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Haryana seeks to reach new heights

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 31: If Ch. Bansi Lal was pioneer in creating tourism in the State where none existed, his daughter-in-law, Kiran Choudhary, wants to put Haryana on the world tourism map. The new Tourism Minister has grandiose plans to make Kurukshetra a world pilgrimage centre, start para gliding, open new state-of-the-art convention centres, spas and tourist hubs and a designer village.

Her dreams do not end here. Her tourism revival plans include transforming the Surajkund crafts mela into a round-the-year affair, a heritage festival at Pinjjore and refurbishing tourism properties at Morni, Surajkund, Badkal and Karnal. She would soon announce a new tourism policy to give a boost to tourism in the State.

In an interview with Deepak Arora, Ms Choudhary said the new tourism policy would go a long way towards encouraging tourism in the state. It entailed setting up of special tourism zones, encouraging roadside tourism and developing religious tourism.

The Minister also plans a Designer Village - a new permanent bazaar in the Surajkund Mela Ground - where top 50 designers of the country would display their latest items in wood, metal, brass, bamboo, iron, glass, textiles and stone. Besides shopping at the designer village, one can also enjoy foot-tapping folk dance and the best of foods at a food court.

The Haryana Tourism would also renovate the tourist complex of Karnal and the Suraj Kund lake motel with a view to boost tourism. As part of development of Surajkund, she said "we shall ask the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out a survey of the area since Surajkund derives its name from the Suraj king lineage. A sound and light show will be put up. Surajkund will be a showcase for various art forms," she said.

While stressing on eco-tourism, she said "we want to develop eco-tourism in the Morni hills." The Haryana government would rebuild the existing Mountain Quail motel at Morni in the Panchkula district at a cost of Rs 1.5 crore to attract more tourists to the hilly terrains of the Shivalik foothills.

Ms Choudhary said there was a great potential for promoting tourism in the area. The present motel would be dismantled and eight rooms would be constructed, including two VIP rooms besides a conference hall and underground parking.

On the banks of Tikkar Taal lake, she said four rooms would also be constructed so that tourists could enjoy the beauty of nature. She said the tourism department was also exploring the possibility of starting para-gliding and inter-linking of golf courses. "We also plan to develop old forts through public-private participation," she added.

Ms Choudhary said a heritage festival showcasing the rich heritage of Haryana would be held at Pinjore, which is more than four centuries old, later this year. "We are also going to organise a heritage festival at Pinjore where we will also invite artistes of national repute. There will be varied performances. Theatre, dance and music will be the hallmark of the festival."

The Tourism Department plans to beautify the Mughal Gardens at Pinjore and restore work of buildings like Rang Mahal, Jal Mahal and Sheesh Mahal. The 'bowlis' - water bodies believed to be constructed by the Pandavas, while they were in exile here - which lie in a state of neglect, will also be restored. These bowlis have been reduced to puddles of slush with the waste of the town being thrown here. It is believed that there are 365 'bowlis' in and around this historic town, and each of these is inter-connected, which ensures that they never get flooded.

She said "tourism can be a maximum revenue earner for a state and it is also a major source of employment opportunities.". She said according to projected estimates, about 10 million tourists are expected to visit India in the next few years and Haryana would leave no stone unturned to attract them.

Ms Choudhary said Kurukshetra would be developed as a great pilgrimage for Hindus and tourists from all over the world so that they visit the venue of Mahabharat war and the birth place of the Bhagvad Gita. Building on its historical and cultural traditions, she said the Government would prepare a master plan to develop it into a modern city having the Brahmsarovar, Sri Krishna Museum, the Science Museum (Panorama) and other places as a tourist delight.

Ms Choudhary said the concept of highway tourism pioneered by Haryana would be implemented near the proposed express highway also. Special tourism zones would be carved out near the proposed road running through Kundli, Manesar and Palwal, she said.

Ms Choudhary, who also has the Culture portfolio, said Haryana has a rich cultural heritage though it has not been promoted properly. She plans to support the traditional Haryanavi cultural forms and help in their development.

Himachal to improve air, rail and road connectivity

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 31: Himachal Pradesh plans to have expressways, better airports and air connectivity, new rail links and tourist circuits and world-class ski resorts to promote tourism in a big way, according to Mr G S Bali, Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation and Transport.

In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, Mr Bali said the State government was improving air, rail and road connectivity and adding more rooms for the comfort of the tourists.
To attract quality tourists, the Minister said the State would be soon introducing helicopter service to connect hill resorts. "We are also expanding Kullu and Kangra airports so that bigger aircraft can land there."

He said the state was planning more expressways on BOT basis to cut the driving time to reach a destination. Initially, the expressways would connect Chandigarh to Shimla and Una to Dharamshala. Mr Bali said that the new expressways would also help attract industries in these regions which would help generate new jobs to the people of the state. Making a point, he said the State has attracted over 22,000 crore investment but it has happened in the area close to Chandigarh. "The expressways will help expand industry base and so will the jobs," he added.

Mr Bali said the Chief Minister, Mr Virbhadra Singh, has also announced new satellite cities and destinations around Shimla. "More such satellite cities and tourist circuits will be built around other important cities to diversity economic and tourism activities."

The Minister said last year Himachal attracted over 68 lakh tourists, including 1.65 foreign tourists, showing a jump of 22 per cent. "This year the figure will cross 70 lakh domestic and international tourists during the current year."

Mr Bali said Himachal attracts large number of tourists as it has natural advantages. "The Congress ruled government has given political stability and provided good governance. Due to very low crime rate, the state provides peace of mind and safety and security to tourists."

He said the other attractions include resorts situated at sea level at Jamtamukh to Kinnaur at the height of 14,000 ft, the biggest man-made lake, Gobindsagar, and the large number of temples earning it the name of Dev Bhumi.

He said the state has 1,800 hotels with 36,000 bed capacity. "We have invited private industry to come to the State and build quality hotels and resorts." Mr Bali said the State government would strengthen the private sector and would play its role only where the private sector do not come forward to build hotels.

The Minister's innovative measures have also brought the HP Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) hotels out of red and the corporation has showed a profit of Rs 1.25 crore.

In another innovative measure, the HPTDC hotels have gone online. "One can now reserve a room and pay by credit card with the click of a mouse," he said.

Himachal has thus become the second state in the country after Kerala to provide online instant booking and confirmation of accommodation and online payment by credit card. Thought the online booking was started two years ago but for this the customer had to send the booking amount by mail or deposit the amount at its marketing offices in metropolitan centres.

HPTDC soon plans to provide this online booking facility for reservation of its luxury buses besides a host other services provided by the state-run company which include trekking, skiing, paragliding, river-rafting and angling. HPTDC has over 50 tourism properties all over the picturesque state and in some of the best locations too. Many of these hotels are the most sought after places for holidaymakers from across the country and overseas.

Mr Bali informed that a Himalayan Ski Village is coming up in Manali at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore. It's a brainchild of Alfred Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford. The Minister said that an MOU has been signed nad implementation agreement is yet to be signed.

Part of the self identified project, the company has also shown interested in building another ski resort at Chanchal, 150 km from Shimla. The Chanchal mountains remain under snow for around nine months in a year and European experts have described these slopes as ideal for skiing. According to them, if the infrastructure is developed in the area, the slopes could turn out to be the best in the entire western Himalayas.

The $250-million Himalayan Ski village project report is to be submitted to the government soon. It is expected to provide employment to 3,000 people. If the project finally goes through at $250 million, it would be the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the tourism sector of the country. The cost estimates of the proposed Chanchal ski project will be clear only after the preliminary report is prepared.

German cities roll out red carpet for soccer fans

By Deepak Arora

Germany, Europe's most populated nation and a leading economic power, is hosting the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The slogan of this year's World Cup is "A time to make friends". As many as 12 cities, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Cologne and Munich, are the host cities for the Football Cup and are ready to welcome and make friends. DEEPAK ARORA gives sport lovers a tour of these cities:

If Germans love sport, they truly adore football, both as players and fans in the stands. The German Football Association or Deutsche Fußball Bund (DFB), founded in 1900, has more than 6 million members belonging to close on 27,000 clubs, with every fifth member younger than 14. Meanwhile, the Bundesliga, the elite professional league, attracts an average of ten million spectators every season.

Germans are proud of their public transport system. A highly developed road, rail, and air network guarantees short journey times to all World Cup visitors. The Rhein-Main airport near Frankfurt handles an annual passenger volume in excess of 51 million, and registers more take-offs and landings than any other airport in Continental Europe. A rapid expansion in Inter-city rail routes and the world-renowned Autobahn motorways will make travelling a safe, fast and pleasurable experience for all.

Berlin - Germany's Capital and Metropolis of Culture: The new capital is booming, The place, where modern architecture is redefining the skyline has a magical appeal. Berlin is the current high light for tourists not only as a place for hip events like the Love Parade, but also as a first-grade cultural metropolis like the Philharmonics, the Berlin Film Festival "Berlinale" or the musical "Cats". The number of sights is unrivalled and the offers for tourists are chameleonic as the city's mentality.

