Sucheta Dalal :Recession-hit tourism sector looks forward to the Commonwealth Games
Sucheta Dalal

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Recession-hit tourism sector looks forward to the Commonwealth Games  

December 31, 2009

Terror threats, swine flu scare and hike in air fares hit the tourism sector hard in 2009 with the number of foreigners visiting the country dropping by over 6%, but the tourism ministry is now looking forward to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) to reverse the trend, reports PTI.


Foreign tourist arrivals continued to dip despite the ‘Visit India 2009’ scheme launched by the government offering several concessions to woo tourists. While 45.41 lakh foreigners visited the country during January to November, the number was 48.45 lakh in the same period last year.

In the month of November alone, the number of foreign tourists was 5.18 lakh as against 5.32 lakh last year.


Attributing the decline to the global financial slowdown, terror threat and swine flu scare, tourism minister Kumari Selja, who took over from her predecessor Ambika Soni in the middle of the year, hoped that "some of the measures including visa-on-arrival scheme and CWG would bring good results in the coming year".


Though the guidelines are yet to be finalised, the introduction of the visa-on-arrival scheme for five countries—Singapore, New Zealand, Finland, Luxembourg and Japan—on a pilot basis is expected to increase tourist arrivals into the country.


Foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector increased, however, with the country earning Rs5,523 crore last month as compared to Rs4,935 crore in November 2008.


The total forex earning during January–November was Rs47,918 crore compared to Rs45,647 crore in the same period last year as tourism continued to play an important role as a revenue earner for the country, with the US and the UK being the major markets for the industry.


Ahead of the CWG, the tourism ministry has made all-out efforts to cater to the requirement of 30,000 additional hotel rooms and a task force has been set up to monitor the accommodation facilities during the mega-event. It is expected that about one lakh visitors would be visiting during the CWG, scheduled to be held in October.


"We are upgrading 5,500 housing flats of DDA at Vasant Kunj and Jasola besides making the services of 11,000 rooms available from the licensed guest houses and around 3,000 'bed and breakfast units' for the Games," said Ms Selja.


The ministry has launched a series of training programmes for volunteers, taxi and auto drivers and guest-house owners in the run-up to the CWG.


Acknowledging the shortage in the hospitality sector, Ms Selja has said that initiatives have been taken to provide the required skilled manpower in the sector. This includes skills training in food production and the food & beverage sector.


The year also saw commercials showcasing the ‘Incredible India’ campaigns bagging prestigious international awards including a Grand Prix in Vienna.

The ‘Atithi Deva Bhavo’ campaign featuring Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan was re-launched this year to sensitise people's behaviour towards tourists. Steps were also initiated for focused development of caravan, adventure and heliport tourism.


The ministry has also decided to provide financial assistance up to Rs75 lakh to States and Union Territories for construction of heliports in hilly and remote areas. Central financial assistance is being given to State governments for the development and promotion of adventure and caravan tourism.


Launching an aggressive promotional campaign, the ministry held a series of road shows abroad including countries like Australia, New Zealand and a few nations in western Asia. As part of the celebration of the 'Year of India in Russia', promotional events featuring Indian culture and cuisine were organised in Moscow and St Petersburg.


'India Calling', a major tourism event, was organised in Los Angeles in collaboration with the National Geographic Society to woo US tourists. The tourism ministry has identified 29 mega destinations so far on the basis of footfalls and future potential.


In order to encourage maintenance and upkeep of parks and tourist sites, the ministry has introduced a new category of awards for civic bodies, for best maintained cities or towns.


The ministry has also decided to promote rural tourism through 139 sites across the country. The objective of the rural tourism project is to strengthen village livelihoods through community participation.

Yogesh Sapkale


-- Sucheta Dalal