It is an overseas ‘mail’ order that the railways can’t ‘express’ their joy about. The International Tourist Bureau of Northern Railway, which facilitates rail travel by foreign tourists from the Capital, has recorded a significant jump in clientele this winter.
With regard to numbers, this month seems truly exceptional. Consider this: in December 2006, 703 foreign passengers — on average — booked tickets at the Bureau per day. This year, the average in the first week itself has touched 730 against 684 in the corresponding period last year.
The increase is even more significant compared to last month, when the average stood at 646, in the week preceding the Mumbai terror attacks.
Railway authorities say the number of foreign clients increases by the day all through December.
“Usually, the number of foreigners is around 650 per day in the first two weeks of December. It really starts picking up after the 20th for Christmas and New Year celebrations. And by the end of the month, it touches 700. But this year, the month has started on a very strong note,” said a senior railway official.
For sectors like Delhi-Mumbai, which enable onward access to Goa and Kerala through the Konkan Railway, Northern Railway have rolled out 18 special trains this season, including two Rajdhani-type trains (air conditioned, super-fast, limited stops and meals included). Of the 670 trips of special trains rolled out this season, most are of the all-AC super-fast type, aimed at the affluent traveller.
Given the economic downturn and rising airfares, the railways’ initiative has been eagerly lapped up by the tourism industry.
“We have asked the Railway Ministry to give us more packages for domestic tourism. This season, we estimate the railways will register a 20 per cent growth across popular sectors like Kerala, Goa and Rajasthan, which are popular among foreigners,” said Raji Rai, President of Travel Agents’ Association of India.
For travel agents, the diminishing margin in air tickets and tighter budgets of foreign clients have also made railways more attractive this year. “For those choosing to come to India, railways are still offering value for money and what we call the Incredible India experience,” said Anil Kalsi of Travel Agents’ Association of India (North).