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Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Indian tourism is now recovering from the global recession. In particular, the last two months' developments encouraged the Ministry of Tourism. After the recession, these two months showed an increased number of tourists. Now, the Ministry is trying to promote it through its new efforts. The slowdown of the past few years was a major setback to the ever-increasing Indian tourism. In 2008, from January-March, around 1.7 million tourists visited India, while during the same period in 2009, only 1.46 million tourists decided to visit India. The 13.8 percent drop occurred despite the upward trend in tourism. Besides the recession, November 26 and other terrorist attacks were another blow to an industry that demands 'peace' at all times to flourish. However, the situation has started to look up a bit.

The Ministry's statistics have shown an increase in the number of tourists in the last two months. Last June presented an increase of 2 percent and July showed a 6 percent increase. Although the difference is small, the Ministry sees it as a very positive sign. Foreign exchange earnings reached to Rs.4983 crore in July 2009.

Keeping in mind the immense tourism potential in almost every Indian state, various schemes are being offered to tourists. To boost tourism in the state, the Madhya Pradesh government has introduced a flight facility plan to its different tourist spots. Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation is making all its efforts for this plan aimed to promote tourism in the state. If everything goes well, tourists will start enjoying their trip to far and remote state tourism sites sitting in charter flights or helicopters within five to seven months. The corporation has invited private companies and promised to facilitate infrastructure for the service. The service provider company will have to invest around Rs.50 crore. Three helicopters to different tourist places are planned in the first stage. If properly used, helicopter services will open several new destinations that are not conveniently approachable and can certainly help in the growth of tourism.

The government wishes to utilize these airstrips for private charters and non-scheduled airline operations with the object of bringing in tourists and providing them with proper reception facilities, besides keeping the airstrip and appetent land and buildings in good order.

Significantly, the corporation is spending a huge amount to attract and provide new facilities to its tourists. It has been spent around Rs.8 crore just in advertising in a year. It also started providing taxi facilities along with bus services. Tourist buses are regularly available in Ujjain and Mandu, radio taxis and rail-bus facilities are being provided in Bhopal.

Ashwani Lohani, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh Tourism, said, "the state government has identified tourism as a thrust area for development and the proactive tourism policy of the state makes it a favored destination. The state has taken several initiatives to promote tourism in general and eco and adventure tourism in particular."

Now, the corporation will present the grandeur and rich heritage of the state through its cultural programs to the tourists. The Baija Taal cultural complex has been modified and reincarnated as a cultural complex containing an art gallery and open-air theater. The Gwalior Heritage Festival will take place at Baija Taal, Moti Mahal Palace, and promises the splendor and brilliance of the Gwalior Gharana, known for its culture and music. This step by Gwalior Heritage Foundation will help in further boosting the tourism industry of Madhya Pradesh. Every year a large number of domestic and international tourists visit the city to explore its forts, Jaivilas Palace, tomb of Rani of Jhansi and other monuments and temples. It is a significant step to bring back the historical era, rich musical heritage and cultural legacy of the city.

The economic meltdown might have slowed down tourism businesses in Himachal Pradesh, but now it is recovering with a pace. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation has earned a profit of about Rs.7 crore by June 2009 and its gross profit touched the point of Rs.7.5 crore. The development of a multipurpose tourism complex to provide people quality Himachali hospitality besides looking after them in a professional manner presented a significant impact on tourist number in the state. The state plans to become a flourishing health and medical tourism center.

There are plans to take advantage of its sylvan settings and its 'Panchkarma' Ayurvedic cure system and established healthcare hubs. The Ayurvedic health rejuvenating therapy in the state-run chain of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) hotels attracted tourists not only in the high seasons, but throughout the year. In May 2009, there were 40 trained Ayurvedic medical officers in the state who had special training in the 'Panchkarma' system of health. The state would give priority to boost health tourism and develop health resorts to cure various incurable ailments. The government will also open nine other 'Panchkarma' centers in different remote parts of the state. 'Panchkarma' was finding popularity with tourists visiting hilly states for health reasons, since it had the highest rate of curing various ailments with no side effects. The corporation hotels are providing online booking facilities through credit cards, while a debit card facility is in the pipeline.

Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation has offered a king-size welcome to its tourists through various luxury trains. The traditional music of Rajasthan were presented by the minstrels of Langa and Mangania communities. European gypsy music, flamenco and urban folk music were also the highlights of the Rajasthan International Music Festival (RIFF) at the sprawling Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur in the first week of October 2009. The festival is organized to revive dying folk musical genres of the state and will promote the traditional music of the European gypsies, who are said to have migrated from Rajasthan at least 1,000 years ago. The Marwar Festival will also play a vital role to pull tourists towards the state. Besides terror attacks, economic meltdown and political instability, the trend of the record arrivals reaffirms the growing popularity of Rajasthan as the most preferred Indian tourist destination worldwide. The annual rate of growth of tourism in the state has increased by 7 percent for domestic tourists and 5 percent for international visitors. The winter months are the peak season, while about 30 percent of visitors come to the state during the summer. Jagraj Singh, MD, of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) has announced cuts in its hotel tariffs as well as other concessions to prop up sagging occupancy rates. "We are going in for aggressive marketing to see that our properties report full occupancy," he added.

