Why India is not so 'incredible' for tourists

Thee reasons for India’s struggle to attract visitors are many, say tourism experts, ranging from infrastructure to formalities and security concerns, among others.

Arlene August 05, 2013 21:42:53 IST
Why India is not so 'incredible' for tourists

New Delhi: On paper, India should be a tourist powerhouse. The country has all the right ingredients - good food, rich culture, beautiful historic monuments, spirituality, and diversity - to lure travellers from all over the world. Yet India lags behind Asian tourist hubs like Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China.

While tourism in India continues to increase, with 6.65 million tourists visiting the country in 2012, it grew just 5% over 2011. Bhutan and Sri Lanka -- from the same south Asian region -- recorded over 17% growth in the same year.

Thee reasons for India’s struggle to attract visitors are many, say tourism experts, ranging from infrastructure to formalities and security concerns, among others.

Why India is not so incredible for tourists

India's tourism infrastructure needs much improvement. Reuters

No Place To Stay

Harkirpal Singh Taai, chief representative of the Travel Agents Association Of India did challenge the numbers on India’s tourism industry, saying India has a huge and growing tourism industry and it is difficult to identify tourists who come from places like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. But he admitted facilities are poor.

"Tourism is certainly growing in India, but there is still a shortage of hotel rooms There was a shortage of rooms especially in the budget sector. The government should make one, two, and three star hotels a priority," Singh said.

According to global hospitality consultancy, HVS, India is expected to bolster its hotel room capacity by 54,000 over the next three to four years.

The government's report of the Working Group on Tourism, under the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) set up by the Planning Commission stated that the country requires an additional 1,90,108 hotels rooms by 2016 to meet a projected 12% growth in tourism.

To encourage the growth of budget hotels, the government also put in place incentives -- some of which are a five year tax holiday for two, three and four star category hotels located in all UNESCO declared World Heritage sites (except Mumbai and Delhi), extension of investment linked tax incentives under Section 35 AD of the Income Tax Act to new hotels of 2-Star category and above anywhere in India, Hotel and Tourism related industry being declared a high priority industry and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of up to 100% being allowed under the automatic route.

Despite that Singh said, "Hotel owners do not patronize building budget hotels because they think they won't make any money."

Bad Roads or No Roads

The state of Indian roads is another problem, experts said.

"We can get a lot of Buddhist tourists from Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka,” Singh said. “But our roads and infrastructure to these places is in shambles -- Bihar is a perfect case in point of such a state. As a result, we have the history and culture but no proper facilities and infrastructure for tourists to visit them.”

The lack of public amenities such as clean toilets is another problem. "The Taj Mahal is our star attraction but there neither any budget hotel nor proper facilities for tourists," Singh said. "Infrastructure is improving but the pace is just very slow.”

He also questioned the quality of tourist cars in the country, saying better cars should be used.

Gautam Kaul, COO Inbound Division, Yatra Exotic Routes a division of Yatra.com, agreed with Singh. "Infrastructure is surely a problem and there's no denying that," he said.

By way of example, Kaul said that while Jaipur is flooded with extra inventory, many other places in Rajasthan don't have budget hotels. "Rajasthan is a big draw to travelers and I'd say 65% of them want to visit. But even in a state right up there on the tourist list, there are no budget hotels, except in a few pockets.”

Add the lack of proper roads and issues of connectivity even to very popular destinations such as the Khajurao-Beneras sector, and Kaul says there's much scope for improvement.

"Roads have to be built to facilitate more convenient travel. On the Khajurao-Beneras stretch one can't land or take off anytime as flights are restricted. But, if one has to travel by surface it takes 10-12 hours to travel that stretch because of the roads," he said.

"Other facilities like number of feeder stations too has to be increased. For tourists traveling by road, buses don't have enough stops for pick up or for people to use the washroom or drink a cup of coffee or tea.”

Security Concerns and Bureaucratic Hurdles

According to Singh, the security situation in India and crimes against women also act as deterrents. "The news we hear and see discourages travelers.”

Kaul knows first hand how security issues can affect tourists. He had to face a last minute cancellation when the blast in Bodh Gaya in Bihar took place in July.

"We had had a large group of about 70-80 people who were to travel there but because of the incident, they cancelled, Kaul said. “Fear psychosis and sporadic skirmishes do hamper the image of India as a destination.”

On a more practical front, Kaul said visas-on-arrival should be extended to more countries and prices of air tickets should be moderated so they don’t rise sharply as they did from November 2012 to January 2013.

"Airfare has to be moderated,” Kaul said. “Visa on arrival should also be allowed. Many operators complain about Indian visas taking too long. If someone is a last minute traveller they can't be expected to leave their passport at the consulate or embassy for a week. They may altogether skip India because of that.”

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