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India losing billions for skewed tourism policy

June 22, 2010 16:45 IST

India is losing out on billions because of the government's disinterest in seeking out new avenues like casino tourism and integrated resorts, feels tourism mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose retinue includes the world's largest casino, Venetian Macao.

Adelson, who was ranked the third richest person in the US by Forbes magazine two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, had plans to build a Las Vegas style strip in India, but it was vetoed by the government in 2008.

"India is such a fascinating country but receives only about 3.5 million foreign tourists a year, which baffles me. I am really keen on setting up an integrated resort experience on the lines of the Las Vegas strip in India, anywhere Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore or Delhi. But the government is sadly not keen," Adelson told PTI.

"Why does not India want tourism, I do not understand it. There are thousands of underground gambling holes, people bet on cricket, horses, so why not use it as a legitimate source of income and employment, coupled with world class spas, restaurants, ballrooms," said Adelson who is here for the inaugration of his pet project, the the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, built on a whopping budget of $5.5 billion.

The 76-year-old billionaire said that India, could become the biggest tourism players in the world, if it stopped ignoring the trends that are sweeping the sector.

He gave the example of Singapore, a world leader in MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) tourism, to say that the Indian government needs to stop looking at casinos as gambling holes.

"The Marina Bay Sands has a casino, but that is just one per cent of the total property but is it's central feature," said Adelson.

The casino at Venetian, situated in Macau, a Special Administrative Region of China, counts Indians among one of its biggest spenders and Adelsonsaid that the Indian middle class is the target audience of Marina Bay Sands.

"We are definitely not looking at the working class who would not be able to afford it, but we are targeting the Indian middle class, offering them a experience they have not had before," said Adelson.
Kripa Krishnan in Singapore
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