Soni asks chief ministers to bring in more tourists (Lead)

January 20th, 2009 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 20 (IANS) Worried about the meltdown hitting India’s tourist arrivals, Tourism Minister Ambika Soni has written to all chief ministers asking them to step in “in these difficult times” with a relief package for the travel and trade industry.Soni had last month also written to Asim Dasgupta, the chairperson of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, urging him “to put in place confidence-building measures in order to counter the negative trend” in the sector.

Following up on the initiative, she wrote to the chief ministers on Jan 9. The letter, she said, came after the Dec 15 meeting of the National Tourism Advisory Council that discussed the future course of action in the face of the global financial crisis “adversely” affecting the tourism sector.

“The industry representatives have unanimously expressed the view that state governments should give due consideration to safety and security, seamless travel, rationalisation of passenger and road tax, rationalisation of luxury tax and increase of floor area ratio of hotels in order to provide relief for the tourism sector in these difficult times,” she said.

She also referred to the letter she had written to Dasgupta on the issues impacting the sector.

“I would appreciate if you could kindly have these issues examined for consideration at the earliest possible,” Soni said.

The hotel industry has asked the tourism ministry for quick and seamless travel, which means rationalisation of road and passenger tax. Also, uniform luxury tax rates on hotel rooms, which vary widely from five percent to 20 percent.

“A uniformly lower rate of four percent applicable to the actual tariff would help the hotel industry,” a tourism official said, adding that the luxury tax should be levied on the actual rather than the published rates.

“On account of constraints in the availability of land in the short run, higher floor area ratio in the hotel industry is the need of the hour in the context of the coming Commonwealth Games,” the official said.

In November, foreign tourist arrivals recorded a negative growth rate of 2.1 percent as compared to the corresponding month the previous year — from 532,000 in November 2007 to 521,000 in November 2008.

However, the fear that the meltdown would combine with the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack to bring the figures down further was unfounded as the number of tourists actually went up in December.

In 2008, 5.37 million tourists came to India, an increase of six percent from 2007 when 5.08 million travellers came to India.

In her Dec 30 letter to Dasgupta, Soni had said the government was aware of the “global economic meltdown impacting several sectors of the economy, including tourism” and hoped the issues pertaining to the tourism sector would be included in the agenda of the Empowered Committee that meets Wednesday.

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