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War won't hit tourism: expert

The growth in tourism sector will mainly come through inter-regional travel, which accounts for around 80 percent of tourism in Europe and the Asia Pacific, said David J de Villiers, deputy secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2003 16:44 IST

Even as the Indian travel trade fears another turbulent period due to the Iraq war, a world tourism body says there is no reason to revise its optimistic predictions.

"The fundamental character of people is that they will travel whether for business, pleasure, visiting relatives, sports or adventure in ever increasing numbers to newer destinations," said David J de Villiers, deputy secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

He was addressing the 10th South Asia Travel Tourism Exchange (SATTE) mart in New Delhi.

All the 235 registered tour operators from 36 countries, including the Middle East and Europe, are participating in the three-day event, notwithstanding the Iraq war.

"Despite the Iraq war, WTO remains positive about the medium and long-term prospects of tourism. There is no convincing reason for WTO to revise its optimism," said de Villiers.

"Instead of long-haul travel, inter-regional travel closer home will grow."

Urging South Asian countries to rework their strategy to focus on regional tourism, de Villiers said even in the wake of a global economic downturn and the 9/11 impact, last year witnessed tremendous growth, largely due to inter-regional tourism.

"The year 2002 was a year of several firsts. This included global travel growing by 3.1 percent from 700 million arrivals to 750 million arrivals, with the Asia Pacific region witnessing 130 million tourist arrivals.

"This was encouraging, coming as it did after the 2001 downturn and despite a decline in the economy of the source countries," said de Villiers.

Even in the present difficult world situation -- when people in the US will curtail long-haul travel fearing that they could be the targets of retaliation for their country's role in the Iraq war -- the travel industry is expected to grow.

The growth will mainly come through inter-regional travel, which accounts for around 80 percent of tourism in Europe and the Asia Pacific.

"If the war can be restricted to a small geographical area and if it is of short duration then the impact will be reduced. The impact will be more on destinations close to the war zone. Unrelated destinations will maintain and even see increased tourist arrivals," he said.

According to him, tourism has at all times shown resilience and surged back with renewed vigour after every setback. This was witnessed a year after the 1991 Gulf War as well.

Striving to boost tourism, India has invited 80 special guests to attend the travel mart and go around the country to give their input on how best to package its myriad attractions.

Tourism Secretary Rathi Vinay Jha said after the 15 percent growth witnessed in foreign tourist inflow in the last five months, "the war and surrounding uncertainty has given rise to fears of a downturn".

The presence of such a large number of international tour operators has however renewed hope, she said.

The participation of 23 tour operators from China is expected in particular to boost the two-way tourist flow between China and India, said Maharaj IS Wahi, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.

First Published: Mar 28, 2003 16:44 IST