Just when ‘Incredible India’ posters seemed to be doing the trick in travel agency offices across the globe, are visitors to Destination India backing out and saying ‘next time perhaps’? According to the Ministry of Tourism, India clocked an annual growth rate of 17.3 per cent and earned Rs 44,360 crore in 2007. But concerns about terrorism coupled with the global financial crisis have hit the sector hard, across all segments. Take the high end first. The Rajasthan Tourism’s ‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels’, an alternative to the ‘Palace on Wheels’, recorded zero bookings for their second trip recently. If this luxury train ride is upper upper-end and, therefore, difficult to get passengers in these times of recession, here’s what has happening at the less well-heeled end. The Archeological Survey of India has said that December 2008 witnessed a nearly 50 per cent drop in sale of tickets to foreign visitors at the three world heritage sites in New Delhi as compared with the corresponding period in the previous year. Now, senior officials fear that 2009 could see a low turnout of foreign visitors as well. The only relief has been that domestic tourists have not hung up their shoes and stayed home. But since the tickets for foreign tourists are priced considerably higher — a growing complaint from foreign travellers — the drop in the numbers is making a difference to the ASI bottom line. Needless to add, this will have a ripple effect on related sectors as well.
If recession and a negative rating in travel advisories are keeping the dollar tourists away, there are other problems too. A recent report on TripAdvisor.com, which used around 20 million reviews and comments by travellers for its widely popular rating of hotels all around the world, said that eight of India’s 10 dirtiest hotels are in Delhi. And these include some ‘five-star hotels’ such as the Ashok and Centaur. At a time when most access information online before embarking on a trip, word spreads quickly. Instead of going on the defensive, improving the services would be a better idea.
The real chance to shore up the tourism sector will be during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. And to do that the tourism infrastructure has to be refurbished and made much more meaningful for people willing to spend. Otherwise, the line about ‘atithi devo bhavah’ — the guest is God — will sound incredibly silly.