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Tour packages to cost more: IATO

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 2: While welcoming the increase in Plan outlay for tourism from Rs 500 crores to Rs 786 crores in the 2005-06 Union Budget, the IATO has said the proposal to tax fringe benefits would make India a more expensive tourist destination. At a time when the tourism is picking up in the country after a gap of several years, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) feels that not enough has been done to give a boost to the industry that helps create maximum jobs, eradicates poverty and contributes to the economy.

The IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, said the fringe benefit tax and service tax and lack of hotel rooms in the country that increases the room rates would hike the inbound and outbound tourism packages by 10 per cent. "It's like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs," he added.

The IATO Senior Vice President, Maj Murli Dhar, said that while the Government was vigorously engaged in Incredible India and Athithi Devo Bhava campaigns to attract tourists, on the other hand it was discouraging the travel and tour industry by the introduction of tax on fringe benefits which include among others publicity, entertainment, travel and hospitality which form the integral part of the tourism business.

Mr Rajesh Mudgill, IATO Executive Committee Member and Managing Director, Planet Holidays, said it was strange that even an office telephone (backbone of work culture) has been placed under the fringe benefit tax. "This would lead to return of Inspector Raj," he added.

Mr Goyal, who is also Chairman of Stic Travel Group, said "traveling on account of business promotion and expenses incurred for marketing comprise a big chunk of our day-to-day running expenses. Any tax on these expenses will have to be passed on to travelers."

Mr Ravi S Kalra, IATO Joint Secretary and Managing Director of Travel Inn, said that it was strange that the top government organizations such as the Railways and the toll tax machinery do not accept cheques. "Why are we then being taxed for cash withdrawal exceeding Rs 10,000 a day from the bank in a day," he asked.

Mr Goyal said it was strange that while the seat capacity in the airlines flying to India has been increased substantially, no attempt had been made by increasing the number of hotel rooms to accommodate in greater number of tourists coming to this country. The 4 to 5 star hotels were completely chocked and no room was available in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Goa.

What is the point, he asked the Government, in allocating separate funds for marketing tourism abroad (Rs140 crores as well as in India Rs 70 crores) when no provision had been made in the budget to meet IATO's demand submitted in its pre-budget memorandum for land at concessional rates to entrepreneurs for building hotels or allowing the existing hotels to have extra floors and rooms.

Moreover, Mr Goyal regretted that while the budget recognizes the employment potential of textile and IT industries and give them special treatment, it has ignored the fact that tourism is the biggest generator of employment. Tourism is creating one job in every 2.5 seconds and it is expected that for next 15 years one out of every nine jobs will be in tourism or related industries.

Mr Goyal also regretted that the budget also took no note of IATO's demand for abolition of sales tax on ATF, revival of section 80 HHD on Income Tax Act 1961 and rationalisation of taxes and decrease or abolition of service tax for domestic tourism.

He hoped that the Government would promote the tourism related projects particularly construction of hotels and airports under the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) provided in the budget. He also welcomed increase in plan outlay for Civil Aviation.

Mr Vijay Thakur, IATO Vice President and President of India Vision Tours and Travels, said the Budget has failed to catch the concerns of the tourism industry. He said the shortage of rooms could out price the destination.

IATO contributes Rs 26 lakh for Tsunami

NEW DELHI, Feb 22: A three-member IATO delegation lead by its President, Mr Subhash Goyal, met the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, here and submitted to him an additional cheque for Rs 5 lakh as the second installment of its contribution to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund for the Tsunami victims. The first installment of Rs. 21 lakh was presented to the Tourism Minister, Mrs. Renuka Chowdhury, on Februray 12 towards the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund.

The other members of the delegation were Senior Vice President, Major Murli Dhar, Vice President, Mr Vijay Thakur, and Honorary Joint
Secretary, Mr Ravi S. Kalra.

The total contribution of Rs. 26 lakh includes contribution from IATO members and the organisation's own resources. Mr Goyal said that the collection for Tsunami victims by IATO would continue. IATO is also planning to donate fishing boats through NGO's working in Nagapattinam area.

It may be recalled that IATO, alive to its social responsibilities had also come to the aid of the victims of Gujarat Earthquake, Orissa Cyclone where over 20 schools were built and Kargil War by donating both money and material.

