New Delhi: The tourism industry in 2012 showed some signs of recovery with an increase in the number of visitors flocking the country after a bad season last year and saw a three-time jump in the fund allocation in the 12th Plan period. Filmstar-turned politician Chiranjeevi took over charge of the ministry in October from Incredible India. He set a target of attracting 11 million foreign tourists and creation of about 24 million jobs in the next five years besides giving a new thrust to the Incredible India campaign by launching two new ad campaigns.
While "Find What You See" campaign was launched for global tourists, "Go Beyond" was for domestic tourists. The government relaxed its tourist visa rules lifting restrictions imposed on foreign visitors to have a two-month cooling off period between subsequent visits. The restriction was imposed in 2009 after the Mumbai attacks.
However, citizens of Pakistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan and people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin and "stateless persons" will continue to come under the 60-day gap rule. In a boost to tourism, government increased fund allocation by three times in the 12th Plan period. The ministry was allocated Rs 15,190 crore for 2012-17 period as against Rs 5169 crore in the 11th Plan period.
The ministry has set a target for increasing India's share in world tourist arrivals from the current 0.6 per cent to 1 per cent by the end of the 12th Plan period and the relaxation in the visa regime would contribute to a large extent in achieving this target. The economic slowdown in the US and Europe coupled with adverse travel advisories hit the tourism sector in 2011 as the country had witnessed less footfalls.
A total of 58.99 lakh foreign tourists visited India during the January-November period as against 55.72 lakh in the corresponding period last year, a growth of 5.9 per cent. The government earned Rs 83,938 crore as foreign exchange from tourism as against Rs 68,721 crore in 2011, an increase of 22.1 per cent this year.
The visa-on-arrival scheme drew 13,903 tourists as against 11,121 visitors in 2011, a rise of 25 per cent. Giving a thrust to the hospitality sector, the National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology extended its MoU with the Indira Gandhi Open University for its three-year BSc and two-year MSc programmes. This renewal will provide greater recognition to the hospitality programme in the country.
Exploring possibilities of giving export industry status to the tourism sector, the ministry announced that a comprehensive study will be carried out on impact of taxation on the sector, a constant demand made by Indian tour operators for long. The tour operators claim they are being discriminated as the export industry is exempted from service tax whereas the tourism industry is not.
With an aim to develop integrated tourism circuits in south India, the ministry formed Southern Zonal Tourism Council comprising Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
With the objective of developing tourist centres in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, India Tourism Development Corporation on December 31 joined hands with Hindustan Salts Ltd (HSL) by signing a MoU with it. HSL, a subsidiary of Sambhar Salts Ltd (SSL), will undertake the development of regions of Khara Ghoda (Gujarat), Sambhar Lake (Rajasthan) and Mandi (Himachal Pradesh) as tourist centres.
The tourism ministry also identified 'film tourism' as a niche tourism product and asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to recognise its potential and constitute special bodies to facilitate filming in their respective areas. Hollywood adventure film "Life of Pi" was awarded National Tourism Awards by the government for promoting India as a tourism destination, especially Puducherry and Munnar in Kerala.