India is not on top in numbers of foreign tourist arrivals but the average amount of money spent by international travellers here, on a per-capita basis, is more than anywhere else. Also, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data, though the country is ranked 41st in terms of inbound tourist arrivals, it is 16th in total tourism receipts.
Major tourist destinations like the US, China, the United Kingdom and France see far higher annual foreign tourist arrivals, but their per-capita receipts from inbound foreign travellers is much lower than India. According to experts, this is mainly because of a large number of business visitors to India and longer duration of their stay.
Data from the tourism ministry and UNWTO show international tourists' per-capita spend in India as at the end of 2012 stood at over $2,600, while it was $1,900 in the US, $900 in China and $646 in France.
The difference in India's ratings for number of tourist arrivals and total receipts suggests that the country has been able to draw high-spending travellers. In 2013, it managed to earn $18 billion foreign exchange with only 6.8 million foreign tourists. Comparable 2013 figures for other countries are not yet available.
Other key tourist destinations like the US and China are ranked higher on both parameters. While the US was first in total receipts in 2012 ($126.2 billion), it was ranked second in the number of tourists visiting the country. China, which earned $50 billion from tourists in the year and was ranked fourth, stood third in annual foreign tourist arrivals. France, which received the highest number of foreign travellers (83 million in 2012), has been third in tourism receipts for the past three years.
"India gets a lot of corporate travellers. Especially during a global economic slowdown, companies have had a positive outlook on India. They contribute significantly to the total spend by inbound tourists," says Achin Khanna, managing director, HVS India, a consultancy firm.
The share of business travellers in inbound tourism has gone up from 15 per cent in 2009 to 23 per cent in 2012. Globally, during the year, 52 per cent of inbound tourists were for leisure and 14 per cent for business. In India, on the other hand, 27 per cent came for leisure, while 23 per cent travelled for business, according to tourism ministry data.
Over the past decade, India's rank in total earnings from foreign travellers has risen 20 notches - from 36 in 2000 to 16 in 2012. A depreciation in the value of the rupee has also made India an attractive option for foreign tourists. Besides, in spite of an economic slowdown, the rate of growth in tourist earnings has been higher than the global average. For instance, in 2012 when world tourism receipts grew by 3.2 per cent, India's earnings went up by seven per cent.
The country received the highest numbers tourists from the US, while Chinese nationals were the 12th-largest in terms of number of visitors.
With its announcement of extending the visa-on-arrival facility to 180 countries, India is hoping to double the number of tourists visiting the country to 12 million over the next 2-3 years. This is expected to bring the country among the top 10 recepients of tourist earnings.