Uttaranchal, Kerala, Andhra bag tourism honours

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: Uttaranchal has won the annual national tourism award for best performance, while Kerala and Andhra Pradesh bagged the honours for excellent promotional and marketing efforts and best state for implementation of projects respectively. The annual national tourism award, which is in its seventh edition, given for excellence in the field chose the majestic East Fort in Thiruvananthapuram as the "Best Maintained Tourist Friendly Monument" and the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh as "Best Maintained Tourism Friendly National Park".

Announcing the honours at a function here, Tourism Minister Renuka Chaudhary termed tourism the engine of growth and development and said it was the answer to unemployment in the country. It can be a revenue-generator, which can outgrow Commerce, Trade and IT sectors, she said. Kerala, which was recently ravaged by the deadly tsunami, was the star at the event with as many as six awards to its credit.

The Taj Group sweeped the honours in the best hotel category with the Taj Westend in Bangalore bagging the best 5-star Deluxe hotel award. Taj Residency and Taj Garden Retreat in Hyderabad and Varkala, Kerala, received the best 5 star and 4 star hotel awards respectively.

Delhi govt to lift luxury tax on hotels

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: The Delhi Government has taken host of decisions such as review of luxury tax presently imposed on printed tariffs for hotel industry, allocate land for putting up chain of hotels and hospitals with capacities ranging 5,000 to 6,000 beds in and around Delhi in view of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, slated for 2010, according to the Chief Minister, Mrs Sheila Dikshit.

Disclosing this at a National Summit on Tourism & Aviation: Where are we? organized by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) here on Saturday, Mrs Dikshit also announced that the Delhi airport will be modernized to match the world-class standards in aviation sector in next 2 years to enable a smooth sailing for visitors and athletes for 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The Chief Minister also agreed to handover beautification programme of age old Safdarjung Tomb to ASSOCHAM after its President, Mr. Mahendra K Sanghi mooted the idea and offered to adopt the historical site.

Mrs Dikshit said that industry associations like ASSOCHAM had been demanding a review of luxury tax imposition, arguing that this tax should be levied on actual tariff rather than printed one. The Delhi Government has already decided to review it for whose removal an announcement would be made an appropriate time.

"Similarly, the central government had been putting pressure on the Delhi Government for allocation of land for putting up chains of hotels and hospitals in and around Delhi in view of the forthcoming commonwealth games. Despite little availability of land, the Delhi Government will arrange for its allocation for hotel and hospital
industry for which in principle decision has been taken and sites identified," the Chief Minister said.

In order to further enhance the Delhi Government Bhagidari initiative grow stronger with its citizens, it has also decided to refurbish and renovate the historical sites with private sector participation, Mrs Dikshit said adding that all these measures are part of Delhi government vision to make the capital city as one of the top class tourist
destinations in the world.

The Chief Minister urged the Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Ms. Uma Pillai who was also present during the Summit to forward her tourism and civil aviation requirement to Delhi Government so that actions are taken well in time to make the commonwealth games a great success from the point of view of infrastructure creating.

Ms. Pillai in her keynote address stressed the need for increasing inflow of overseas tourists in India by way of setting up advanced infrastructure facilities as also renovate the existing tourist destinations. India needs to increase investment in tourism and civil aviation sector from the current 4.8 per cent of its total GDP to 10 per cent for creation of millions of jobs in the country. She also called for promotion of rural tourism by putting in advance product diversification facilities in rural India. According to her, eco, health and medical tourism can best be promoted at the identified countryside because ideal environment exist there.

In his welcome address, ASSOCHAM President, Mr. Mahendra K Sanghi said that tourism in India is the third largest net earner of forex for the country. The sector is the highest employer of manpower and contributes 2 per cent of GDP and 7.2 per cent of the total investment in the country. Tourism sector employs 24 million persons directly and indirectly accounting for almost 6 per cent of total employment in the country.

Mr. Sanghi expressed happiness that forthcoming budget has recognized tourism, airports and seaports as the focus areas for infrastructure with investment of Rs.40,000 crores for its infrastructure growth.

Indian Chef Puneet bags prestigious British award

By Deepak Arora

LONDON, Dec 25: Young Chef Puneet Arora, who has wide national and international experience, has done India proud once again. Puneet, who works as executive chef at Noon Products that is the largest manufacturer of chilled ready meals in Europe, bagged the best Biriyani in Britain award for the year 2004. In 2002, he had won the international chef of the year award in London. During his career spanning 10 years, he had the opportunity to cater to world dignitaries and celebrities including Prince Charles.

