Tourist arrivals up, forex earnings went down in 2015

New Delhi: With 113 countries availing e-visa facility, Tourism Ministry boasted of attracting over 8 lakh foreign tourists in 2015.

Despite the number of inbound tourists going up steadily in 2015, Tourism and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma attracted attention for not so positive reasons as the development over Dadri incident and Nehru Memorial kept him busy for a considerable period.

There were about 8.15 lakh foreign tourists till November as against 7.65 lakh for the corresponding period last year, a growth of 6.5 per cent.

However, foreign exchange earnings from tourism witnessed a decline. Government earned Rs 11,610 crore forex till November as against Rs 12,988 crore for the same period last year, a decrease of 10.6 per cent.

"The perception about tourism in India in the world scenario changed in the last year and the positive results are expected to be fructified in the coming days with a significant rise in the inbound tourists to various
destinations in the country," Sharma told PTI.

He said a new tourism policy aiming at robust growth in the sector is likely to be unfolded shortly. "We are in the process of finalisation of the policy and it will be out soon. Aim is to make robust growth in the sector expanding the horizon," he said, adding "our aim is to attract one per cent share of world tourist arrivals."

On the culture front, he said, "We tried to showcase India's rich heritage and culture to the international audience." Defending the change of director in Nehru Memorial, he said, "There were some irregularities committed by the previous government and we tried to set it right.

"The previous government appointed a person on a holiday on May 14. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared the file, 48 hours before he demitted office. Why didn't they
complete this exercise a month before demitting office," he asked, adding, "The irregularity has been done by the Congress."

Rangarajan resigned on September 17 and the government accepted his resignation. On controversies like Dadri and returning of awards by writers and artistes, Sharma blamed his political rivals for
engineering these before Bihar elections.

"Now with elections over, these things are also over. So all these things were done by them before Bihar polls." He said 113 countries have got e-visa facilities and the number will reach 150 shortly.

In November 2014, the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) facility became operational for citizens of over 40 countries, including those who are eligible for visa on arrival. The list was expanded to 113 countries in August. ETA is issued for tourism, visiting friends and family, short duration.

In order to help tourists, the ministry made a helpline operational. The bi-lingual Incredible India helpline number 1800-111-363 is available in Hindi and English and the service will soon be in 10 international languages including Russian, German, French and Spanish.

The ministry during 2015 also launched e-ticketing facility for getting entry to selected monuments like Taj Mahal and Humayun's Tomb. Two new schemes - Swadesh Darshan for integrated development of Tourist Circuits around specific themes and National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) to beautify and improve the amenities and infrastructure at pilgrimage centres of all
states - were launched.

Swadesh Darshan aims at development of theme-based tourist circuits in a way that caters to both mas and niche tourism in a holistic manner. Twelve circuits -- northeast India, Buddhist, Himalayan, coastal, Krishna, desert, tribal, Eco, wildlife, rural, spiritual and Ramayana -- have been identified for development under the scheme.

PRASAD scheme was launched for the development and beautification of pilgrimage sites to tap the growth of domestic tourists driven by religious sentiments and to augment tourism infrastructure at places of pilgrimage to facilitate pilgrims.

In the first phase, cities like Amritsar, Kedarnath, Ajmer, Mathura, Varanasi, Gaya, Puri, Dwarka, Amravati, Kanchipuram, Vellankanni, Guwahati and Patna have been identified for infrastructure development.
Besides ministry has taken steps to promote medical and golf tourism in the country.

Sharma courted controversy for his remarks on late president A P J Abdul Kalam, when he described him as "great man who was a nationalist and humanist despite being a Muslim". It was only a coincidence that Sharma was allotted 10, Rajaji Marg, Kalam's residence. However, this garnered a lot of criticism because many wanted the house to be made into a knowledge centre in Kalam's memory.

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