Dortmund - discover a city and its heritage: Dortmund has changed. Microchips have taken over from coal mining, shopping boulevards have replaced rolling mills and the focus now is on the concert hall, not the coking plant. Dortmund is the Ruhr area's biggest city and has everything it takes to make a city break a truly memorable experience: fascinating industrial heritage, a variety of museums, plenty of theatres and cabaret venues, a wide choice of restaurants, quality events at the fabulous Westphalia Halls and much more besides. Local people enjoy sharing their city with visitors, including what is for many their favourite activity: a Borussia Dortmund match at the Westphalia Stadium.

Frankfurt - City of Contrasts: Business, culture and international flair: For many, Frankfurt is primarily "Mainhattan", city of finance and skyscrapers, but a closer look reveals a city of many charms: The picturesque houses of the beautifully restored Römerberg in the city centre and the unique "Museum Mile" along the banks of the Main river. Traditional cider pubs in Sachsenhausen, shops galore in the elegant Goethestrasse and the "Fressgass" - and a truly world-class cultural and arts scene.

Gelsenkirchen - Experience a great industrial heritage: A lot of people probably think "football" when they hear the word "Gelsenkirchen". For the people of Gelsenkirchen, home of Schalke 04, that's just as it should be, especially now that their newly built Arena AufSchalke is redefining the meaning of "entertainment" as applied to the beautiful game. This is a milestone for what used to be the "city of a thousand fires", a major coal-producing centre that has succeeded in transforming itself into a vibrant, multifaceted city. In addition to the Arena, Gelsenkirchen has many other attractions that are well worth a visit.

Hamburg - The green city on the water: The "Free and Hanseatic City" of Hamburg is Germany's second-largest metropolis with one of Europe's biggest ports. Elegant and cosmopolitan, Hamburg is now a city of palatial office buildings, magnificent promenades, international musicals, extravagant shopping malls - and the famous Reeperbahn and St. Pauli. The magical aura of faraway places is still alive in the old warehouse quarter and the little canals. Hamburg is also Germany's greenest city, with many spacious lawns and lovely parks

Hannover - City of the EXPO 2000 World Exposition: In addition to being one of Germany's top venues for international trade fairs and conferences Hannover recently played host to the nations of the world at the EXPO 2000 World Exposition. Its rich past lives on in many beautiful historical buildings and other sights, many of them connected by a red line marked on the pavement for tourists. In the city centre striking modern architecture has been successfully integrated with the lovely Old Town. Hannover has a rich arts scene that gives the city a lively, creative atmosphere, and there are many interesting destinations for excursions in the immediate vicinity.

Kaiserslautern - The Palatinate at its best: Kaiserslautern owes its name to the Hohenstaufen Emperor (Kaiser) Barbarossa, who had an imperial palace built at "Lautern" 850 years ago, after being so impressed by the beauty of the local countryside. Today, Kaiserslautern combines being a lively student town full of quaint bars, the footballing capital of southwest Germany and the cultural heart of the Palatinate. You don't need to venture far outside the town to enjoy nature at its best in the Palatinate Forest biosphere reserve, Germany's largest contiguous area of forest.

Cologne - Metropolis of Art on the Rhine: Cologne (Köln) is one of Germany's most original cities, with its own dialect, its own style of beerbrewing and an inimitably witty and fun-loving character that is particularly boisterous during the city's famous Carnival. Cologne is world-famous for its twin-spired cathedral, its romantic Rhine panorama and the Eau de Cologne to which it gave its name. Today the city's character is a rich combination of modern lifestyle with 2,000 years of historical and cultural heritage, from Roman and medieval to the present day. And there is never a shortage of things to do and see, including countless events, live music, theatre, busy shopping streets and modern glass shopping centres and malls.

Leipzig - City of culture with modern flair: The proud city of Leipzig is livelier today than ever before - a vibrant venue for trade shows, congresses and commerce and an entertainment metropolis with a rich cultural, arts and night life scene and shopping opportunities for every taste and budget. The lovely old Renaissance and Baroque buildings, historical trading centres and malls are now fully restored and modernised, providing a stylish paradise for shoppers and sight-seers. High-class entertainment is assured - attractions for arts-lovers include the Gewandhaus concert hall, the Opera House, the St Thomas Choir, cabarets, theatres and jazz cellars. We look forward to seeing you in Leipzig!

Munich - The magical metropolis: Big-city style and rural charm, Alpine character and Mediterranean verve, art treasures and the Oktoberfest, traditional customs and high technology, beer gardens and haute cuisine, operas and in bars - these are all ingredients of the special "Munich mix" that makes Bavaria's state capital so endlessly fascinating, and so popular with visitors from all over the world.

Nuremberg - Vivacious metropolis with medieval charm: Nuremberg combines the excitement of a modern metropolis of half a million inhabitants with the old-world charm of a lovely medieval city centre. In the Old Town beautiful Gothic churches, romantic rows of half-timbered buildings and sleepy cobblestoned squares create an unforgettable atmosphere. Albrecht Dürer, Adam Kraft and Veit Stoss all created famous works of art in Nuremberg. The Old Town provides a fitting setting for events like the International Bards Meeting in July, the biggest Old Town Festival in September and the world-famous Christkindlesmarkt Christmas Market in December.

Stuttgart - Always in season: Stuttgart arguably has one of the most beautiful settings in all Europe, surrounded by a wonderful panorama of rolling green hills, forests and vineyards. The many interesting sights in Stuttgart include two city chateaux (Stadtschlösser), the Staatsgalerie art gallery and the unique Wilhelma zoo and botanical gardens. Baden-Württemberg's state capital is also a top venue for hit musicals like Dance of the Vampires and Phantom of the Opera.

Taj Mahal to get facelift

AGRA, May 31: One of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal is all set to get a facelift with the Archaelogical Survey of India, local administration and Union Tourism ministry putting in joint efforts towards optimum development of the monument of love.

"Among the world heritage sites in the country, Taj Mahal is one of the most important. So optimum work has to be done by Archeological Survey of India, Agra Development Authority and Tourism Ministry," Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Ambika Soni said on Tuesday.

The ASI is in the process of identifying land around the Taj and acquiring it to create a green patch around the historic site, the minister said adding the heritage site would also host a variety of cultural activities like folklore performances, entertainment packages including light shows and a night bazaar for tourists during night viewing, she said.

Observing that the 17th century monument was visited by nearly 32 lakh tourists in the last calendar year, of which 6.5 lakhs were foreigners, Soni, who was on a day-long trip to the city, also underlined the need for an international airport in Agra, which also houses other archaeological heritage sites like Fatehpuri Sikri and Agra Fort.

The minister said establishment of facilitation Centres at the different gates of Taj Mahal comprising restrooms, shops, multi-media outlets and other utilities was also being taken up with the help of ASI.

"The facilitation centre at the East Gate is complete at the cost of Rs two crore. But it could not be made available for tourists as Supreme Court has not given permission for its functioning," ASI officials, accompanying the minister, said.

"When courts come in-between we have certain limitations. In fact after holding discussions with all the concerned parties we will tabulate the suggestions and put a comprehensive proposal before the Supreme Court to seek a solution," Soni said.

She said the Tourism Ministry and ASI have joined hands with the Uttar Pradesh government and will ensure the early completion of works and infrastructure development in the city so that tourists coming to Taj Mahal have a pleasant experience, Soni said. The Centre annually earmarks Rs 62 crore to the ASI for the upkeep of the nation's heritage sites, the Minister said.

327 railway stations to be upgraded

NEW DELHI, May 31: A total of 327 railway stations across the country have been identified to be developed as model stations equipped with all modern facilities for passengers, Railway ministry sources said here on Tuesday.

The exercise is part of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's drive to upgrade stations equipping them passenger amenities as also providing safe and comfortable travel services, they said. All the 67 Railway zonal managers in the country have been asked to select atleast five stations in their respective zones for upgrading/modernising and facelifting to improve the Railways image.

They have also been directed to develop all the identified model stations by March, 2008 of which 17 are in Central Railway, 41 in Eastern, 32 (East Central), 17 (East Coast), 40 Northern, 10 (North Central, 16 North Eastern, 32 Northeast Frontier, nine North Western, 31 (Southern), 14 South Central, 21 (South Eastern), three (South East Central). eight (South Western), 24 (Western), 11 West Central and one (KRCL).

Upgradation of stations as Model Stations is done under plan head "Passenger Amenities" and the expenditure incurred under this during 2005-06 was Rs 245.01 crore approximately, they said. Some of the areas to be given adequate attention in this category include improvements in the facade of the station building and improvement in the circulating area so as to ensure proper entry and exit of vehicles, etc.