He had catered Prince Charles on June 13 last year when the later had visited the Noon products head office to inaugurate it. The Noon products has a chilled ready meal processing unit with a capacity to produce 1, 50,000 meals a day. A chilled ready meal is a 3 billion pound market in Europe alone.
The picture in the article shows Prince Charles with Sir Gulam Noon, who is the chairman and founder of the Noon Products Ltd, and Chef Puneet. Sir Gulam, who is originally from India, is one of the richest Asians in the UK. He was knighted last year.

Puneet is son of internationally famed Chef Satish Arora who is the director food production for the Taj group of hotels and also is on the world wide panel of Singapore Airlines.

Puneet is the first Indian chef to be working on supersonic cooking. This is a high tech gadget not yet introduced in the market. It is expected to be launched in January next year. This gadget works as a combination of pressure/ vacuum and world three times the speed of sound. It can prepare up to 1000kgs of sauce in a matter of 7 to 8 minutes.

Speaking with the correspondent from London, Puneet said "this gadget is still at the bud stage and he is working with the manufacturers on getting it right."

PM's brainstorm meet on tourism

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: Prime minister Manmohan Singh had a brainstorming session with his ministers on Saturday on how to make leisure and tourism a profitable business. The tourism ministry demanded better infrastructure status, more investment, lower taxes and better coordination with departments of civil aviation, urban development, shipping and culture to improve India's stock in the world travel market.

Acknowledging the high employment potential in this sector, Singh told tourism minister Renuka Chowdhury to get in touch with the finance ministry. Issues related to development and promotion of tourism like visa relaxation and tourists permit to enter N-E, which would involve other ministries, have been referred to the Cabinet secretary who would take the issues up with the committee of secretaries.

Commemorative stamp to mark 350 years of Taj Mahal

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: The Department of Posts has brought out a commemorative stamp on Taj Mahal to mark the completion of 350 years of its existence. The commemorative postage stamp is in the denomination of rupees five. The commemorative stamp was released by the Minister of Communications & Information Technology, Mr Dayanidhi Maran, here on Thursday, in the presence of Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Information & Broadcasting and Culture, Mrs Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Tourism, and Mr Kaukab Hameed, UP Minister for Tourism.

Taj Mahal, for centuries, has inspired poets, painters and musicians to try and capture its elusive magic in word, colour and song. Taj Mahal which stands on the banks of Yamuna River in the city of Agra took 22 years to complete the construction. The construction of the Taj Mahal was completed in the year 1654. According to Tavernier, an eminent traveller and historian of those times, recorded the number of workmen engaged in the construction as 20,000. The construction materials were brought from all over India and Asia. R A fleet of 1000 elephants were used to transport the materials to the site. 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into white marble to create this wonder of the world.

Taj Mahal was built in the memory of the beautiful Arjumand Bano Begum, who won the heart of a Mughal prince. She was married at the age of 21 to Emperor Jahangir’s third son Prince Khurram and stayed loyally by his side through good times and bad, in the luxurious royal places of Agra as well as the transient tents of war camps. When Khurram became in 1628, he took the name of Shajahan meaning "King of the World" and showered his beloved Begum with the highest titles. She became Mumtaz Mahal, the exalted of the palace, and Mutaz-ul-Zamani, the exalted of the age. But Mumtaz Mahal was not destined to be Queen for long.

In 1631 when Mumtaz Mahal died at the age of 39, the aggrieved Shahjahan vowed to build a memorial that would surpass anything ever created in the world. This ambition of Shahjahan even persists now also, depicting the true symbol of eternal love to the entire world.

ASSOCHAM, IATO sign MoU with Egyptian tourism bodies

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 8: The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in close collaboration with Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) and Egyptian Travel Agents Association (ETAA) which will provide a common platform for the development of tourism prospects between the two countries.

The MoU was signed here on Tuesday by ASSOCHAM Alternate President, Mr. Anil K Agarwal, the Chamber's Expert Committee Chairman, Mr Subhash Goyal on the one hand and Vice Chairman ETF, Mr Ahmed El-Nahas and Chairman ETAA, Mr Mohamed Osman on the other. The Egyptian Tourism Minister, Mr Ahmed El Maghraby witnessed the MoU signing ceremony, said the objective of MoU is also to establish a sustainable mechanism of dialogue for discussions among the concerned parties

ASSOCHAM Alternate President, Mr. Anil K Agarwal hoped that the MoU will further boost the tourist inflow in both the countries and also provide for exchange of information on general economic status in particular tourism business, investment opportunities, trade policies, technological and industrial cooperation between India and Egypt.

