Global meltdown affects foreign tourist arrivals in India

December 10th, 2008 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS) It is official now. For the first time in six years, the number of tourists coming to India has come down - thanks to the global meltdown. And there could be further bad news in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack. But tourism ministry officials say they are following a “wait and watch” policy to see whether the Nov 26 attack would further affect the torust arrivals.

According to official estimates, the number of overseas visitors to the country fell by 2.1 percent in November this year compared to November 2007 - from 532,000 to to 521,000.

“The arrivals have fallen for the first time in six years. This is the direct impact of the global meltdown more than the Mumbai terror attack,” a top ministry official told IANS here Wednesday.

While figures for the post-terrorist attack period are not yet available, the industry is already reeling under its impact.

Vijay Thakur, president of the Indian Association for Tour Operators, said: “There has been a deep impact on the industry. We have registered as many as 20 percent cancellations since the attacks - especially in that western region of the country.”

“Tourism was already facing the consequences of the economic meltdown - again 15-20 percent slowdown. With this (the terror attack), it’s worse,” he added.

Thakur said while the number of bookings has come down, industry associations are trying to reassure those who have already booked and potential clients about their safety.

Another ministry official said: “The economic meltdown had already impacted the tourist influx and in the light of the recent terror attacks there is certainly a fear that there would be a decrease in foreign tourist arrivals.”

He said the picture would be clear next month when the figures would be compiled.

However, there is one positive factor. Many countries that advised their citizens against visiting India in the wake of several bomb blasts and terror attacks earlier this year have not pressed the panic button after Nov 26.

This could be due to repeated requests by Tourism Minister Ambika Soni, underlining that India is a large country and one incident doesn’t make the entire country unsafe for travellers.

The senior ministry official said some countries had even “modified” their travel advisories.

“The tourism secretary and the missions abroad have been stressing this fact. It has paid off. We can take some credit for their modifying their advisories,” the official said, not wishing to be named.

For example, the US embassy Tuesday replaced its earlier advisory of Nov 29 and advised “US citizens travelling to or already in India to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness”.

Australia and Britain have also told their citizens to “exercise caution”.

Travellers from the US, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands comprise a majority of overseas visitors to India.

“We hope the year-end celebrations would see a rise in their number,” the official said.

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