India, Latvia sign cultural cooperation pact

NEW DELHI, May 30: India and Latvia have signed a pact aimed at enhancing cooperation in the fields of culture, art and mass-media between two countries. The cultural exchange programme was signed by Ambika Soni, Minster for Tourism and Culture and Latvian Minister for Culture, Ms. Halena Demakova here on Monday evening.

According to the exchange programme, the National Library of India and the National Library of Latvia will establish contracts in order to exchange information and experience. Both sides will exchange information and experts between the museums also.

The Indian side will send an exhibition on traditions of crafts produced by village artisans in India while Latvian side will send an exhibition on national costumes prepared by the Latvian museum of History. oth sides will also exchange theatre teachers to conduct course in Acting, State Craft and Production work and experts in the field of dance, music, fine arts, literature and audio-visual arts for workshops. The participation of traditional music or dance groups will also be encouraged.

According to the programme, both sides will participate in the international book fairs/exhibitions held in each other's country and in each other's television and film festivals. Latvian side invited India to participate in the International folklore festival 'Baltica' in 2006. The cultural exchange programme comes into force with immediate effect and will continue till 2008

Concerted campaign for promotion of Buddhist sites

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 29: To attract the overseas tourist, particularly from South East Asia, the Tourism Ministry is planning to launch a concerted campaign for promotion of Buddhist sites of India.

Addressing members of Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to her Ministry, the Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, said that it has also been decided to celebrate the 2550th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha this year as part of this programme.

Briefing members on the various initiatives taken recently by the Government, Ms Soni said that the Ministry has also chalked out an integrated project covering all Buddhist sites for infrastructure development with assistance from Japanese Government during the current year.

This project proposes to cover sites in UP, Bihar Andhra Pradesh, MP, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir. The total proposed project cost is Rs. 5570 crore covering infrastructure component of roads, airports tourism infrastructure amenities and conservation.

She said a mega project focusing on upgradation of infrastructure to create world-class experience is already under preparation for Buddhist Circuit in Bihar with the assistance of HUDCO.
"The project will focus on visitor facilitation, creation of tourist amenities, and improvement of the overall ambience and road connectivity," she added.

Mrs Amika Soni said that the Ministry has identified 22 important Buddhist sites throughout the country for development and promotion. The work includes strengthening and widening of National and State Highways, road side plantations, conservation of monuments, landscaping, construction of visitor centers, museums, upgradation of meditation centers, electrical and water supply and development of tourism villages and wayside amenities.

Beside this, Railway Ministry has been requested to develop Bodhgaya station as a model station and over all improvement of connectivity to all Buddhist sites. Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Ministry have also been asked to improve road link to major Buddhist destinations.

Not only this, the Tourism and Culture Ministries have has requested the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, to earmark special funds in the plans of concerned States for infrastructure projects which are directly connected with development of Buddhist sites.

The Minister informed the Members that the implementation committee constitiuted to commemorate 2550th anniversary of Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha during 2006 was working on plans which might include an international seminar in November and various programmes throughout the country to highlight Buddha's teachings and philosophy.
The meeting was attended by Ms. Pratibha Singh, Mr Chander Kumar, Mr Bhanwar Singh Dangawas, Mr Nakul Das Rai, Mr V.K. Thummar, Mr Tarini Kanta Roy, Mr Surendra M. Patel, Mr Prasanna Acharya, Mr Shrapad Yasso Naik and Mr N. C. Chauhan (all Members of Parliament).

India gains top spot

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 25: Thrust on medical, cruise and rural tourism, boost to tourism infrastructure and accommodation have been some of the achievements of the Tourism Ministry in the two-year rule of the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre.

In another significant development, the ABTA (Association of British Travel Agency) has ranked India as No. 1 amongst top 50 places for 2006. Lonely Planet and Condenast Traveller and i-explore have already ranked India amongst the top five destinations from 167 countries.

The Tourism Ministry's "Incredible India" campaign has bagged the PATA Gold Award and TTG Asia has ranked the Department of Tourism as the best National Tourism Organisation. India has also been elected to represent South Asia on the Executive Council of UNWTO, the highest policy making world tourism body represented by 150 counties.

There has also been significant growth in terms of foreign tourist arrivals in the last two years. A record growth of 26.8 per cent foreign tourist arrivals was achieved in 2004, while the growth was 13.2 per cent in 2005, taking India's tourist arrivals from 2.73 million in 2003 to 3.92 million in 2005, indicating a robust growth of 43.6 per cent in the period 2003-2005.

The new Union Tourism Minister, Ms Ambika Soni, has set up an ambitious target of 10 million foreign tourists. While stressing on the need to build tourism infrastructure to give world class experience to the tourists, she has set targets to spread rural tourism along with cruise and medical tourism. Ms Soni is also making sure that the country has enough hotels to meet the ambitious challenge to receive not only domestic and international tourists but also the Commonwealth Games rush in 2010.

World Travel and Tourism Council has estimated that demand for India tourism will grow annually at 8.8 per cent over the next decade, which will be the highest in the world.
Foreign exchange earnings from tourism have also shown a phenomenal growth, achieving an increase of 35 per cent in 2004, and 20 per cent in 2005 over the previous year (in dollar terms), taking India's foreign exchange earnings from US $ 3.5 billion in 2003 to US $ 5.7 billion in 2005.

The Congress-led UPA Government has laid special emphasis on rural tourism in view of its huge development potential. As many as 71 rural tourism projects have been sanctioned to spread tourism and its socio-economic benefits to identified rural sites having tourism potential.

The capacity building programme has also been taken up in partnership with the UNDP for 36 rural tourism sites so that the benefit of tourism reaches the community at large. In order to meet the rising demand of accommodation due to increased growth in tourist arrivals, the Tourism Department brought out guidelines for classification of Apartment hotels, Time Share resorts and guest houses. The Department has also sanctioned capital subsidy for 21 budget category hotels and interest subsidy for 160 budget category hotels during last two years.

In all 276 hotels in different categories were classified and 230 hotels were re-classified. Approval was granted for 109 hotel projects with 7,206 rooms. In addition, 23 foreign technical collaboration in hotel industry and nine cases of foreign investments were cleared.

The tourism infrastructure development projects, worth Rs 984.81 crore, were sanctioned for 570 tourism projects in all the States for creating a world-class experience to the tourists. The scheme of promoting Public-Private Partnership for large revenue generating tourism projects has been finalized. A new scheme of viability gap funding for assisting private sector driven tourism projects has been launched.

The Government has laid special thrust on developing tourism in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East and Buddhist circuits. The campaigns such as "Atithi Devo Bhavah", "Incredible India" and "Taj 350 years" have been successful in attracting tourists to the country.

The Government also supported the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) annual summit in Delhi which attracted leading investors/ hoteliers from across the world. Support was also given to the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) in 2005 and 2006, which were attended by tour operators, travel agents from Australia, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Israel, the UK and Latin American/ Caribbean countries as delegates and also buyers and sellers from overseas and within the country.

Initiatives have also been launched to promote medical tourism, in partnership with the private sector, to make India a global health care destination. A new category of visa, "Medical Visa", has been introduced, which can be given for specific purpose to foreign tourists coming to India for medical treatment. The guidelines for accreditation of Ayurveda and Panchkarma centre have also been issued for implementation to ensure required standard of services so that holistic health tourism could be promoted.

To tap cruise tourism potential, a draft concept and policy has been drawn up to make the country an attractive destination with state-of-the-art infrastructural and other facilities at various ports and to achieve a target of 6 lakh cruise passengers landing per year by the end of 2010. Star Cruises Limited has launched its operation in India due to proactive policy of the Government to promote cruise tourism.

Croatia wooing Indians; may relax visa rules

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 2: After being ranked number one tourist country of the world, Croatia is now eyeing to woo the ever rising number of outbound Indians. It is planning to give visa on arrival if one holds multiple entry visas of any European country to share the pie of over six million Indians who travel abroad.

The Croation Ambassador, Mr Dino Debeljuh, and the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Mr Niko Bulic, confirmed that a proposal to this effect had already been sent to the foreign affairs ministry of their country and its being looked at with positive mind.

Croatia, which is tucked in the Mediterranean, has been voted as the most desirable destination of the world by Lonely Planet, the renowned travel guide. It rates it so for its unique combination of culture, history, gastronomy, accessibility and affordable price.

Mr Bulic, who was in town to chalk out a strategy to attract Indian tourists, said the bulk of foreigners to his country at present came from European countries like Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Netherlands, France and Switzerland. But Mr Bulic said he wanted to expand its market to India as it had become "a very powerful nation economically and its relations with his country were excellent".

In his comments at an interactive session with the Croatian authorities, the IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, said that if visa rules of their country could be relaxed a very large number of groups and individuals could be sent to Croatia which, he described as one of the most fascinating and attractive destinations of the world. Mr Goyal said that Visa on arrival could save the Indian tourists from lot of hassles which they face while traveling to Delhi from several distant states for this purpose.