In addition, all the associations associated with MoUs conditionalities will regularly exchange information, publications and material concerning tourism industry of their respective countries, besides assisting each other in organizing business delegations and facilitating their business interests and contacts, he added.

Mr Subhash Goyal, the MoU has been signed at the appropriate time when India and Egypt are opening up their respective skies for the promotion of civil aviation activities and tourism.

Hotels bouncing foreign tourist groups: IATO

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has criticized the hotel industry for not honouring their commitments in terms of negotiated and contract rates and confirmed bookings. Speaking to this correspondent, the IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, said the hotels, by bouncing the confirmed groups, were harming the larger interest of the tourism and the country. "Hotels are adopting short-term policy in maximizing the immediate return and losing sight of the largest interest of the industry," he said.

Mr Goyal informed that IATO has sought the intervention of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to resolve the bouncing issue to save tourism. He said with the open sky policy the country was witnessing surge in foreign tourists' arrival but the infrastructure was not ready. "There are more tourists than hotels rooms and as a result the hotels are resorting to bouncing to get the maximum profits."

The IATO Senior Vice President, Major Murli Dhar, said the rooms were instantly available on higher rate even if somebody was not holding the confirmed booking, which was being done by the hotels by bouncing the confirmed groups. He said the hotel management was frequently not working in unison. "While one executive denies the availability of rooms, the other executive confirms the booking at higher rates. The analogy given by them is that confirmation is given by trainee staff."

Mr Goyal urged the FHRAI to sign the code of conduct with the IATO at the earliest. He also warned those hotels who were resorting to bouncing and hoarding of rooms. He said "right now the tour operators are beggars. But when the off season for tourism begins the IATO members would boycott the blacklisted hotels and ensure that they do not get even a single room." Mr Goyal said the hotels were hoarding rooms in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Goa, Jaipur and Udaipur.

Singapore: Foreign vehicle entry fees slashed

SINGAPORE, Dec 3: Singapore has said it will reduce foreign vehicle entry fees by one-third on weekdays to attract more visitors. Foreign motorists will pay 20 Singapore dollars (US $12; Euro 9) a day beginning December 6, said Singapore's tourism board and transport authority. Two causeways connect Malaysia and Singapore. "Visitors, especially our Malaysian friends, will find it more attractive to drive over to Singapore for a visit,'' said Lim Neo Chian, the tourism board's deputy chairman.

The changes came a day after the board opened three visitor centers at Changi, Singapore's international airport, to persuade transit passengers to venture downtown. Tourism is a key industry in resource-poor Singapore and contributes about 10 percent of its gross domestic product.

Need to make India aviation hub

By Deepak Arora

KOLKATA, Sept 24: The Civil Aviation Minsiter, Mr Praful Patel, has stressed on the need to make India as an aviation hub and announced that 28 major airports in the country would be upgraded to international standards in the next three years.

Announcing this at the 53rd annual convention of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) here, Mr Patel said these new-look airports like Bhubaneshwar, Srinagar, Guwahati and Lucknow would feature modern passenger-friendly amenities like aerobridgesa and escalators.

These airports, along with Delhi and Mumbai, account for almost 90 per cent of the air traffic in India, and they also need to be upgraded and brought at par with airports in the south Asian region, he said. Mr Patel said the modernisation and upgradation of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata would go ahead despite opposition from certain quarters.

Besides Mr Patel, the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, and the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mr Mufti Moyammad Sayeed, addressed the inaugural TAAI session that returned to the city of joy after nine years. Other present on the occasion included Tourism Minister of Mauritius, Mr. Anil Kumar Gian, The TAAI President, Mr. Balbir Mayal, and hundreds of delegates from different States of the country.

The Civil Aviation Minister said Dubai, Singapore and Thailand have made their cities into international hubs by creating world class airport infrastructure. We in India are geographically better placed than Dubai and Singapore. In the same breath, he asked why can't Kolkata become major for the East as compared to Bagkok? The same can be done about the other major airports of the country.