The joint effort of the RTDC and the Indian Railway has made operational the luxury train "Palace on Wheels" in August instead of September, as originally projected. On August 10, 2009, the train arrived in Jodhpur with 32 tourists who got a 20 percent discount on their tickets. Another luxury train, "Rajasthan on Wheels," also launched in September.

Jodhpur RIFF will present its first ever RIFF 'Rustle' this year. Sivamani, award-winning drummer and percussionist, will lead RIFF's first Rustle - a spontaneous and power-charged, rhythm-based, dance floor extravaganza. He will also present three other Rajasthani percussionists on the khartal, morchang and nagada to bring a traditional mood and a mix of rustic rhythms and contemporary beats. RIFF will also present an exclusive evening with the Langa community of Barmer. Numerous artists from the community will take the stage to give audiences a rare glimpse of the stunning musical and vocal talent that this community has cultivated and passed on for generations. The festival will significantly focus on Sufi renditions, songs composed for their traditional patrons, the Sindhi Sipahi, sounds of the various traditional instruments like algoza, surinda and sarangi.

At present, there are three five-star, five heritage, six three- and four-star, and more than 40 economy class hotels available in Jodhpur. Besides these, about 15 entrepreneurs have applied for new hotel projects under a new hotel policy announced by the state government. Some are under-construction, while others are waiting for financial help through banks and government approval.

With a boom in tourism businesses, various travel web-portals are entering with different new discount packages trying to attract tourists. They stepped up their efforts through the digital medium to make it more consumer-friendly. Some agents are targeting customers with huge budget and providing them loans before booking online.

Until now, these facilities were provided to tourists through travel agencies or travel agent operators. But online travel agents (OTA) such as cleartrip.com, makemytrip.com, yatra.com and travelocity.co.in are offering various tour packages and heavy discounts to their customers. They claim that the tariffs, either hotel rooms or air/railway tickets, are the lowest. These agencies are hoping that upcoming festivals and an improving economy will increase the slashed tour prices.

Travelocity.co.in claims that it has started to offer a 50-percent discount on the base fare of any airlines. Its global scale and partnerships enable it to offer customers the best available rates or more than 60,000 listed-hotels including 1,000 in India, a choice of 450 airlines and the ability to allow customers to build their own package for over 1,000 destinations. The company offers a Rs.1,000 cash-back discount on booking with these listed hotels. Travelocity Global has also acquired India's leading online hotel distribution network, Travelguru, to grow its business around the world. It's managing director, Himanshu Singh, said the company is involved in improving the website's search engine and is developing a multi-stop facility for every tourist stop. For instance, if a customer flies to New York, he has the option of a two-day stay in London.

Co-founder and COO of makemytrip.com, Keyur Joshi, said that the company has launched "Holiday Plus," which guarantees satisfaction to travelers. This is achieved by charging only half the amount up front and the balance after the traveler's return.

"Because of the higher volumes we handle online, cost per transaction is substantially low for us and, therefore, it is possible for online travel agencies like ourselves to pass on the price-competitive benefits to consumers. We book around 10,000 tickets per day. Compare this with 400-500 ticket bookings per day handled by offline agencies. The company has seen a yearly growth of 60-70 percent in revenues, while online visitors have grown 25-30 percent," he explained.

"Hotel and airline companies are ready to give a sweet deal if it is a bundled offer and in larger volumes. So, while a Delhi to Calcutta flight and a hotel booked separately would cost Rs 12,000 per person, a bundled offer would cost Rs 10,000 or so, if booked online," Joshi revealed. Makemytrip.com is also working on introducing weekend getaway packages for online booking. These would also take care of local taxis and guides at the tour destinations. "This is a big initiative since it would include overseas destinations as well," Joshi said.

"At MakeMyTrip we endeavor to offer comprehensive travel product offerings in order to meet the needs of all kinds of travelers," he said.

Ashish Kishore, Head of Hotels and Retail Business at Yatra.com, explained the company's new plan. "Complying with our current promotional campaign 'Yatra.com Make your own holiday,' we are also providing enthusiasts the choice of adding more fun and adventurous activities in the travel itinerary." The company is planning to promote single destination tourism through its portal. This will be done in association with the tourism boards of various countries. With a target to open about 100 retail outlets at a cost of Rs 18-20 crore, Yatra.com is expanding its reach across India. It opened its holiday lounge in Gurgaon and another one has been launched in Chandigarh and about 20 more lounges will come up in Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Ludhiana and Jalandhar very soon.

Regarding the development, Noel Swain, Vice President of Marketing at Cleartrip.com, said, "We are looking at taking a huge leap in the overall Marketing Strategy in the coming year and making Cleartrip the preferred choice of customers.
The public's ability to understand our vision and effectively translate this into a creative strategy will make our association with them successful." Cleartrip said its hotel business grew 22 percent every month from April to September in 2008 and 10 percent in October and November. The company also launched another breakthrough product - the Flexible Dates Flight Search, which is a comprehensive search solution for end consumers. Flexible Dates give customers the opportunity to search for flights on more than just a single fixed date and with the best available prices.

Compared with last year, airfares are 30 percent less, but upcoming festivals and the winter high season will likely bring a hike to some of these fares. So it is the best time to plan your holidays to get maximum offers.


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