Mr Bulic said that his country, which proposed to invest 500 million Euros in tourism, targeted to increase the number of foreign arrivals from 8 million now to 11 million by 2010. He said that his country had a lot of attractions for tourists, which included heritage, parks, mountains, coasts, clear waters and sea. Croatia, he said, is the only country "to experience the spirit of Mediterranean".

In response to a question, Mr Bulic said that he agreed that direct flights between India and his country could result in increased two-way traffic, but he clarified that his country's airline had no financial strength to operate such flights.

Snow, Desert, Water skiing - leisure Dubai style

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 22: Dubai is known for redefining entertainment and leisure. Now this five-star luxury destination offers snow, desert and water skiing. "One can take a scooter to snow, sand and water and enjoy the surfing. The snow skiing was unveiled in the city two months ago and its conducted in the third largest indoor ski dome in the world with 40,000 tonnes of snow pumped every morning," said Saleh Al Geziry, Deputy Manager, Overseas Promotions, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

With Dubai's widening canvas, the DTCM hopes to attract 400,000 Indian tourists this year as compared to 357,000 last year. "We have changed our image from just a shopping hub. The city caters to the vacation needs of urban Indians by offering a world class, multi-faceted destination experience with ice skiing, desert safari, scuba diving, theme parks, water sports, beach resorts, and sea cruises, making it an year round destination," said Al Geziry. Of course, he added Dubai Shopping Festival will continue to remain major attraction.

India today exhibits exponential growth for inward visitor traffic into Dubai. A large segment of Indian visitors utilise hotels and hotel apartments in the Emirate making India one of the top five source markets, said Al Geziry, who was in Delhi as a leader of an 18-member delegation to India for a road show for the travel and hotel industry to promote Dubai as a preferred destination.

Apart from India, the other major source destinations to the UAE are Britain, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries, Russia and Germany. "Over 35 percent of Indian visitors to the UAE in 2005 stayed in four and five star hotels indicating that there is a large segment of up market Indians interested in enjoying a holiday in Dubai - attracted by our varied fare," said Al Geziry.

Giving a profile of the Indians traveling to the UAE and Dubai in particular, Carl Vaz, DTCM Director (India), said around 40 percent are estimated to be business travelers, while many go there for exhibitions and IT related activities.

Gearing up for the anticipated growth in the tourist inflow, Dubai, that presently has 34,000 rooms in 290 hotels and 100 hotel apartments, would add 10,000-12,000 rooms in the next two and half years, said Carl Vaz.

To cope with increasing air traffic, Al Geziry said the Dubai International Airport was in the process of building a third terminal and shifting cargo carrier operations to a new airport to be constructed near the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ). "Apart from being one of the major spenders, Indians are also among the largest investors in properties in the UAE," he said.

Lama Desert Tours is the largest cruise company in Dubai, says a proud Kulwant Singh, Managing Partner of the company. His company is known for dhow cruise dinners, desert safaris, hotel accommodations and visa services.

Carl Vaz said the tour operators would offer customers attractive packages this summer and the average cost of the package would be Rs 30,000 for five days and four nights excluding the air-fare. DTCM would also appoint 150 more tour operators across India to take the number to 1,000 this year.

India's leading hotel chain, Taj Group, is currently in the process of setting up a second hotel in Dubai - Taj Exotica, a 250-room and 250 apartment properrty that is set to be operational by 2008 end.

The DTCM held the multi-city road shows in Dubai, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. Seeing its major tourism growth coming from second tier cities in India, DTCM had last month held promotions in Punjab. More such promotions are planned to take advantage of the 145 direct flights per week from India to the UAE.

Tourism Ministry to open offices in China, S Korea, Thailand

NEW DELHI, March 20: The Union Tourism Ministry is all set to open representative offices in China, South Korea and Thailand as part of its promotional activities in the Asia region. The Ministry, with an enhanced budget of Rs 830 crore for 2005-06, is focussing on various promotional and marketing activities overseas to attract foreign tourists.

While the Ministry has already invited bids for its China office, the process for South Korea and Thailand has also been initiated. "In China, we have already invited bids for recruiting local persons for our representative office," said an official, adding a Ministry delegation was visiting the country for the purpose. The decision to open the representative offices aims to augment tourist inflow to the country from these potential markets in the region.

Kerala bags best tourism state award

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 17: Famous for its backwaters and scenic beauty, Kerala received 'best tourism state' award while the 'best hotel' awards were bagged by Oberoi's Amarvilla in Agra and the Taj Residency in Bangalore.

Besides winning the best performing tourist state award for outstanding achievements in the tourism sector, Kerala also won 'best maintained tourism friendly monuments' award for its Sakthan Thampuran Palace.

In the category of hotels, Oberoi Amarvilla, which came in the limelight for the first time in 2001 for hosting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, and Taj Residency were declared the best hotels while the Marriot in Delhi got the prize for 'best eco-friendly hotel' and Coconut Lagoon in Kerala won the 'best eco-friendly resort'.

Presenting the National Tourism Award for outstanding performance for the year 2004-05 in various sectors of tourism and travel, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni said the government had recently taken a number of initiatives to ensure active participation of private sector in tourism promotion which includes a scheme for infrastructure creation also.

She also launched 'Incredible India Visa Great Breaks' programme with Visa International to promote India as preferred travel destination. Soni also released TV commercials prepared by the ministry on North-East, Jammu and Kashmir, Buddhist circuit and Andaman and Nicobar at the function.

Kanaseema Tourism project of Andhra Pradesh was declared Best Tourism Project in the country while Assam Bengal Navigation project bagged the award for Most Innovative Tourism project. Beach Protection Council of Orissa was declared the best NGO working for the promotion of tourism.

Tourism Ministry to intensify tourism in Northeast

NEW DELHI, March 5: The Tourism Ministry is making all efforts for intensifying tourism in the Northeastern regions of India. The Ministry has come up with procedures for easing travel restrictions in the region and this move is expected to attract lot of international tourists from the bordering China and other Southeast Asian nations. Initiatives like Visa on arrival and visas for destination areas are also on consideration.

"There are other ministries as well that are giving greater emphasis and incentives on infrastructure in the northeast, including hotels, tourist destinations and roads," said Tourism Minister Ambika Soni. Besides a Northeast Tourism Development Council is also being setup by the North Eastern Council to promote tourism in the region

Ambika Soni to fight for infrastructure status for tourism industry

NEW DELHI, March 4: The Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, said on Saturday that she would continue to fight for getting "infrastructure status" for the tourism industry.

Mrs. Soni, who was replying to a reception given in her honour by Indian Association of Tour Operators, also said that several of the industry's demands like Visa on arrival was on her priority list but the proposal had to get clearance from Home and Foreign Ministries.

She said her focus would also be on the promotion of domestic tourism not so much to prevent Indians from visiting abroad or stopping the foreign exchange from draining, but for fostering the unity and integrity among the vast population of the country. A new campaign was being launched in the schools for the preservation of India's heritage and monuments which would also promote domestic tourism.

Mrs. Soni said that she would soon get in touch with Delhi Administration and Officials of her own Ministry to expedite the home stay scheme to meet the shortage of hotel rooms in Delhi.

In reply to a question from the audience the Tourism Minister disclosed that as per her information, tourism was neither in the central nor the concurrent list. Her Ministry needed lot of focus and profile to be taken seriously by the public, she said.

In his address, IATO President, Mr. Subhash Goyal made a strong plea for the home stay scheme, which he said, IATO was ready to launch in collaboration with the Tourism Ministry. Mr. Goyal also suggested that to meet the shortage of hotel rooms existing hotels may be allowed to add four to five floors. Besides, he said, suitable plots may be allotted to private entrepreneurs including tour operators on a long-term lease basis for construction of new hotels.

Mr. Goyal also pleaded for the same status of infrastructure for tourism industry as was being enjoyed by the software industry. He said, only a few graduates from IITs and other big engineering colleges could be absorbed in jobs in software industry, but in tourism, the poorest of the poor had the chance to get direct or indirect employment. Tourism, he said, is the right vehicle for fulfilling UPA Government's objectives of creating employment and eradicating poverty from the country.

India, France to boost tourism

NEW DELHI, Feb 20: In a major boost to tourism, India and France, which is one of the top tourist generating markets for the country, on Monday signed an agreement to promote each other's destinations and share market research for the purpose.

In an MoU signed in New Delhi between Tourism Minister Ambika Soni and visiting French Minister for Tourism Leon Bertrand, both the countries decided to promote human resource development in tourism and will contribute to the development of new products, particularly through the promotion of natural and cultural heritage.

Signed in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President of France Jacques Chirac, the MoU says both the countries will cooperate in tourism administrations and management by exchanging expertise, human resources development and product development.

Besides helping each other in marketing of tourism and sharing market research, India and France will also cooperate in the area of trade and tourism investment, travel related services as well as training programme between the respective private sectors.