The Minister said "today, Thailand attracts around 10 million passengers while city states like Singapore and Dubai get three times the tourist traffic that India attracts. Once these airports are upgraded, we will see a sea change in the scenario," he said.

Mr Patel said to provide more seats into India the Government has also announced a five-month Open Sky policy under which international carriers are allowed to mount any number of flights to India to clear the passenger rush in the peak winter months.

In his address, the West Bengal Chief Minister informed that his Government was developing Sunder bans, the largest delta in the world, and Digha beach as an international tourist spot.

Mr Bhattacharjee also informed that his Government was planning to market tea gardens as tourist spots. He sought the cooperation of the private sector to develop infrastructure in terms of hotels, multiplexes, shopping malls.

The Chief Minister assured that Kolkata airport would soon become a world-class airport. He thanked the Civil Aviation Minister for agreeing to build a second runway.

In his address, the TAAI President, Mr Balbir Mayal, a dreamer himself, envisioned India to be the largest growing tourism hub in the world. He called for more gateways into the country, single window clearance for foreign investors and simplified visas and foreign exchange norms to boost tourism in the South Asia region.

Tourism ushers peace in JK: Mufti

By Deepak Arora

KOLKATA, Sept 24: The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, called upon the tourism industry of the country to promote Kashmir in a big way. He said that by doing so it would strengthen the forces of peace and development in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Chief Minister, who was addressing the 53rd session of TAAI, said that tourism was the greatest normalizing factor and his state was looking forward to the help by the tourism industry in furthering the process of peace and normalization set in motion by his government in the state.

A step towards Kashmir would be a step towards peace, he reminded the participating delegates who came from Canada, Switzerland, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Kenya and Mauritius besides all States of the country.

Mufti Sayeed said having emerged from a dark period of long turmoil, Jammu and Kashmir tourism was looking up and tourist arrivals have sharply increased. He said the efforts of his government to restore normalcy and create an atmosphere conducive for tourism revival was showing results and the valley received about seven lakh conventional and pilgrim tourists this year. He said this was definitely a positive change given the situation prevailing in the state a couple of years ago.

The Chief Minister said that alongside rebuilding of the damaged infrastructure and ushering the state in a new phase of development, tourism was a priority sector for his government and spelt out various measures to develop tourism infrastructure.

As an important aspect of the state tourism policy, he invited the hotel industry of the country to develop tourist resorts in joint sector with the state government at famous tourist places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Patnitop. He said the government was also opening up new resorts at Dodhpathri, Aharbaland Tosa Maidan that have a great potential.

Inviting the TAAI to hold its next annual conference in Srinagar, Mufti Sayeed said that the city offers perfect environment for holding such a big event. He said that tourists who have been visiting the valley have returned with positive feelings. These people are our real ambassadors who go back to their respective places and spread the word about the improvement in the situation, he added.

Highlighting his priorities to ensure a developed and peaceful Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Minister said that his emphasis was on revival of education system in the state. He said this sector had suffered the worst during turmoil apart from destruction of infrastructure worth billions of rupees.

On the human front, he said thousands of people were consumed by violence while thousands others were rendered orphans. He said his government was faced with the daunting challenge of providing succor to these hapless people for which it implemented the healing touch policy. He acknowledged the role of Army and NGOs in adopting a large number of orphans and looking after their education.

The Chief Minister underscored the need for taking forward the ongoing process of dialogue and reconciliation between India and Pakistan and said that dialogue was the only course to resolve problems including Kashmir. He said the two countries had exhausted all other options and reached nowhere for the last 57 years. He dismissed bullet for bullet policy and said that winning of hearts and minds of people was more important to address alienation.

Abolish visa for SAARC nationals: Bangla Minister

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 26: Bangladesh has called for abolishing of visa requirements for tourists within the SAARC nations as this would boost the economy of the region through tourism. Addressing the delegates at the two-day "International conference on Eco and Rural Tourism", organised by FICCI here today, the Bangladesh Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister, Mir Muhammad Nasiruddin, said Khaleda Zia government is giving top priority to tourism and is proposing to introduce visa-on-arrival to boost tourism activity.

Mir Nasiruddin said the eco and rural tourism can create employment and tackle poverty for the entire region. "Abolishing of visa for the SAARC nationals would go a long way in boosting the economy of the region, creat more jobs and improve the lot of the people."

