24 February 2009
New Delhi: The global meltdown, coupled with the Mumbai terror attacks, considerably impacted the foreign tourist arrivals in India and their number rose only 5.56 percent last year against the expected growth of 14.56 percent, the Rajya Sabha was informed Tuesday.
"The global meltdown has affected those countries that are our primary source of tourist arrivals. There have been cancellations but I would like to point out that a growth rate of 5.56 percent is way above the global average of two percent," Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said during question hour.
"The Mumbai attacks also contributed to the dip in arrivals," she added.
"Till August-September, we had very high growth rates. Then came the global meltdown and the Mumbai attacks," she said, adding that in spite of the dip in arrivals, foreign exchange earnings last year rose 14.4 percent.
"This is because we receive a number of high-end travellers and those who spend a lot of money," Soni explained.
The minister vehemently denied suggestions that efforts to encourage foreign tourist arrivals were being made at the cost of domestic tourism.
"Any steps to encourage foreign tourist arrivals is not at the cost of domestic tourism," she said, adding that 560 million Indians travelled within the country last year.
"When I became a minister, the prime minister had clearly said that domestic tourism was a priority. Thus, we have been able to increase the number of domestic tourists from 320 million to 560 million (last year)."
Detailing the steps her ministry had taken to promote domestic tourism, Soni said Rs.378 crore (Rs.3.78 billion) had been sanctioned for 16 mega projects in the country, while another six were in the pipeline.
"Under this scheme, Rs.25 crore (Rs.250 million) is given for destination development and Rs.50 crore for circuit development," Soni said, adding that the projects were coming up in places like Amritsar, Ajmer, Pushkar, Goa and Tirupathi.
This apart, the government had identified 139 spots for promoting rural tourism and was providing Rs.50 lakh (Rs.5 million) at each place for infrastructure development and Rs.20 lakh for capacity building.
Soni also sought to allay apprehensions that the regional media were being ignored for advertisements for the tourism ministry's "Incredible India" campaign.
"A special committee decides where the advertisements are to be placed. I want to make it very clear that from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, from east to west, no language is left untouched. At the same time, we cannot give advertisements to each and every newspaper," Soni pointed out.