The Tourism minister Mahesh Sharma has responded to the wake-up call given to the  ministry, with the shameful mistreatment of the Japanese female tourist on her trip to the holy birth place of Gautam Buddha- Bodh Gaya. The planned and elaborate sexual assault on her in December 2014 defamed our country’s women security standards internationally.

Over the past three years, growth in arrivals has averaged 6 percent, compared with 10 percent over the prior decade, according to Tourism Ministry statistics.

India gets approximately 7.4 million tourists, which is a far cry short of Thailand and Malaysia, both of which attract more than three times as many visitors. And they mange this with far lesser coastline, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

With increase in revenues from tourism being put on the priority list by the Modi Government, which is hoping to double tourist traffic by 2017, cleanliness and security have been identified as the two biggest problem areas.

“Definitely the two issues which we have not been able to address are cleanliness and security,” Mahesh Sharma said in an interview in New Delhi on Jan. 21. “We are concerned about that. India will be more clean and secure.”

Modi flagged off the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, got down to sweep streets in public, promoted women’s safety and made it easier to get visas, allowing for spontaneous trips that were impossible earlier.

India ranked 74 among 140 global economies on safety and security parameters, according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013. Apart from that, open defecation soiling the landscape, sorry state of National Highways, and array of tolls that increase cost of travel are other hindrances to our travel scene.

“India is an expensive destination,” said Faith Pandian, director of Indian Panorama, a Trichy, Tamil Nadu-based travel company.

In fact, Bhutan also outdid India by offering pristine landscapes and a negligible crime rate, and recorded the highest growth rate in tourism between 2007 and 2012.

 Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma Picture By: Travel News Digest
Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma
Picture By: Travel News Digest

Plans to improve women’s safety include a crisis hotline in 12 languages and taxis equipped with GPS locators, Sharma said. By 2017, India wants 14 million visitors a year who spend more than 2 trillion rupees ($32.6 billion), almost double the $18 billion that foreign investors poured into the nation’s stocks on average each year since 2010.

Apart from that, Sharma plans to issue pamphlets with Dos and Donts to all tourists. Some of the pointers on them read- Don’t move alone, don’t go anywhere at midnight and don’t get into a vehicle without first taking a photo of the license plate with your mobile phone.

Your children talk about going to India, but they turn their nose up at us because they think it’s dirty,” Modi had said in his address to Fiji on Nov. 19. “I’m going to make such a country your children will want to come and see. They will never again turn their nose up at India.”

India’s share of global tourist traffic has been stagnating at around half a percent for almost two decades. To boost that, Modi nearly quadrupled the number of countries eligible to apply online for visas on arrival to 43 in November. By the time five more are added — the U.K., Spain, France, China and Italy — the program will cover 62 percent of arrivals, Sharma said.

Sharma, who is also junior minister of aviation, said the government plans to approve four new airlines to begin commercial operations to help boost connectivity, by August.

“We shouldn’t just be talking about how beautiful and incredible India is,” said Kumar, the travel agent. “Hygiene and women’s safety are issues that need to be tackled. When they are, more people can be persuaded into visiting.”

Original source: Bloomberg

[Feature Picture Courtesy: Wall Street Journal]