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Friday, Jul 19, 2002

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Another lean year stares at tourism sector

Nina Varghese

CHENNAI, July 18

INDIA seems to be off the tourism map yet again. If the fears of the hospitality industry and the inbound tour operators are justified, then the tourism sector seems to be in for another lean year.

Industry sources said the major tour operators should have made their bookings by now, but have not done so. The buzz in the industry is that India does not feature in any of the travel brochures brought out by the big tour operators. Mr P.J. Mammen, General Manager, GRT Radisson, said.

The high-volume bookings have not come in as yet and the general fear is that it could be the result of the travel advisories by the US and the UK. Though these advisories have been withdrawn subsequently, the damage has already been done.

Industry sources said that one of the reasons for not including India would be because of the stringent consumer laws in most Western countries where a tour operator would have to compensate the traveller for an inconvenience or breach of service.

Mr E.M. Najeeb, Chairman, Indian Association of Tour Operators, Southern Chapter, said India is not the preferred destination for most Western tourists. He said that travel advisories have done their bit of damage but does not seem to deter people who have visited India, especially the South before.

The southern States, he said, might not be severely impacted by the travel advisories.

Sources in the travel industry said that there might be an increase in free individual travellers who would try to take advantage of the heavy discounts which the hotels will offer if the tour groups do not come in.

Some travel companies have started damage control to some extent. Mr S. Mahesh, Director, Bharat Travel Service said that since his company caters to largely to the elders' market, the company did a road show in the US. The company hired a farmhouse in Burlington, Vermont and invited its regular customers to talk to target groups to reassure them that India is still a safe destination.

Mr Steve Lovato, Senior Vice-President, Synergi Inc - an international corporate travel company - said that because of "the Kashmir problems and noise," most business travellers seem to be scheduling business trips only when absolutely essential.

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