment.

Singh says that the government should play the role of a regulator and a facilitator of private investment in healthcare. Tax incentives to the service providers, import duty reduction on medical equipment, committees to promote and foster medical tourism are some of the initiatives that he suggests. Ironically, even in this digital age, no apex portal provides information to assist foreign medical tourists.