France is one of the top tourist generating markets for India with year 2005 witnessing a growth of about 35 per cent in arrivals from France. India has a tourism office in Paris to look after tourism promotion activities there and organise various promotional events to promote Indian destinations.

India and Mauritius agree to expertise in tourism and culture area

NEW DELHI, Feb 15: India and Mauritius decided to strengthen their cooperation in the area of tourism and culture. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism of Mauritius, Charles Gaetan Zavier Lue Duval and Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ambika Soni, both agreed to exchange expertise in the area of island tourism, human resource development and joint marketing of tourism destinations.

It was also decided that India and Mauritius would explore investment opportunities in creation of tourism infrastructure. Recalling the traditional close cultural ties between the two countries, Soni said that India would like to strengthen these further. She also offered India's expertise in the preservation of heritage buildings and development of human resources in the hospitality sector. "The cooperation in the area of medical tourism could also be an important avenue of cooperation, "she added.

Both countries also agreed to explore possibilities of including tourism as one of the key areas of comprehensive economic agreement between India and Mauritius. Duval, a frequent visitor to India had this time planned to promote his country as the ideal tourist destination. Duval made his first visit to India in 1973 when he accompanied his father, who too was a Deputy Prime Minister of Mauritius.

Duval said India had changed a lot since his first visit, growing exponentially and becoming one of the leading nations of the world. "Seventy percent of the population in our country traces their roots to various places in India. At least for once they want to see the country. And to fulfil their wish, we want to strengthen and promote it," Duval said. He also recommended that India start a direct flight between Port Louis and New Delhi.

Foreigners, NRIs to feel being at home in India

NEW DELHI, Feb 11: Foreign nationals and NRIs from countries with strong currencies will feel more than being at home in India soon following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's directive for doing away with levying higher user charges on them.

Singh has asked various Ministries to treat Indian and foreign nationals alike, doing away with the present ''discriminatory'' fees for various services and facilities, including hotel tariffs, domestic airfare and entry fee at historical monuments and other tourist sites.

At present, foreign passport holders have to pay more also in the case of registration fees for international and other conferences and seminars, booking space for trade and other exhibitions organised by the ITPO and other such bodies, subscription rates for journals or magazines (excluding additional postage charges) and healthcare.

''The PM has suggested Ministries to work towards a system that is not discriminatory while providing services in the country to foreign passport holders and NRIs,'' Sanjaya Baru, Media Advisor to PM, said in a press note.

The Prime Minister has asked Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi to review, with the concerned Ministries, the discriminatory charges being levied for services to foreign passport holders, including NRIs, he said.

Singh has suggested that the concerned Ministries should examine the feasibility of ending this anomaly and treating all consumers of such services on par irrespective of nationality.

IATO facilitates Cuban delegation

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 7: India and Cuba have stressed on the need for expanding two-way tourism between the two countries. This was underlined at a reception given in honour of the first ever and all women tourism delegation from Cuba by Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO).

The delegation, led by Ms. Mariya Pinchet, comprised Ms. Yenisey Galindo, Ms. Dulce Maria Bencomo, Ms. Elurira Gonzalez and Ms. Tania Vazques.

In his remarks, the Cuban Ambassador, Mr Juan Carretero Ibanez, said that tourism could build bridges between Cuba and India in the fields of Tourism, Trade and Commerce. It could also help establish people to people contact among the nationals of both the countries. He said opportunities existed for businessmen to invest in each other's country, particularly in the field of tourism.

In his welcome address Mr. Subhash Goyal, IATO President, urged the Cuban Ambassador to help create awareness among the Indian tourists about his beautiful country and also ensure that the prospective tourists, both business and leisure, faced no problem in getting visas.

In her presentation, Ms. Maria Pinchet, ably assisted by Tania Vazquez, pointed out that from 1995 to 2005, tourism had made a 14 per cent growth in her country. In 2005, Cuba received more than 2 million tourists, particularly from Canada, Italy, UK, Spain and Germany.

About the excellent infrastructure in her country, it was further pointed out by her that there were 70 airports in the Caribbean and ten of them were in Cuba. Regular flights and charters by 93 airlines had an access to her country which was a round-the-year destination. Cuba has won the hearts of the visitors by its lovely beaches, health resorts, old cities, scenic beauty besides its warm hospitable, vibrant and educated inhabitants, who are its greatest assets.

The delegation had lively and useful interaction with the captains of the tourism industry and media persons, according to Mr G Kanjilal, IATO Executive Director.

Uttranchal Tourism opens office in Delhi

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 30: Continuing with its aggressive tourism focus, Uttaranchal Tourism has opened up an office here. "Customer focus is the key and we will make all efforts in reaching out of them. This new office is an attempt towards the same," said Lt.General (Retd) T.P.S.Rawat, State Tourism Minister, while opening up the new office at Hotel Janpath.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Alok Kumar Jain, Principal Secretary Tourism, Government of Uttaranchal and Chief Executive Officer of Uttaranchal Tourism Development Board, said "the new office will provide integrated tourism products of Uttranchal under one roof as the office will have facilities of booking tour packages,.hotel booking etc for entire Uttaranchal."

"Customer as well as travel agents will find it of great convenience as booking facilities of the two corporations namely Garhwal Mandal, Vikas Nigam (GMVN) and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) will be available under the same roof," he said.

This integrated office in New Delhi is part of larger game plan adopted by Uttaranchal Tourism Development Board in bringing operations of the both the corporations under one roof for the Convenience of customer and travel agents in all major India,cities.

In the year 2004, Uttaranchal welcomed record 13.9 million domestic and international tourists. 'Selective focus' in terms of marketing and promotion would be the guiding principal in future for Uttaranchal tourism. This is visible through its first ever planned all India print advertising campaign launched recently to woo the Customer to the State for winters. This campaign focuses on wildlife and adventure tourism and positions the State as the Sunshine State in Northern India during the winters.

Online booking is available from this office for Kumaon part of Uttaranchal.

Mr.Subhash Goel, Member UTDB, and President Indian Association of Tour Operators, Mr Gopal Dutt Bhatt, Vice President KMVM, Mr Raj Kumar Singh, Managing Director, GMVN were also present on the occasion.

India fastest growing market for Switzerland Tourism

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI: The recently presented, Switzerland Travel Experience 2005, road show to India highlighted the growth dynamics of Swiss Tourism. The annual road show was jointly presented by the Swiss International Air Lines and Switzerland Tourism and of course the presence of the Ambassador of Switzerland to India.

Registering a whooping 25 per cent growth, Switzerland Tourism, placed India as one of the most strategic market. Pat the bubbling economy or the youth power or Bollywood. Fact remains that India is an important market for the Swiss.

Switzerland is backed by world class cities offering the best of facilities and the best of adventures, accessible mountains and the Swiss travel system. They have mountains that are accessible, water that is the best in the world, Swiss travel system, bunch of happy people and a gorgeous winter skiing or simply playing in the snow. With such attractive ingredients tourism is bound to take an upward swing. The Government finances two thirds of the country's tourism which in turns boosts the private sector as well.

Speaking at the Switzerland Travel Experience in Delhi, Mr. Federico Sommaruga, Director, Switzerland Tourism, pointed that India was the fastest growing markets for Switzerland tourism and was indeed the second largest market in Asia after Japan. The year 2005 saw 2,50,000 overnights in Switzerland from India. The Free Individual Traveller segment has seen a tremendous growth, making it almost 50 per cent of the total leisure travel to the country.

Other countries included in the "emerging markets" include China, Korea, Russia and the Gulf countries. In India, Switzerland Tourism has set up its very own tourist office. Involved in a vast array of activities this office will soon be launching Internet base learning aids for the travel agents.

The Swiss really do it well in style keeping the strategic country's psyche is mind. Offering marriage options on the Swiss Alps at a height of 10,000 ft at a unique wedding location called the crystal Lounge on top of Schilthorn or the 007 Bond mountains. For years Indians are known to notoriously blow up their life time's savings and more on weddings, so yet another lavish option available to the affluent or those looking for a difference in their wedding.

In keeping with the growing demands, SWISS has now doubled its services for customers based in India by teaming with Air Canada on the Delhi - Zurich route.
The partners taking part in this year's event included Swiss International Air Lines, Swiss Travel System, destinations like Davos, Geneva, Interlaken, Zurich, Mountain excursions like Jungfraujoch, Mount Pilatus, Mount Titlis, Mystery Park, Swiss miniature park and Golden Pass line.

Switzerland is small country having a population of 7.2 million but having 18 million visitors each year. The total Indian visitors are 100,000 per year and overnights are 250,000. The target for the coming year is to see 300,000 overnights from India in Switzerland. The number of Visa seekers in India has gone up. "India has Switzerland in its mind" and that is important for choosing to promote Switzerland even more in India.

SC extends night viewing of Taj Mahal

NEW DELHI, Nov 22: The Supreme Court on Monday further extended the moonlit viewing of Taj Mahal, the 17th century monument of love. Initially, the apex court had granted permission for three months only but after it was informed that no untoward incident had taken place, it was extended for a year.

