Death by indifference

Updated on: Jan 27, 2014

Our country has amazing things to offer a traveller. A safe and secure holiday is not one of them

How many more tourists have to die, get horrifically assaulted or rapped or just plain robbed blind before the authorities wake up?

Take Sunday’s tragedy in the Andamans. It exemplifies everything that is wrong about our tourism industry. Twenty one tourists died after their boat capsized just metres off the Port Blair harbour. Unsurprisingly, the boat was loaded well beyond its capacity. It did not have basic safety equipment, like life jackets. The crew were simply not equipped or trained to tackle an emergency of this kind. On shore, there was no system of emergency response or rescue. As survivors pointed out, many more could have been saved if there had been any sort of help forthcoming. The few who made it survived thanks to the kindness of strangers.

The people who died in Andaman were Indian tourists. This means that even the customary flurry of activity on part of the authorities that we see whenever something terrible happens to a foreign tourist and makes its way into international headlines, will be missing this time around. That’s because negative press in the global media directly impacts dollar earnings. Foreign tourists generated Rs 94,487 crore worth of foreign exchange in 2012-13, according to the Tourism ministry.

This is a substantial chunk of change and advisories by foreign governments warning their citizens not to travel to India because of terror threats or natural disasters, or advisories warning their female citizens from travelling alone to India because of the high chances of being raped, have a way of making those sought-after dollars vanish. So security is beefed up and cops get politer – for a few days, till it all snaps back to the usual.

Our policy mandarins appear to think that infrastructure is the reason more tourists don’t come to India. They’re wrong. Infrastructure is just one of the issues. Safety, security, strict implementation of regulations, and above all, a sea-change in attitudes are all equally important. Otherwise, the only thing incredible about Íncredible India’ will be that anybody comes here at all.

Published on January 29, 2014

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