Despite latest troubles, India’s tourist inflow good: ministry

June 13th, 2008 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 13 (IANS) It does not appear to be the best of times for tourists in India - protests and violence in three states, and untimely rains lashing many areas. But the tourism ministry maintains the travel industry has not been affected badly. The prolonged Gujjar protests in Rajasthan, a favourite state on the tourists’ itinerary, strike by transporters in Jammu and Kashmir, a violent call for a separate state of Gorkhaland in Darjeeling in West Bengal - have badly hampered tourism in the the states.

Though it is off-season in Rajasthan because of the intense heat, foreigners still like to visit the exotic state. But it has suffered a double whammy - first the serial blasts on May 13 in which 61 people were killed and over 200 injured, and now the Gujjar agitation that began May 23 and left road and rail links badly affected.

The impact of the Gujjar agitation has been felt in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh too.

Tourists planning to revel in the cool climes of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling have been left sorely disappointed as well with agitations and heavy rain throwing life out of gear.

Tourists, especially foreigners, who were caught in the agitations, have been leaving for safer destinations. Many have left the country, resulting in massive cancellations.

Concerned by the Gujjar agitation and the indefinite strike called in the Darjeeling hills by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) that has led to an exodus of tourists, the US and the British authorities issued advisories to its citizens to keep a low profile.

The US last week also issued an advisory to its citizens travelling to Mumbai to take “extreme caution” while driving or walking on Mumbai’s roads during the heavy rains and consequent flooding.

However, joint secretary in the ministry Leena Nandan said the alerts by US and Britain were “not alarming”.

“Agitations, strikes and flood-like situations might disturb public and definitely hamper tourist movement. But authorities are taking steps,” Nandan told IANS.

She said she was in constant touch with authorities in the affected states. Joint exercises are being carried out with the help of the army to facilitate smooth passage for stranded tourists and the situation is being brought under control.

She said many tourists are being airlifted and brought to safer areas by buses.

According to Nandan, the last two months might have seen bomb blasts and agitations but there has been no decline in the number of tourists visiting the country.

By the end of this May, there was an increase of 12 percent in tourist inflow, compared to the first five months of last year.

About 2.3 million tourists visited India in the first five months this year, compared to 2.1 million in the same period last year, Nandan said.

Even the foreign exchange earnings have gone up. Last year, the earning was Rs.189 billion as compared to Rs.219 billion this year in the first five months.

Nandan said India’s tourist offices abroad were being updated to pass on latest information to those planning to visit the country. “We are sending them updated information about the situation in India,” she said.

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