"We extend the moonlight viewing of Taj Mahal till further order," a Bench comprising Justice Ruma Pal, Justice SB Sinha and Justice SH Kapadia said.
A yearlong extension of the night viewing of the white marble structure, housing the tombs of Mughal emperor Shahjehan and his love Mumtaj Mahal, was to expire on November 25.

The court had asked the authorities not to relax security measures and procedures followed till date. Advocate Krishan Mahajan, who is amicus curiae in the matter and ASI counsel ADN Rao, informed the court that procedures were strictly followed during night viewing of the Taj Mahal. After 22 years, the Supreme Court has thrown open the monument to visitors for moonlit nights which they say has been a feast for eyes.

Haryana offers hotel sites to meet Commonwealth Games challenge

By Deepak Arora

Haryana has taken the lead over Delhi by inviting private entrepreneurs to set up hotels, motels and entertainment sites like water parks and health spa in the State to meet the challenges posed by the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010.

In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, Mr Sanjay Kothari, Secretary, Haryana Tourism, said Haryana Government under the leadership of Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, plans to set up tourism zones in Kundli, Manesar and Palwal. The State Government has also proposed to develop entertainment and recreation zones.

Mr Kothari invited hoteliers to set up as many hotels in Haryana as they wanted. "With its proximity to the Capital city Delhi and a proposal to set up an international airport in the State, Haryana is going to be a hot tourism destination," he said. He said Haryana, which has led the nation in the concept of launching highway tourism, plans to build new highways from Kundli to Manesar and then to Palwal that would join Delhi-Agra highway.

The Government has also invited the private sector to set up adventure tourism facilities at Kalesar and also to develop heritage tourist sites.

"Besides setting up of hotels, motels, entertainment and recreation projects on the new highways, the Government plans to establish institutes of excellence to provide manpower for the tourism industry."

Mr Kothari said a unique tourism and hotel management institute of excellence in collaboration with the Union Tourism Ministry would be established at Tilyar Lake, Rohtak. Similarly, a renowned international university for tourism and hotel trade and hotel management and food craft institutes would be set up in collaboration with the private sector.

Besides providing exciting terms and single-window clearances, he said the state government plans to propose only one condition of 25 per cent of the seats would be reserved for residents of Haryana. Similarly, he said the existing seats of institutes at Panipat and Faridabad would be increased to provide employment opportunities to residents of Haryana.

Mr Kothari said another innovative tourism project was development of mini-India miniature theme park at Surajkund. The Central Government has already sanctioned Rs 22.50 lakhs and the short-listing of the consultant was at final stage. "This park will have exact replicas in miniature of the historical monuments and landmarks and will reflect India's culture, history and achievements in an idyllic setting."

In its bid to promote tourism in and around Delhi, he said the State Government plans to set up a tourism eco-park at Dundahera on Delhi-Haryana border. It also proposes to develop tourism infrastructure in about 20 acres of nursery land in Mehrauli in Delhi along with Delhi Tourism. Similarly, he said "we plan to develop hotel and motel infrastructure in about 8 acres of land at Ganga Toli in North Delhi.

Mr Kothari said the State would promote Farm, Mall and Golf tourism. In the year 2004-05, the business worth Rs 3.55 lakh was done from 18 farms. "We propose to identify 10 more farms during the current financial year." With regard to Mall Tourism, he said the shopping malls of Gurgaon were most popular with the foreign and domestic tourists. Mall tourism circuit would be promoted through intense publicity and conducted tours. Haryana Tourism Corporation proposes to set up shopping malls and food court at Oasis, Karnal and Dabchick Hodal in Faridabad.

Mr Kothari said the Government would continue to develop the Golf circuit. He informed that four signature golf courses of international standards have been established at Gurgaon in private sector. The Government has also been promoting four golf courses at Panchkula, Faridabad, Madhuban Karnal and Oasis.

IATO-FHRAI sign Code of Practice pact

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 8: In a landmark agreement, the Indian Association of Tour Operators and the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India (FHRAI) have signed a code of practices that would desist hoteliers from bouncing of groups and re-pricing of room rates.

The tourism boom had somewhat marred the relationship between tour operators and hoteliers as some hotels had resorted to bouncing of groups and re-pricing of room rates.

The IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, and the FHRAI President, Mr M.P. Purushothaman, inked an agreement here on Saturday that gives details of the code of practices which will govern the future contracts between hoteliers and tour operators putting an end to a long drawn out controversy and confusion plaguing their mutual relationship.

Some of the highlights of the agreement, which go specially in favour of tour operators, are as follows :

Once the contractual rates are signed, the hotels have to abide by them. The hotels cannot let out any room guaranteed to the tour operator.
For guaranteed reservations, the hotels have to keep the rooms at the client's disposal until mid-day on the day following the scheduled date of arrival.

In case of a premature departure, the tour operators shall compensate the hotels for the actual loss suffered, except in those cases where the hotels are responsible for it. Hotels will refrain from soliciting the client to make direct reservations in future.

Following are some of the details of the agreement:

1. RESERVATION: Verbal reservation requests by tour operators shall be confirmed immediately in writing (letter, fax, e-mail etc) to the hotel.

2. CONFIRMATION: The hotels shall confirm the reservation in writing within three working days by issuing a specific reservation number for this purpose. The tour operators will then notify in writing their acceptance of the hotel conditions.

3. RESERVATION DOCUMENT: The hotels must accept a voucher which should specify the dates of arrival and departure hotel services to be provided etc.

The hotels may require advance payment (earnest money of guarantee deposit). The reservation fee will be deduced from the final invoice but will not reimbursed in case of late cancellation.

Any such advance payment may be treated as a "guarantee deposit" except when a cancellation is made in accordance with the hotel's written cancellation policy or customary trade practices.

4. PAYMENT DUE TO THE HOTELS: The services payable by the tour operators will be those specified in the confirmation document and the tour operator will be responsible for payment of the specified services excepts when it has been agreed that the invoice shall be paid directly by the client.

5. CANCELLATION OF GROUPS: The entire group (100 per cent) may be cancelled up to 30 days prior to the arrival date without having to pay any compensation to the hotels.

A maximum of the 50 per cent of the initial reservation may be cancelled at least 21 days prior to the arrival date. A maximum of 25 per cent of the initial reservation may be cancelled at least 14 days prior to the date of arrival.

In the absence of such time limits the hotels will charge two/thirds of the price of the reserved services (minimum one night per cancelled client); and in case of cancellation of three days preceding the arrival date, the hotels will be entitled to charge three-quarters of the price of the reserved services.

Both the associations have appealed to their respective members to adhere the principles and guidelines in this agreement, which, they said are based on highest standards of mutual respect and understanding.

TAAI at Colombo: Business, Fun & Marathon


Day Two at TAAI: Business, Fun & Frolic



Lankan PM call to make tourism engine of regional growth

By Deepak Arora

COLOMBO, Sept 25: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapkse on Saturday made a passionate appeal to make tourism an engine for promoting cooperation among the SAARC nations. "Tourism is a critically important industry for driving the economies of this region."

In his inaugural speech at the 54th annual convention of TAAI here, Rajapkse sought developing initiatives for intra-regional tourism and to promote the SAARC region as a unique travel destination internationally. He said Sri Lanka was totally committed to economic integration with India and other South Asian neighbours.

The Prime Minister could not make to the inauguration due to unforeseen election work (Sri Lanka is in the midst of elections). Sri Lanka Deputy Tourism Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, read the Prime Minister's speech.

Top leaders of the tourism industry attended the 54th annual convention of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), the biggest travel association of India and the region. Besides the TAAI President, Mr Balbir Mayal, those who attended the convention included the Sri Lanka Deputy Tourism Minister, Mr Arjuna Ranatunga, the Indian High Commissioner, Ms Nirupama Roy, the Chairman Sri Lankan Tourist Board, Mr Udaya Nanayakkara, the President & CEO of Tralliance Corporation, Mr Ron Andruff, the President, Association of South African Travel Agents Amanda Harrod, and Egyptian Tourism Counsellor, Mr Samy Mahmoud.

The Prime Minister reminded the elite gathering that economic initiatives were not global. "We have the examples of European Union and its Common Market, the Association of American States, ASEAN, the Asia-Pacific community and our own SAARC." And he added "this should be the inspiration that drives us to move ahead."

From an economic point of view, Rajapkse said tourism could be a dynamic driver for creating direct and indirect employment, sustaining village crafts, indigenous dance and music, and promoting a better understanding of cultures, history and hopes among people visiting us from distant countries.

He said the time has come for SAARC region to pool its financial resources and talents to promote the region as a travel destination intra-regionally and internationally. He said the travel agents have a critical role to play in this scheme of things.

The Prime Minister emphasized on re-examining and improving the aviation framework, flight frequencies and airport facilities, road, rail and hotel network to sharpen the tourism profile of the region. "SAARC must move from a third world travel destination to a first world travel destination without compromising cultural uniqueness, rich historical traditions and simple virtues," he added.

