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Tourism growth story losing sheen

Against projection of 12% annual growth, 2013 is set for negligible growth in foreign tourist arrivals to India

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Just a month before, the Economic Survey 2012-13 referred to tourism as a big-ticket item with higher growth agenda. But that theory seems to be falling flat, with the hospitality sector, rather than being the “goldmine of opportunity”, is now staring at a bleak holiday season. Against the projection of 12 per cent annual growth in foreign tourist arrivals, 2013 is set to see negligible increase, implying loss of foreign exchange, besides an image dent.

The industry, already reeling under the blow of the economic slowdown, is set to take brunt of the recent cases of assault on foreign tourists, tension with Sri Lanka and disturbance in Kashmir and the Northeast.

Most countries from where India receives foreign tourists have issued travel advisories to their citizens, cautioning about safety and security in India, many even making a special mention of dos and don’ts for women. Top source countries for foreign tourists — the US, UK, Canada, Sri Lanka, Australia and Switzerland — have all warned their people in varying degrees about travelling to India.

Most Indian places ‘under watch’ are known tourist destinations. Among recent infamous incidents, the spotlight fell on Delhi after a medical student was gangraped in a bus, resulting in her death. Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh came under a cloud following cases of assault on foreign tourists — one in an Agra hotel. Tourists are avoiding Tamil Nadu, too, for issues linked to Sri Lanka, over which DMK withdrew support to the government earlier this week. Violence in Kashmir, after Afzal Guru’s hanging, has kept the place out of bounds for travellers. The Northeast has remained a disturbed region for long, and most foreign advisories focus on that. Other touristy states like Maharashtra, too, have witnessed cases of assault and violence in recent months.

The tourism ministry had set a target of 12 per cent year-on-year growth in tourist inflows in 2012 and planned to double that to 12 million by 2016.

Tourism Minister K Chiranjeevi believes he can still achieve it. Besides calling for suspension of the ‘rating’ given to the Agra hotel where a tourist from the UK had to jump from a balcony to prevent an assault by the hotel owner, he has met Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to seek a system for tourists’ safety. He plans to meet chief ministers, too.

On what should be the road ahead, a bureaucrat says the tourism ministry should liaise with states to also “tell tourists what’s not shining, and what’s dark in India”.

Kamlesh Barot, president, Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India, said “these incidents happen mostly in hotels which are absolutely non-categorised and are a part of the large unorganised sector.”

As of now, India’s share of world tourist arrivals is pegged at just 0.64% and 1.61% of the total international tourism receipt. In 2012, the forex spend by tourists coming to India was estimated at $17.7 billion, up from $10.7 billion in 2007.

First Published: Fri, March 22 2013. 00:55 IST