With an objective to boost Indian tourism, the government of India hosted an “Incredible India” roadshow in the US and Canada, which was led by a high-powered Indian tourism delegation.
The delegation’s five-day roadshow, which was held from June 24 through June 28, was held in Washington DC, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco in the US and in Vancouver in Canada.
Meenakshi Sharma, Director General of Tourism, whose last destination was in San Francisco where she talked to media at the event and shared the vision and challenges the tourism industry has been facing and urged not only Americans to visit India but also 2nd and 3rd generation Indian-Americans to visit. She urged them not just travel to India to attend a wedding or shop, but to visit the tourist destinations.
“We want to promote India in a most positive way. We want the world to see India, its heritage,” Sharma told indica, and added that the roadshow is for that purpose.
She said there are so many things that can be seen and experienced by the new generation, and the US usually gives us 2nd and 3rd position when it comes to world tourists visiting India. The number of Indian travelers coming to India has increased to 10 percent.
Another important thing for the roadshow is this “Industry to Industry” partnership,” said Sharma who along with her brought in over 30 travel companies who are members of Indian Tour Operators Association (IATO), said they are traveling on their own cost and they want to build a relationship with US-based businesses.
Sharma said the four-day roadshow has brought in a lot of positive interest and with more business-to-business meetings we hope to increase interaction and we plan to host the event every other year.
When asked about the queries received, she said there are various ones but visas are one of the main ones. To promote tourism, India has extended e-visa facility to 167 countries. With e-visa, people want to make it cheaper (at present a US citizen pays $100 and banks charge 2.5 percent and much faster.) In 2018, 274,000 Americans visited India through e-visa facility.
According to the Department of Tourism, the USA was the 2nd largest amongst the tourist generating market for India in 2017, and the number of visitors grew from 82,052 in 1981 to 137,6919 in 2017.
The report shows in 2017, over 40 percent of arrivals from the USA to India was for leisure holiday and recreation. alone.
Sharma said the Department of Tourism has set the goal of increasing it by 10 percent every year. During the presentation, she said India is just getting started.
Referring to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Performance Report 2018, she said India holds third position in Travel and Tourism Power and India accounts for just 1.2 percent of the world tourism share. India’s earnings in terms of World Tourism Receipts is 2.1 percent.
“We do have competition from Sri Lanka and Thailand because of destination vacation, (tourists) look for the cost. When you create a package even $20 matters,” she said.
Another thing the people want to know is connectivity, India is such a large area there is no clear understanding of how to get around and there is a failure of marketing also. “People want to see Taj Mahala and Kerala together and it doesn’t work out like that. They need to understand. However, the USA is a very mature market. In some places, they know a lot about India so we need to create the right strategy,” said Sharma.
She also shared about tourism in the northeast. She said other than Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim there is now no requirement or restricted access permit. That has been taken away.
“With Arunachal and Sikkim, we are working very closely with the state government to remove them also. Of course, in some inner areas permit would be required,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the entire area of the states of Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland have been excluded from the Protected Areas regime until 31.12.2022. They are applicable for both domestic and foreign tourists, except nationals from Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan.
Sharing further on promoting tourism she said they are also working with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) to open new peaks. A large number of peaks have been opened in the North East region which has been an important step in welcoming more adventure tourism.
“70 percent of the Himalayas are in India so there are so many options,” she said.
Sharma stressed that with the Indian diaspora being so big, they are not getting 2nd and 3rd generation Indians coming to India for vacation, they only come to attend weddings and meet with relatives. They don’t think of India as a tourist destination. She wants to change that perspective.
“Please go to India twice, one for the wedding and the other for vacation,” Sharma said with a smile.
Sharna said the government is working on adding more tourist police at important tourists’ destinations, to stop any harassment. Since they see a lot of people are traveling alone.
The government has launched a 24/7 toll-free, multi-lingual tourist helpline in 10 international languages besides Hindi and English and a short code 1363, which can be used for a medical emergency or anything security-related. We are going to add onto the “Incredible India” website. “I think we have to work on the perception (of India) and (we need) to bring a good story,” she said.
During the event, a roadshow was held where California-based travel Agents met with Indian travel delegates.
One of the travel agents from Silicon Valley, Helen Megan, told indica she has been to India several times. The first time was in 1992 and then went back four or five times. Most of the time with a cruise ship. “I love India, love the people and they are kind and gentle,” she said.
Megan who was talking with one of the travel delegates from India named Pramod Bhatnagar, Director of IDMS Tours Pvt. Ltd. Based in Delhi said she is leading a group from California who would be taking an ultra-luxury cruise named Silver Sea Cruise from Mumbai to Singapore next year.
Sharma explained during the event that Cruise tourism is picking up in India as well.
Bhatnagar told indica her clients are looking at high-end luxury tours in India.
When asked Bhatnagar about the journey with the roadshow, he sounded positive said, “So far, it was very good.”
When asked what queries he got from US-based travel companies he said that flight is the big problem. There are only a few direct flights, but some customers from the Boston area prefer direct flights and so do people in Vancouver.
Another travel agent from Silicon Valley was Alana and Barry Ross, who runs “Love to Eat and Travel,” they told indica, “We are here to learn more about India. We get inquiry about what type of tours are available in different cities.
“The Bay area has a large Indian population, so it’s a big issue in the Bay Area. I think we see the interest, India is an attractive destination these days,” said Barry Ross.