Rajapkse said if tourism was properly developed and sold it could unlock great value for all the SAARC economies and strengthen economic growth at a time when returns from traditional export products were taking a beating. "The solution is in our hands," he added.

Convert opportunity into real business: Balbir Mayal

In his Presidential address, Balbir Mayal said TAAI was holding its 54th annual convention in Colombo to express solidarity and friendship with Lankans who have been hit by the Tsunami devastation. Emphasizing on "New Waves New Ways", the theme of the Indian Travel Congress, Mayal said "the very nature of travel is about change. We live in a world where change is the only constant." He said "it is during the period of change that we need to discover and implement New Ways to always stay ahead of change, so that we remain proactive in our efforts to grow and nurture our business."

Balbir Mayal told his colleagues from the travel fraternity that this was the time to convert opportunity into real business. He urged them to leap from travel agents to travel consultants.

India with 7 to 8 per cent GDP growth, all-time low 3 per cent inflation, sensex at all-time high of over 8,000 mark, middle-class income at 350 to 400 million and over 300 million people between age group of 25 to 40, he said this was the time to convert opportunity into real business.

Besides, TAAI President said India was a hot destination as it has come on the front map of World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and renowned publication Conde Nast and tourism and travel was showing within the country at a growth rate of 20 per cent. Lauding the gradual open sky policy being introduced by Indian Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, the President called for a solid partnership with the government.

He called for improving road connectivity, revamping airports and increasing quality budget accommodation to make India more accessible. He called for urgent need to reduce ATF taxes to make air travel more affordable. Mayal also called for proactive look at regional tourism, particularly within SAARC countries and South East Asia. He urged for simplification of currency exchange and travel options to tap large untapped segment of travellors.

Giving an anecdote of modern day rabbit and tortoise story, the President called for special partnership between travel agents and airlines, which would recognize each other's strength. He said TAAI was fostering relationships worldwide and was in the process of signing MoUs with China, England, South Africa and Thailand.

Consider direct flights from India to Colombo: Nirupama

In her address, Indian High Commissioner Nirupama Roy said Sri Lanka was once again happening place despite Tsunami. She said Sri Lanka received the largest number of tourists from India and the two governments have played an important role in this direction.

Nirupama Roy urged the Indian carriers, Indian Airlines, Jet and Sahara, to consider direct flights from Indian destinations. With 90 flights to 10 cities in India, She said Sri Lankan Airlines was the largest foreign carrier flying into India. She called upon the travel fraternity to offer attractive packages to harness the huge tourism potential within the region.

Close tourism bonds

In his keynote address, Mr Udaya Nanayakkara, Chairman, UFTAA and Sri Lanka Tourist Board, called upon the airlines and travel agents to change with the time. At the convention, Mr Nanayakkara was bestowed with Agastya award for his continuous efforts to forge close tourism bonds between India and Sri Lanka over the years.

He said Sri Lanka Tourist Board would spend US $ 1 million in India in the next two years to get 150,000 Indians to travel to Sri Lanka. "We want to reduce our dependency on the European markets."

On falling commissions for travel agents, Mr Nanayakkara said the Passenger Sales Agency Agreement was not a normal agent-principal agreement in the sense that the International Chamber of Commerce defines it. "It has evolved into an administrative agreement regulating the relationship between airlines and travel agents."

Secondly, he said, travel agents have never been partners with the airlines. "We do not have a common product and we are not sharing the risk as partners would do. Travel agents are purely selling the airline's seats."

Impressive business sessions

Leaders representing various fields spoke at the business sessions spread over three days. The theme of the convention, "New Waves - New Ways", kept pace with the changing scenario of the industry, in India and globally. The sessions dwelt upon emergence of bigger market segments; greater tourism impact; e-commerce and technology; and focused on business beyond only ticketing.

Besides discussions on emergence of low-cost carriers, inbound tourism into India and diminishing commissions, the convention discussed ways and means to promote regional tourism.

InterGlobe presented 'Vision 2010' - a panel discussion on the emerging travel scenario. There was another session on the surge in aviation called "Aviation: Boom or Bust. Will it last?"

Ron Andruff, president and CEO of the New York-based Tralliance Corporation spoke on "Virtual Vs Real - The 'net' wave". Andruff is spearheading the Tralliance Corporation backed TLD (top level domain name) - Dot Travel which is be exclusively for businesses, organisations and individuals in the travel industry like airlines, hotels, theme parks, travel agents, computer reservation providers and travel media. Travel is registering domain names with the extension, '.travel'. Tralliance Corporation has launched the initiative in cooperation with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

Mr John Birchell, a great motivator who has enthralled audiences in several nations, made his debut in the sub-continent through his talk. John has entertained various corporate organisations, which include Marks and Spencer, University of Liverpool, Golden Tulip Hotels, Barclays Bank among others. Entertainment, education, motivation and inspiration were the key drivers of his talk and show.

Besides the thought provoking sessions, over 1,300 delegates had an offer to enjoy Foot Massage therapy, a daily game of Lotto and an impressive marathon.

In his welcome speech, Chairman of the Convention Committee, Mr Sunil Kumar, said that a record number of over 1,400 delegates are participating in the convention.

Shangri-La Hotel a new landmark of Delhi

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: Shangri-La, Asia-Pacific's leading luxury hotel group, has made its maiden entry into India with the launch of a hotel in the heart of the Capital city. The internationally famed group would manage Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi in agreement with Hotel Excelsior Pvt Ltd, a member of the Eros Group of India.

Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts currently manage 47 hotels under Shangri-La and Traders brands with a room inventory of over 21,000. "We selected Shangri-La to operate our hotel due to the strength of the award-winning brand and its reputation for highly personalized service," said Mr Satish Sood, Managing Director of Shangri-La New Delhi and InterContinental Eros (formerly known as Parkroyal).

With the soft launch of the new hotel, Eros Group becomes the second biggest hotel group in Delhi after Taj. The Eros Group had acquired this hotel (then known as Kanishka) from the Government in 2002 for Rs 96 crore as part of disinvestments drive of ITDC hotels. "The hotel has been totally refurbished and renovated at a cost of Rs 300 crore," informed Mr Satish Sood.

Mr Gilbert Gaston Jung, General Manager, Shangri-La New Delhi, complimented Mr Jagdish Rai Sood, Chairman of Eros Group, for his patience for bearing the delays in developing the new property, which has been designed by the renowned Hong Kong-based Lese Robertson & Freeman Designers Limited. "Since only 220 of the 325 rooms and suites are ready, we are calling this a soft opening,' said Mr Satish Sood.

He said dining and entertainment options include Café Uno with open kitchens, live cooking stations and grand buffet with terrace overlooking the swimming pool; Uno 2 Go, a patisserie offering a range of confectionery with extensive variety of cakes and breads; the contemporary designed Island Bar; and Lobby Lounge offering an array of refreshments throughout the day.

A health club and spa features a gym, treatment rooms, sauna, steam room, indoor and outdoor whirlpool and an outdoor pool, set in the hotel's landscaped gardens.

With the opening of the first Shangri-La hotel here, Mr Gilbert Jung admitted that the Shangri-La group took long to come to India. "India had always been on our mind. But we were concentrating more on other countries like China, Singapore and Malaysia."

Mr Shobu Mathew, Director, Sales and Marketing, Shangri-La New Delhi, said that the hotel has started receiving business from countries like Germany, England and France. India Telecom, an international summit, would be held here next week.

Mr Gilbert Jung said the hotel's grand opening would be in early November next. "It will be then the remaining rooms inventory would be unveiled. Included will be the Horizon Club on the top four floors, comprising 78 guestrooms and suites, which will offer an exclusive retreat with a host of special privileges and amenities, including an exclusive lounge with complimentary refreshments and dedicated concierge services." Additionally the hotel's signature Pan Asian restaurant "19 Oriental Avenue", serving Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine will open, said the General Manager.

The Eros Group is a name synonymous with real estate development in India. Backed by over five decades of expertise, the Eros Group's interests include the five-star Hotel Inter Continental Eros, International Trade Tower & American Plaza, residential buildings, cinemas, commercial complexes and a shopping plaza.

Shangri-La hotels are five-star deluxe properties featuring extensive luxury facilities and services. Shangri-La hotels are located in Australia, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. The group has over 30 projects under development in Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Kerala to get fourth international airport at Kannur

By Deepak Arora

KOZHIKODE, Sept 2: Kerala Chief Minsiter Oommen Chanday has announced that the State would get its fourth international airport at Kannur soon.

Inaugurating the second edition of Malabar Tourism and Travel Mart here on Thursday, Mr Chandy said “we have received in principle approval from the Central Government and the State government is working full time to fulfill this long pending demand of the people of the region.”

The Chief Minsiter said “the new airport will help boost tourism in the Malabar region.”

