Trouble on the tourism front

| Updated on January 03, 2020 Published on January 03, 2020

India needs to work on its external image if the current drop in tourist arrivals is to be reversed

The Centre’s ambitious goal of doubling tourist numbers over the next five years is not off to a good start. Most of the popular tourist destinations in India are reporting a sharp drop in arrivals. At the Taj Mahal, a must-see monument for all first-time tourists, visitor numbers are reportedly down by almost 60 per cent compared to last December and occupancy at Agra hotels has slumped. Even in Goa, which hasn’t seen any CAA protests, tourist arrivals are down from a year ago. About nine million tourists came to India in 2019 and the government points to a 3.2 per cent rise in arrivals this year. It says its measures to boost the sector are starting to take effect.

This tepid tourism scene is partly due to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests that have roiled the country, and the various measures taken by both the Centre and State governments to suppress the protests. In Uttar Pradesh, the State government’s draconian measures to suppress all anti-CAA demonstrations, which have so far led to up to 25 deaths, have received wide publicity around the world. As a result, no fewer than seven countries have issued travel advisories on India. In addition, Section 144 has been imposed across most of the States, which means technically tourist groups of more than four people, i.e., most tourist groups, would be illegal. More seriously, the widespread snapping of Internet access in most troubled areas — Kashmir has been without Internet access for five months while UP has suspended Internet service in over 20 districts including Agra — would have turned away foreign tourists, for whom being out-of-touch with the world is unacceptable. It also leaves them unable to access ATMs or use credit cards. For the travel trade, it’s unfortunate the CAA protests erupted during peak tourist season.

The question is whether the current slowdown in tourism will ride itself out. India is a long-haul destination and that makes it a difficult sell even at the best of times. But it fares poorly compared with other Asian destinations like Bali, which alone got 3.2 million visitors between January-July 2019. And Bangkok received 3.2 million tourists in August alone. In recent months there has been negative press coverage of India worldwide. For instance, the recent horrific rape-murder case in Hyderabad aggravated fears about women’s safety. External factors could also be resulting in tourists not venturing too far from home. South Africa has reported weaker tourist numbers this year. The Centre has taken several steps to improve tourist numbers, such as introducing e-visas and lower-priced, off-season e-visas for tourists from some countries. But India’s image needs some burnishing for all these measures to have the desired impact.

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Published on January 03, 2020
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