India looks to build on ITB partnership

The presence of India at ITB this year as the
show’s official partner country is more significant because 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of
its independence.From a tourism point of view, 2007 is expected to be
no less momentous as it is likely to confirm India’s increasing
prominence on the world’s tourism stage. 

It took nearly 30 years from independence for India to exceed 1 million
inbound arrivals, in 1986, and a further nine to attain 2 million.  The
country needed another nine years to reach 3 million for the first time,
yet it only took two years - from 2004 to 2006 - to top 4 million.  And
the magic 5 million mark will almost certainly be achieved this year,
just 12 months later.  India’s tourism has finally come of age,
attracting the level of growth in - and numbers of - inbound tourist
arrivals that industry analysts have been predicting for so long.

2006 was not only a record year for India’s inbound tourism, but was the
fourth year showing a double-digit increase in arrivals.  Moreover,
arrivals recorded double-digit growth in all 12 months of last year -
even during the lean months of summer and monsoons.  The 4.4 million
arrivals recorded were 13% above 2005’s level and reflected average
annual growth of 9% over the six years from 2000.


India is forecast to be one of the world’s leading tourism destinations


India has everything needed to become one of the world’s leading tourism
destinations.  Summed up so colourfully in the current ‘Incredible
India’ campaign, its attractions are countless and extremely varied -
from its rich cultural heritage and natural geographic attractions, its
wildlife, flora and fauna, to its ethnic diversity, different cuisines
and many festivals.


In addition, the country is the birthplace of four great religions -
Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism - all renowned for their
fundamentally compassionate, peaceful philosophies and principles, and
which attract pilgrims from far and wide.  India’s 24 UNESCO World
Heritage sites reflect all four religions, as well as the art and
architecture of the Muslim Mughal emperors, epitomised by the
magnificent Taj Mahal, India’s most famous architectural icon. 


The growing importance attributed by recent governments - and, in
particular, the present government - to tourism, as well as increased
investment in the sector, have resulted in a number of important
measures to enhance India’s tourism product and facilitate tourism
development.  Among these, the most significant have been the
liberalisation of aviation, improvements in basic infrastructure and
incentives to the hospitality sector, including steps to ensure better
education and training.


Things cannot change overnight, of course, and a number of weaknesses
and problems remain, including the country’s bureaucratic and
long-winded visa procedures, its painfully slow immigration and security
checks, continued imbalances in infrastructure, serious hotel capacity
constraints, and high expenditure and luxury taxes.  These need to be
addressed urgently, and the good news is that the present government
appears to be aware of this need. 


Although India has so far failed to make even a fraction of the impact
of destinations like Thailand on major travel source markets around the
world, it certainly has nothing to envy Thailand in terms of tourism
attractions, and its short- to medium-term tourism prospects are better
than they have ever been.