He also called for increasing air flights between the region to tap the benefits arrising from the tourism industry.
The Malaysian Tourism Minister, Dr Leo Michael Toyad, said that eco-tourism has tremendous potential for socio-economic growth and development of countries which relies on the tourism sector as an important revenue earner, income and employment provider.
"Special attention must therefore be accorded to its sustainable development in order to ensure that its contributions are fairly distributed among the local communities," he added.

Inaugurating the conference, the Indian Tourism Minister, Ms Renuka Choudhury, highlighted the element of eco tourism and said that it embraces the local reality. The real ownership of eco systems rests with the local people who celebrate their connectivities with the eco reality through rich rituals and festivals.

In this backdrop, Ms Choudhury said, "We need to take these people on board, teach them the modern skills of preservation of their eco systems and must treat this particular issue with great sensitivity and care". She informed that most communities living in and around such eco sites are some of the most disadvantaged mainly because of insufficient and inappropriate inputs in rural development and welfare programmes.

On the occasion, the Minister released an incisive study on "Investment Opportunities in Eco Tourism". This study highlights the immense potential of eco and rural tourism to benefit local communities. It outlines opportunities to use tourism for local economic development and to develop clusters of products and services in communities which can be marketed to international, regional and domestic tourists.

The largely attanded conference was also addressed among others by the Sri Lankan Deputy Tourism Minister, Mr Arjuna Ranatunga, the Uttranchal Tourism Minister, Lt Gen T P S Rawat, and the Assam Tourism Minister, Mrs Ajanta Neog.

Underscoring the importance of tourism as an employment creator particularly so in rural livelihoods, Ms Choudhury stressed at the need to involve local communities in tourism development exercise and also eliminate possible conflict areas. Furthermore, the need to create information dissemination systems and strengthening of infrastructure which must be comparable with the environment was highlighted.

She said it is important to understand that eco tourism can maximize the productivity of India's national human, cultural, technical and scientific resources. She further added, "Our aim is to undertake poverty eradication in an environmentally sustainable manner by enhancing employment potential within the tourism sector as well as to foster economic integration, developing linkages with other sectors".

On the initiatives taken by the Government to promote rural tourism, the Minister apprised that they have started rural tourism schemes which encourages proposals from States whereby funding is arranged for specific hardware activities in potential rural locations upto Rs 50 lakh each.

To support the scheme, the Ministry has entered into an indigenous software project with UNDP and the Department of Economic Affairs with the rural poor as target beneficiaries backed by community pride and identity. As an initial intervention, 31 sites all over India have been identified in the country for rural tourism scheme under the UNDP indigenous project fund programme which will cover sites enabling Rs 20 lakh per site. "With that kind of monetary support, I appeal to NGOs to remain as conduit between Government and actual implementation of the programme", she added.

In his special address, Mr P R Kyndiah, Minister, Development of North Eastern Region and Tribal Affairs, urged all the State Governments of the region to plan the development of various infrastructures viz roads, power, tourist complexes and hotels at tourist centers. He assured all possible help from his Ministry in such endeavours.

In his welcome address, Mr Yogendra Kr Modi, President, FICCI, said that with public private partnership, FICCI proposes development of tourist packages incorporating the ethnic crafts, folk culture and cuisine through villages enroute the defined tourist circuits.

Mr Modi suggested a number of steps for growth of tourism sectors. These include increase in air seat capacity with public private participation; upgradation and restructuring of airports; opening of 18 new international airports; better and friendly immigration facilities; more hotel rooms of all categories; tourism to be a concurrent subject to avoid multiplicity of authority; standardization of services and setting up of a Tourism Board with public private partnership for infrastructure development.

IATO seeks heritage city status of Agra

By Sushma Arora

AGRA: The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has urged the Government to grant tourism the status of infrastructure sector and abolish service tax for all segments of the tourism industry. At its just-concluded annual convention at the city of Taj, the largest tour body of the country also called for declaring Agra a heritage city and opening of the Taj Mahal to tourists on Moon lit nights.

The convention, which was opened by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, and attended by crème de la crème of the tourism industry, made several other wide-ranging suggestions for giving a boost to tourism and aviation in the country. Tourism ministers of several States, government officials and heads of the state tourism departments were also present at the convention as IATO's invitees.

