The dual impact of global meltdown and Mumbai terror attacks made the tourism ministry go for an image makeover to woo foreign visitors this year.
Tourism industry had to face rough weather in the aftermath of Mumbai terror attack with travel advisories issued by several countries including Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand advising their citizens to avoid travel to India.
There have been cancellations in inbound air bookings as well as in hotels after the November 26 terror strikes in the western metropolis, industry experts said.
According to the ministry, the growth rate in the foreign tourist arrival during January-November 2008 was only eight per cent as compared to growth rate of 14.8 per cent during the same period in 2007.
The foreign tourist arrival during January to November this year was 4.84 million as compared to 4.48 million during the corresponding period last year.
The lower growth rate in 2008 is attributed to global financial meltdown and terrorist activities.
However, ministry of tourism took several confidence building measures in order to avoid a negative impact on tourism and the number of arrivals in November rose to 5,21,000 as against to 4,52,000 in October this year.
Security updates for foreign tourists have been put up on the website of the ministry.
Regular interactions with international travel industry and media through Indian missions and tourism offices overseas and familiarisation tours to the country have been arranged to attract foreign tourists.
As a result the travel advisories are being toned down now, claims a senior tourism ministry official.
After the reopening of Taj and the Trident hotels, which were targeted by terrorists, tourism ministry has launched an aggressive marketing drive to woo back tourists.
Besides familiarisation trips sponsored by the ministry for travel writers, hospitality industry representatives and tour operators, special packages for tourists are in the offing.
The budget for overseas campaign has been increased from Rs 165 crore (Rs 1.65 billion) to Rs 220 crore (Rs 2.2 billion) since 2007.
The ministry is targeting the US and the UK -- the largest markets besides organising tours from Europe and South Asia inviting tourists.
The number of visitors from the US touched 7,99,000, higher than any other country, out of the total 50.81 lakh (5.08 million) foreigners coming to India in 2007.
The foreign exchange earnings from tourism during January and November this year were Rs 45,647 crore (Rs 456.47 billion) as compared to Rs 39,281 crore (Rs 392.81 billion) during the corresponding period in 2007.
Actor Aamir Khan has been appointed as the brand ambassador of the Incredible India 'Atithi Devo Bhavo' campaign as part of the ministry's efforts to increase public awareness about the safety of tourists, hygiene and to safeguard historical monuments in the country.
Tourism ministry has also coined a new slogan 'your search ends here' as part of its aggressive Incredible India campaign across the globe.
"We have decided to add a new dimension to the Incredible India campaign using a new tagline - Your search ends here.
"This will be used extensively alongwith our Incredible India logo abroad," said Leena Nandan, joint secretary, tourism ministry.This will enhance and reinforce the perception about India as a multifaceted destination, she said.
Besides the slogan, the tourism ministry has also launched a massive exercise in several countries to popularise the 'Incredible India' brand.
Ten Japanese drivers dressed in Incredible India T-shirts and Rajasthani turbans were plying on the streets of fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo for two months as part of Incredible India campaign.
Besides Japan, many taxis, buses and even subway trains painted with 'Incredible India' logo plied for several days in many countries including China, Russia, Korea, the UK and the US.
The ministry has sanctioned nine mega projects at Amritsar, Bhubaneswar-Puri-Chilka, Tirupati, Dwarka, Hampi, Gangtok, Kadapa, Mahabalipuram and Ganga Heritage Cruise circuit to promote tourism in these areas.
The projects are a mix of culture, heritage, spiritualism and eco-tourism in order to give visitors a holistic perspective.
Efforts were also made to utilise the immense potential of adventure tourism in the country. Several projects have been sanctioned to organise rock climbing, river rafting, para gliding, mountaineering and underwater diving to promote adventure tourism in various states.
The ministry has highlighted wellness tourism in a big way by positioning India as a centre of Ayurveda, Yoga, Siddha, Naturopathy, with the spiritual philosophy that was integral to the Indian way of life.
Camp tourism has also been developed as a niche tourism product in the country where tented accommodation is being provided as an altogether new experience.Aiming at increasing income of villagers, the ministry has identified 130 sites for rural tourism across the country.
The sites have been identified on the basis of their heritage value, craft work, and accessibility.
"About 130 rural sites have been chosen across the country where women have been empowered to gain skill in various activities including hospitality, visitor handling, traditional art and craft among others as part of the project," said Nandan.
The project envisages attracting tourists to rural India where they can enjoy the traditional lifestyle.
Under the project, villagers from the chosen sites are encouraged to convert a part of their houses as 'home stay' for tourists with clean toilet, bedroom and kitchen.