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Tourists stroll near the India Gate. Photo: PTI

Tourists stroll near the India Gate. Photo: PTI

Focus on culture, shopping helps draw more women travellers to India

Focus on culture, shopping helps draw more women travellers to India

New Delhi: More women are visiting India as business opportunities grow in Asia’s third largest economy and the government takes steps to make it a safer destination.

The number of women tourists who visited India rose 12.5% to 2.3 million in 2010 from a year earlier, faster than the 11.8% growth in overall tourist arrivals.

As many as 5.7 million tourists visited India in 2010.

Tourists stroll near the India Gate. Photo: PTI

The growing number of women travellers to India presents an opportunity for the Indian hospitality industry, according to the tourism ministry. The share of women travellers to India grew to 40.7% of total tourist arrivals in 2010 from 24.5% in 2001, government data show.

“The ratio will certainly become 50:50 in the next three-four years, provided there are concerted efforts by the government and tour operators to alleviate perceived security fears," said P.R. Srinivas, former India head for hospitality and travel at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, a part of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. “The potential of this segment could be much higher."

Marsha Edwards, who is on her first trip to India from Jamaica with her friends, said she is comfortable travelling alone or with female friends even though there might be some safety-related concerns.

“I am okay travelling to India alone, I wear knee-length clothes and follow the guidelines," said Edwards. “You just have to know what and who to avoid."

Even though there have been instances where people have tried to exploit her, said Donna Wilson, a US-based colleague and co-traveller of Edwards, Wilson felt safe travelling in India. This is her second visit to the country.

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Mint’s Moulishree Srivastava says there has been a rise in the number of women travelers visiting India as business opportunities grow and the government takes steps to make it a safer destination.

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“There had been incidents, where some people have tried to take advantage, but on the whole, I would love to come back to India, because of its culture, history, monuments, people and colours," said Wilson. “I feel safe, if I know where I have to go and how to go there."

Travel agents and hoteliers say women tourists as a category present a huge opportunity but little has been done to exploit it.

“There are no stand-alone female plans as such in India yet," said Suraj Nair, vice-president of strategy and planning at Thomas Cook India. “While for outbound travellers, there are number of female-only tours to European countries, for inbound, it has not been focused."

Also See | Gaining Ground (PDF)

Some hotels, however, have been selling women-only products, including ITC Maurya in New Delhi, which has women-only floors.

“These products are in a nascent stage," said Nair. “This segment is going to catch up, but it won’t go up immediately. In the next five-year window, it would become an attractive area."

To be sure, even as women travellers are becoming bolder, they also are taking precautions to maintain their safety.

Wilson said they avoid going anywhere alone and they only use recognized services (by the government) for staying and travelling. Over the last few years, some cases of rape and molestation involving foreign women travellers have shown India in a bad light.

“Even if there are travel advisories or some other unfortunate events, we do aggressive marketing to promote India as a safer destination," said the tourism ministry official cited earlier. “This growing segment offers an opportunity to market India as a safer destination."

Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint

moulishree.s@livemint.com

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