Industry representatives at a regional annual travel mart in Dubai have strongly suggested visa on arrival to select countries, including from the Arab world, and lower and competitive air fares to boost tourism in India.
They pointed out at a meeting attended by top Indian officials from the Centre and three states that despite 20.8 per cent increase in foreign tourist arrivals in India last year, India got lesser number of foreign tourists than Dubai and Maldives and accounted for less than one per cent of world tourist arrivals.
An 'open sky policy' could help lift tourist arrivals to India and there still appeared to be minor glitches in starting charter flights to India, Mohammed Ashraf of Al Amaan Travels and Tourism said.
India was one of the very few countries where tourism was not hit by either the SARS epidemic or the New York terror strikes, Rashmi Verma, Additional Director General, Tourism, Government of India, said at the 11th Arabian Travel Mart, the largest regional congregation of tourism and travel business.
Stating that India was 'truly shining' in tourism, Verma said international tourist arrivals saw an increase of 20.8 per cent in 2003 over the previous year with nearly 3 million foreign tourists arriving in India.
At the same time tourist arrivals from the United Arab Emirates to India saw a remarkable increase of 43 per cent indicating that the Arabs were looking at alternatives to the destinations in the West.
Almost 32,000 of the 81,000 tourists from Gulf countries who travelled to India were from the UAE showing the increasing popularity of Indian destinations in the UAE, Prakash Jajoria, regional director, India Tourism said.
Tourism officials from Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir and Karnataka also attended the press conference.
Verma said Goa and Kerala led the country as the states which attracted the maximum number of foreign tourists while Kashmir was regaining its lost glory with the detente in relations with Pakistan and the improvement in security.
She said a series of programmes and packages were being worked for tourists at Agra as the Taj Mahal, celebrating its 300th anniversary is to be a big draw this year.
A spurt in medical tourism which combined both allopathic and ayurvedic treatments and emergence of India as a new wedding and honeymoon destination have also boosted the sector.
She said the air fare to India was also coming down consistently and the government was also considering visa on arrival scheme though it may take a little time to materialise because of security considerations.
Verma said the government had totally liberalised charter flights policy which has resulted in more tourist inflows.
Among the states which have put up a big show at the ATM here are Goa, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Goa has been making a concerted effort at all the ATMs and as a result the largest number of chartered flights for tourists to India were headed for that state, she added.