It also called for expanding the tourism infrastructure base by having more hotel rooms, more International airports (at least one in each state), better connectivity and greater air seats. The Convention, through other resolutions, also pleaded for extending to tourism the same benefits as are being given to software and IT Sector under section 10 of Income Tax Act. It also sought the implementation of the Naresh Chandra committee report on civil aviation in toto.

The three-day convention, which was attended by a record over 1,000 delegates, also pleaded that road tax being charged from the tourists be abolished and approach roads to Taj Mahal be cleared of bottlenecks. The road to Fathepur Sikri and Taj is made a four-lane road. It also suggested scrapping of luxury tax or charging it only on contracted price and not on printed price to make travel packages competitive vis-à-vis neighboring countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. It also sought implement visa-on-arrival from at least 20 countries source market countries.

Inaugurating the convention, the UP Chief Minister, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, extended his fullest cooperation and support to IATO in promoting tourism. The Chief Minister responded favourably to the suggestion made by the IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, for keeping Taj Mahal open for public on Moon lit night and removing all bottlenecks from the entry point to this historical monument. Mr Yadav assured the delegates that his Government would take earliest steps in this direction.

Mr Yadav also released a copy of the IATO Manual and gave away the IATO Hall of Fame Award to Mr L P Gupta, Managing Director, Clarks Group of Hotels, and Excellence in Tourism Awards to Mr Ram Kohli, Chairman and Managing Director, Creative Travels Pvt. Ltd, Mr Amitabh Kant, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Mr Navin Berry, travel writer and Mr Sunil Gupta, Managing Director, Travel Bureau, Agra.
Also given on this occasion were the Best Travel Writer award to Mr. Deepak Arora, Deputy Chief of Bureau, National Herald and L.K. Bakshi Award to Ms Anindita Chattopadhyay of Indian Express.

The UP Tourism Minister, Mr Kokab Hameed, said that the new State tourism policy envisaged the creation of new circuits like Mahabharat, Sufi, Buddhist circuits, besides commemorating the 1857 war of Independence through a regular sound and light show.

Mr Goyal referring to the recent hike in hotel rates by hoteliers and also some of the airlines which had initiated a move to make a cut in commission of travel agents, said, "the most efficient way of sustaining the boom was to work together and build incentives rather than be shortsighted and undercut the very intermediaries that filled up our planes and sold our rooms when times were rough and the industry was in turmoil."

Mr Goyal flayed the hike in service tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in the new budget and also the imposition of luxury tax by the Delhi Government on the printed rather than the contracted price. "The new rule of charging 12.5 per cent hotel tax on the published rates will raise the average cost of a night's stay in Delhi by up to US $ 50 per night."

The new Tourism Secretary, Mrs Uma Pillai, appreciated the success of the "Incredible India" campaign but wanted a balancing act by promoting domestic tourism as well. Mere infrastructural development, she stressed was not enough but the need of the hour was niche marketing.

The Tourism Ministers of Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, Ms. Usha Punia, Mr. P. Sankaran and Kunwar Vijay Shah respectively sought the cooperation of tour operators and travel agents in publicizing and marketing their destinations.

Mr. Vijay Thakur, Vice President of Indian Association of Tour Operators and Chairman of the Convention earlier gave a welcome address and Maj. Murli Dhar, Senior Vice President of Indian Association of Tour Operators gave a vote of thanks. The convention held seven business sessions and panel discussion to discuss several issues relating to tourism and civil aviation.

The Tourism Secretary, Mrs Uma Pillai, inaugurated the India Tourism Fair held at the venue of the convention. It brought together various State Tourism Departments and private players showcasing their products and packages.

Huge Indian travel market attracts Canada

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 28: To tap the huge outbound tourist traffic from India, Canada Tourism Commission (CTC) has decided to set up offices in Delhi and Mumbai. "India represents a significant part of world's future and there exists a huge potential between the two countries. The growing prosperity and growing middle class makes India a huge tourism source," said Mr Judd Buchanan, Special Advisor on Tourism to the Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr Buchanan said about 65,000 Indian tourists travel to Canada every year. "Though this figure is insignificant as compared to 18.5 million foreign tourists Canada receives every year, we expect the travelers from India to increase eight fold in the next 10 years," he added.

He said "Canada offers great value combining choice, quality at an attractive price. Our aim is to encourage the VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) segment as tourists as well as other s heading to the US to include Canada in their itinerary."

