WHERE IS INCERIDIBLE INDIA
Ask the average foreign tourist about his experience in India and his answer would probably fill a complaint book. Atul
Sethi finds out the reasons for this, ahead of World Tourism Day.
Some time ago, a Swiss tourist couple found themselves in a peculiar situation in Agra. After seeing the city's sights,
they planned to take the Shatabdi Express back to Delhi. However, their local guide told them that the Shatabdi Express for
the day had been cancelled.
But, he said, if they were in a hurry, he knew a taxi driver who could take them to Delhi for $100 each. Not knowing better,
the couple agreed, took the taxi and became poorer by $200. Later, after reaching Delhi, they made enquiries and discovered
that their train had never been cancelled!
There are many incidents like this which any foreign tourist who has ever travelled in India, will readily share with
you. With World Tourism Day around the corner, probably it's time to take a long, hard look at why India, with its vast tourism
potential, still receives far less foreign tourists than smaller countries like Singapore or Thailand.
For instance, last year, India received only 3.9 million tourists as compared to Thailand's 12 million and Singapore's
9 million. Interestingly, more Indians are now travelling abroad.
But, proportionately, lesser foreign tourists are coming into India. This is surely not good news for the tourism industry,
which accounts for 6% of the country's total GDP.
Murray Jones, a UK-based tour operator who has been selling packages to India for the last 25 years, says this is because
India has not gone about exploiting its potential in a tourist-friendly manner.
"Give the tourists what they want and they will come again and again. However, in India, one gets the feeling that
most people are only interested in what can I get out of this tourist now and not in how can I get him to return," he
Agrees Rajji Rai, vice president of the Travel Agents Association of India, "The problem for tourists coming to India
starts the moment they land chaos at the airport, insensitive immigration officials, the presence of touts all of this can
leave a very negative impact."
Add to these high visa fees, which again gives the feeling that the country is after every dollar that tourists can dole
out. Also, says Jones, most of the top hotels here tend to be overpriced because of a multitude of taxes that get added to
the room rates.
Every part of the system from the airport porter to the senior-most tourism official should constantly check whether
what they are offering is value-for-money for the tourist, he says.
Concurs Vikram Madhok, managing director of travel agency Abercombie & Kent, "In India, tourism is not high on
the national agenda, whereas countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Macau rely heavily on tourism and, hence, they are able
to sensitise all segments of the society towards the foreign visitor.
Awareness about the the role tourism can play in nation-building is yet to percolate down to the grassroots of our society."
US-based travel agent Lokesh Sharma has another interesting insight to offer. He feels that NRIs also don't do enough
to promote the tourism potential of the country.
"The best way that a country gets talked about is through word-of-mouth publicity. However, an average NRI is not
as enthusiastic about others visiting his country as, say, a Thai national is," he says.
Vijay Kaul, a tourism consultant based in the UK, says that another problem is that India is not seen as a children's
holiday destination, and therefore, it misses out on the affluent 35-50 age group.
Most people, however, feel that the biggest deterrent to tourism is lack of infrastructure. Says Ram Kohli, founder president
of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, "Lack of good budget hotels, proper roads as well as hygiene and sanitation
are problems that put off most would-be travellers to India."
Another thing, he says, is that there is absence of a concerted effort to showcase the country as a whole. For instance,
if a tourist travels by tourist taxi on the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit, the vehicle has to stop at all the three state borders
This wastes a lot of time and gives a bad impression to the tourist. This can be easily avoided if the states sort it
out , since tourism is not just for the state but for the entire country.
Although the ministry of tourism's 'Incredible India' campaign has created interest in the country, and there are plans
to launch a massive advertising blitzkrieg aimed at foreign markets, most experts feel that a lot more has to be done.
Rather than just being a slogan, 'Incredible India' is what every tourist should be saying to their friends and relatives
when they get back home. Only then can we truly claim to be the land of people who chant Atithi devo bhava.