India’s upcoming general elections are a unique draw not just for voters but for domestic and international tourists as well. Travel companies are capitalising on this phenomenon of the “festival of democracy”, coining the term “election tourism” to cater to a growing niche market.

Travel companies foresee up to 25,000 individuals participating as tourists in over two-month-long elections, claimed a player. India’s inbound tourism sector has experienced a significant resurgence, with foreign tourist arrivals surging 64 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022, totalling 92,36,108 visitors. However, despite this growth, the sector remains 15.5 per cent below pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019, according to Ministry of Tourism data.

Gujarat’s Akshar Travels is a pioneer in election tourism. Manish Sharma, Chairman of Akshar Travels Pvt Ltd, said: “During the last Lok Sabha elections, close to eight thousand tourists visited India for election tourism.” Anticipating a surge, he added, “This year, we are expecting close to 25,000 tourists.”

Requests have poured in from countries like the US, UK, Germany, France, and Japan, attracting political enthusiasts, students, journalists, G20 delegates, and leisure travellers alike.

Akshar Travels’ tour packages include participation in rallies, meetings, and gatherings, as well as opportunities to meet and dine with local political figures. Additionally, travellers can visit gram panchayats, jan sabhas, and engage in local sightseeing activities, according to Sharma who piloted this concept during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. These packages, tried and tested during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, feature top destinations such as Varanasi, Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh.

Echoing the sentiment, Sudesh Rajput, consulting partner of Delhi-based Incredible Holidays, noted, “Our clientele includes both domestic as well as international clients.” With over 28 confirmed bookings, Rajput shared, “We’re offering more customized packages... they want to club religious travel along with electoral travel.” Packages start from a minimum of ₹25,000 per person, combining election-related activities with sightseeing tours.

Despite the burgeoning interest, the Election Commission maintains restrictions on tourists observing the voting process firsthand or visiting polling booths.

Rajiv Mehra, President of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), said, “We want to show foreign tourists how elections work in our country, just like our Prime Minister wants.  Without visiting the booths, travellers do not get a clear picture of how elections are done in India,” he explained. However, Election Commission is yet to respond to two request letters in this regard.

On the flip side, Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director of Creative Travels, said there are clients who had sent specific queries about the election dates to avoid travel during that time He highlighted safety concerns voiced by foreign tourists, explaining, “Some areas in the country get very sensitive... it becomes extremely unsafe for foreigners to travel... where there are rallies and meetings.” He stressed the necessity for foolproof travel arrangements in such situations.