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The tourism ministry wants to boost India’s share of global tourist arrivals, pegged at close to one billion in 2012 by the UN World Tourism Organization, to 1% by the end of 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) from 0.58% now. India received 6.29 million foreign tourists in 2011.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
The tourism ministry wants to boost India’s share of global tourist arrivals, pegged at close to one billion in 2012 by the UN World Tourism Organization, to 1% by the end of 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) from 0.58% now. India received 6.29 million foreign tourists in 2011.Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Govt plans online travel planner to attract foreign travellers

Tourism ministry’s website makeover to allow users to prepare itineraries from scratch, including booking tickets

New Delhi: The government wants to upgrade the “Incredible India!" website run by the tourism ministry to make it a one-stop shop for overseas visitors as part of efforts to double foreign tourist arrivals to about 12 million by 2016.

The website makeover will allow users to prepare itineraries from scratch, said tourism ministry officials on condition of anonymity. Prospective travellers will also be able to book tickets and find out more about destinations on the website.

The intervention is seen as critical given that the current growth rate of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) doesn’t put India on track for the 2016 target, said one of the officials cited above. Growth slowed to 5.9% in January-November 2012 to 5.89 million from 9.4% in the year earlier.

The tourism ministry wants to boost India’s share of global tourist arrivals, pegged at close to one billion in 2012 by the UN World Tourism Organization, to 1% by the end of 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) from 0.58% now. India received 6.29 million foreign tourists in 2011.

To upgrade the website, the ministry plans to add 12 new tools, which include timings and routes for various modes of transport and interactive maps, the officials said. The site, once it’s upgraded, will also list registered travel agents, hotels and restaurants.

“We want all travel agents, restaurants and hotels to register so that tourists feel safe," said the official cited above. “This will create an incentive for all these stakeholders to register with the government. In addition, it will help the government regulate and keep tabs on all of these small businesses, enabling the government to take action if there are complaints."

According to industry estimates, 90% of the hotels in India are not registered with the government as it’s voluntary. There are only 236 travel agents registered with the ministry.

To be sure, India will also need to convince travellers about health and safety besides other issues, said P.R. Srinivas, an independent travel analyst.

“Providing such information will certainly create a sense of security in the sense that travellers will know which entities are recognized by the government, because a lot of shady business goes on with unregistered travel agents and hotels. But it should be reflected with action at ground level, which is more important in the end," said Srinivas. “If foreign travellers encounter problems after coming to India, it will create negative publicity, which is much more powerful than the positive one."

Foreign missions routinely issue travel advisories to their citizens warning them about Indian cities, especially with regard to the safety of women. Besides this, Indian missions overseas aren’t the most efficient of bureaucracies.

“There are bottlenecks at every stage. Getting an Indian visa is not easy. There are basic hygiene and safety issues to be taken care of, which are not under the control of the tourism ministry," said Srinivas. “Until government takes care of such issues, it may take longer to create the right atmosphere for travellers."

The ministry plans to kick off the process next month.

“We expect it will take a year-and-a-half to complete the entire project," the official said. “We will be putting out tenders in February."

The move will help in boosting tourist numbers “provided the project is properly monitored and executed unlike some of the ministry’s earlier initiatives including the tourist helpline," said Iqbal Mulla, president of the Travel Agents Association of India lobby group. “If they hire a professional to manage it or implement it in a public-private partnership, it is more likely to attain its goal."

Stakeholders such as transporters, travel agents and hotels should also be involved, he added.

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