India draws less tourists, hopes number will go up

April 21st, 2008 - 7:58 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni

Jaipur, April 21 (IANS) India attracts less tourists as compared to China as the government had to first face challenges of providing basic amenities, health and education to people and only then could it target the tourism sector, Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said here Monday. But, she said, the government had taken various steps in the past four years to make the country a favoured destination.

“It is true that 50 million people visited China and around seven million visited Singapore in 2007. But quoting figures of tourists’ arrivals to India is not right. Both the states and the central government have to first face the challenges of providing health, education and basis amenities to people and then the focus came on tourism,” she said at the first Great Indian Travel Bazaar-2008.

She said despite the low foreign arrivals figures, it should be noted that India has earned more foreign exchange compared to Singapore.

“We earned close to $12 billion from tourism as compared to other Asian countries,” she said at the three-day travel mart, organized jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), tourism ministry and the Rajasthan Tourism department.

About five million foreign tourists visited India in 2007.

Soni got a surprise support from Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, on the issue of tourist figures.

“We have not looked at tourism as a sector. The state government first looks at providing basic needs to its people - like education, roads, drinking water and health. It is only then that the money is distributed for the development of tourism,” Raje said.

She said promotion of tourism in India was downmarket. But now a “huge leap forward” has been taken with innovative and imaginative advertisements to promote the country.

“There is an air of optimism. It would not be right to comment on the numbers of tourists coming to India. It is like watching one’s weight. We have to look at the kilos but not get bogged down,” she added.

Addressing about 160 foreign buyers from 42 countries and state tourism representatives, Soni listed out the steps the government had taken to promote Indian tourism, including holding major exhibitions and fairs abroad and making the Incredible India slogan synonymous with India as a destination, especially in New York, Singapore and China.

“In the past one-and-a-half year, we have started issuing long-term multiple visas for 18 countries. We have also introduced medical tourism visas to tourists for one year and which could be extended further.”

She said the tourism ministry was also discussing the issue of visa on arrival with the home ministry. “A visa-free regime is our aim,” she said.

“We have better connectivity and most of the major airports would be ready by 2009 and about 11 greenfield airports are in the pipeline,” she added.

Soni said in 2006 about 8.34 million Indian tourists travelled overseas. “Tourism is a major contributor to the gross domestic product and largest generator of employment. Outbound traffic from India is also growing.”

The minister said she had written to chief ministers of various states to create land banks so that budget hotels could be constructed. “We are pushing for bed and breakfast schemes.

“Tourism has been recognized as an important economic driver that also provides employment to people. I am not the supporter of one-time tourists alone. We want repeat tourists,” she added.

She said the government is concerned with attacks on foreign tourist and taking strong steps to make them feel safe and secure. “For this we have formed a special task force comprising of retired army personnel,” Soni said.

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