He said that Indians have long come to Canada to visit family and friends as well as enjoying Canada's unique mix of natural beauty and urban excitement. As the world's second largest country, with three oceans on its borders, it should be no surprise that Canada contains a wide range of geography, culture and climate. With UNESCO world heritage sites and many cultural events and tourist sites to keep you entranced, there's no shortage of places to visit, from British Columbia and Alberta's Canadian Rockies, the sparkling show of Northern Lights in Canada's far north, through to the grandeur of Ontario's Niagara Falls, the record-breaking high tides of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, to Newfoundland's historic L'anse Aux Meadows on the Atlantic Ocean. Whether it's Montreal's "Just For Laughs" comedy festival or Toronto's CN Tower, Canada has it all.

Mr Thomas Penney, Vice President Planning and Product Development for the CTC, hoped that there would be significant increase in the number of tourists traveling to Canada from India in the year 2004. In this direction, he said "we intend to work with travel and trade in India to tap the huge potential India offers."

The direct flights from Delhi to Toronto by Air Canada would help in tapping this potential, said Mr Buchanan and added the direct flight would also help in making the travel hassle-free. On October 19, Air Canada launched a non-stop flight from New Delhi to Toronto.

Mr Terry Francis, a Consultant with the airline, travel and tourism industry, said "the new daily non-stop service to Delhi offers customers the only direct air link between North America and India saving at least three hours off alternate routings and providing excellent connection possibilities for flights to cities throughout Canada and the United States." Mr Francis said "Air Canada would offer competitive fares to the Indians to travel to the US via Canada."

Mr Benoit Prefontaine, Senior Counsellor (Commercial), Canadian High Commission, said "early next year we are opening more visa application centers across India so that people can apply in safe manner." A new Consulate General in Chandigarh and a new trade office in Chennai and upgrading of Consulate in Mumbai to Consulate General were announced during the recent visit of the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr Jean Chrétien, to India, said Mr Prefontaine. He assured that visa rules have been simplified to make the travel easy to Canada.

Mr Prefontaine said there have been growing partnerships between India and Canada in the past few years. He said that India is Canada's largest trading partner in South Asia. On the growing ties on the tourism front, he said last month Four Seasons of Toronto decided to open their first hotel in India. An agreement for the 35-storey hotel in Mumbai was signed during the Canadian Prime Minister's visit with Magus Estates Private Limited. The $70 million hotel project will be developed by Magus Estates Private Limited and operated by Four Seasons under a long-term management contract. The hotel should be ready for occupancy in 2005.

SanJeet, who has 20 years experience in the travel industry, represents Canadian Tourism Commission's India office through Destinations Marketing India.

Bhimbetka is World Heritage site

By Deepak Arora

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has conferred the World Cultural Heritage status on the rock shelters of Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh). The site is in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau.

Sharing the information, Mr Amitabha Kant, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, said UNESCO has acknowledged this priceless treasure by imprinting it with World Cultural Heritage status. He said Bhimbhetka thus becomes India's 19th cultural heritage site (there are 5 natural heritage sites too).

Located above dense forest, within massive sandstone outcrops, the five clusters of natural rock shelters have paintings that appear to date from the Mesolithic period right through to the historical period. 500 of the 754 shelters are painted. The paintings show armed men riding horses, a man with a bow and arrow, large walking birds like emus and ostriches, a threatening scorpion and a plumed man examining feathers in his hand. The cultural traditions of the inhabitants of the 21 villages in the buffer zone bear a strong resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings.

UNESCO launched a programme for the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural Heritage Sites across the world. The cultural sites include monuments with historial, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value. A site was deemed of national heritage by virtue of its outstanding universal value.

A site was deemed of national heritage by virtue of its outstanding universal value. It should represent a masterpiece of human creative genius exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area, or developments in architecture or technology.

It should bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or a civilization or be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in history.

It should be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use, especially when it has become valnerable under the impact of irreversible change or be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or beliefs, or with artistic and literary works or universal significance.

Mr Kant informed that there are 17 World Heritage Cultural Sites in India. These include Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves, Brihadisvara, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Elephanta Caves, Ellora Caves, Fatehpur Sikri, Hampi, Humayun's Tomb, Khajuraho, Konark, Mamallapuram, Old Goa, Pattadakal, Qutb Minar, Sanchi, Taj Mahal, and Mahabodhi temple complex.



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