He said tourism was the key driver of Kerala’s economy. “It has offered Kerala one of the best alternatives to meet Kerala’s objectives of reducing unemployment, kick starting economic growth and distributing economic development throughout the State with minimal environmental setbacks.”

Mr Chandy said the tremendous growth in tourist arrivals has brought in more investment in this sector. “The State gets an investment of around Rs 1,000 crore every year. All this has generated employment to about eight lakh people in Kerala, spread across the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled sectors.”

“And in addition to bringing in Rs 1,250 crore as foreign exchange, tourism in Kerala earns Rs 6,000 crore,” he said and added his Government’s commitment to help quick growth of tourism in Malabar.

The State Tourism Minsiter, Mr K C Venugopal, said the Government has drawn up a development plan for Malabar which includes setting up basic infrastructure for destination development, improvement of roads, wayside amenities, new circuits like the pilgrim circuit, beach circuit and backwater circuit to induce private investments.

Mr Venugopal said the development initiatives have been based on sustainable development model with due care taken at every step of the way to see that the natural fabric of the land is intact, He said it was being ensured that there was no negative impact of tourism on the environment.

Besides Mr Chandy and Mr Venugopal, other who graced the inaugural function included State Culture Minister Anil Kumar, Member of Parliament, T K Hamsa, local MLAs KNA Khader and TPM Khader, Principal Secretary Mr Bharath Bhushan, Director Kerala Tourism B Suman, Kozhikode District Collector Rachna Shah and Malappuram District Collector M Sivasankar.

The event is set to give a boost to tourism initiaves in North Kerala. Over 300 buyers and 64 sellers are participating in the show.

IATO Seeks Special Status for Tourism; Visa on Arrival; More Rooms

By Deepak Arora

KOCHI, Aug 29: To give the much-needed thrust to tourism industry and meet the challenge of creating more jobs, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has sought a special status for the sector; augmentation of hotel rooms; rationalize taxes; and visa on arrival. "It is only then the country will be able to create more jobs and witness further economic boom," thundered Mr Subhash Goyal, President of the largest association of tour operators at its 21st annual convention in Kochi.

The convention urged the Central Government to accord special status to tourism sector as has been given to the exporters, infrastructure and software industry to meet its avowed goal of creating jobs for the poorest of the poor and eradicating poverty.

The convention, attended by over 1,000 delegates from all parts of the country, also called for augmentation in the hotel rooms in the major cities besides recognition of appropriate guest houses and home stay programmes by the respective State Governments to meet the shortage of accommodation which was posing a great threat to the tourism boom experienced by the Country.

The Convention, inaugurated by Mr. E. Ahamed, Union Minister of State for External Affairs, passed several resolutions demanding among other things, construction of at least one airport in each State and Union Territory, visa on arrival, particularly for the nationals of 14 countries approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, rationalization of luxury tax and transport tax on the tourist vehicles and 90 per cent abatement on package cost for service tax and abolition of Fringe Benefit Tax on tour operators.

The convention also demanded reintroduction of Section 80HHC of Income Tax Act for tour operators earning foreign exchange, end of discrimination between Indians and foreign guests as per FEMA rules, conducting language courses for guides by Centre/State Governments, taking up cleanliness drive in places of tourist interest, promotion of regional tourism and reduction in monument entrance fee for foreign tourists.

In his Presidential address to the delegates, Mr. Subhash Goyal, President, IATO, observed that tour operators were being sometimes forced to refuse bookings because of shortage of rooms. “They were also paying 30 to 40 per cent more of what they were paying for the hotel rooms last year.”

The solution, Mr Goyal, who is also called as Nelson Mandela of the tourism industry, said lay in not only asking the hotels to increase their FAR and rooms by at least 25 per cent, but also changing the land use in all the cities so that the entrepreneurs could build new hotels. The tariff of hotels should also be fixed so that the tourists were not exploited.

Pointing out that the tourism industry is overburdened with taxes, the IATO President said, "There is road tax, there is luxury tax, there is entertainment tax, there is excise duty and the latest is the Fringe Benefit Tax. The result is that a big chunk of a tourist’s spend is taken away by these taxes making India out pricing itself".

Despite the existence of no frill airlines and apex fares of Indian Airlines, it was unfortunate that it was cheaper for a domestic tourist to fly from Delhi to Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka than to take a flight to Kochi.

The four day Convention with the theme "Incredible India -- Incredible Challenges" was divided into four Business Sessions and attended among others by Mr. E. Ahamed, Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr. K.C. Venugopal, Tourism Minister of Kerala, Mr. D.T. Jayakumar, Tourism Minister of Karnataka, Mr. Kawkab Hameed, Tourism Minister of U.P., Mr. A.K. Misra, Secretary (Tourism) and Mr. Amitabh Kant, Joint Secretary (Tourism), Government of India, Mr. E.K. Bharat Bhushan, Principal Secretary (Tourism), Kerala, Mr. Vasudevan Thulasidas, CMD, Air India, Mr. Anil Goyal, Commercial Director, Indian Airlines, and Mr. Peter Hill, CEO, Srilankan Airlines.

In his welcome address, Mr E.M. Najeeb, Chairman, Reception Committee and Chairman, IATO Kerala Chapter, said the international tourists arrivals in the country have shown a phenomenal growth of 18.6 per cent for the period from January to June 2005, signalling the much-waited tourism boom. "In order to sustain this boom and to achieve the anticipated growth of 10 million tourists by 2010, India needs to look into the challenges and threats that lie ahead for the tourism industry."

Mr Najeeb said Kerala tourism had recorded a phenomenal growth in the past few years. The tourist arrivals to the state had shown an increase of 27 per cent, compared to last year's arrivals. "Kerala now holds a prestigious place in the global tourism map. The three ''Kerala Travel Marts'' saw the soaring of tourist arrivals to the state. These travel marts enviably positioned Kerala as one of the hottest travel destinations in the world," he said.

"Kerala's serene backwaters, spices, hill stations and beaches have contributed tremendously in making it a hot spot among national and international tourists. Kerala is the only Tourism Super Brand in Asia," said Najeeb. The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) held its convention at Kochi last year. Federation of Hotel and Restaurants Association (FHRAI) has announced its decision to hold its next convention at Kochi.

Mr. Vijay Thakur, Vice President of IATO and Convention Chairman, said Kerala government (which hosted the convention) set an example of what the state could achieve through its own imagination innovation and efforts.

Maj. Murli Dhar, Senior Vice President of IATO, hoped that efforts would be made that the tourist who is lured by great images of India and its various States goes back with great memories and his expectations are matched by great satisfaction and experience.

Mr. Peter Hill, CEO, Srilankan Airlines, participating in the Business Session on Open Skies called for the need for more FDI in aviation sector in India.

Responding to some of the demands of IATO made at the convention, Mr. A.K. Misra, Secretary (Tourism), asked the organisation to come forward for the upkeep and maintenance of historical monuments and promised all help from the Tourism Ministry.

Mr Misra said tourism was a composite subject that involved a lot of players from different ministries. Bringing them together to agree was indeed a difficult task.

He agreed that there was shortage of accommodation in 4 and 5 star hotels in Delhi, Mumbai and to some extent in Bangalore. To ease the situation, state governments had been asked to form land banks or give land on long lease to hotels. He, however, indicated his ministry’s inability so far as regularization of hotel tariffs was concerned.

Mr Rajesh Mudgill of IATO said the record attendance of over 1,000 delegates and popularity of business sessions showed the commitment of delegates towards tourism industry. He called for a huge thrust for the infrastructure in terms of roads, ports and airports to encash the boom tourism sector is witnessing.

Prof. K.V. Thomas, former Tourism Minister of Kerala, released a copy of IATO Manual 2005 on the occasion.

Hall of Fame Award was presented to Mr. Anil Goyal, Commercial Director, Indian Airlines and Managing Director, Alliance Air and awards for Excellence in Journalism were presented to Mr. Ganapathy Subramanyam (Economic Times) and Mr. Arun Kumar Das (Times of India). Ms. Rajika Nair of Kerala Institute of Travel and Tourism Studies was presented the Badri Nath Bajaj Scholarship award comprising Rs. 10,000 in cash along with a Trophy. Pradeep Sankhla Award was given away to Mr. Jose Dominic of Casino Group of Hotels.

Several Southern States including, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu besides Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim made their presentations at the Convention, which coincided with the Tourism Mart and Cultural Programmes.

It was for the first time that IATO held its Convention in Kerala. The last convention was held at Agra in Uttar Pradesh.

IATO business sessions at Kochi

IATO meet: Checking out God's Own Country




Jaipur IATO Convention 2006 FHRAI Convention
Chandigarh Nov 10 to 12, 2006
FHRAI seeks Industry status
The new FHRAI President, Mr Rajesh Mishra, has demanded infrastructure and industry status for the hotel industry.


Jaipur IATO Convention 2006 IATO Convention
Jaipur Sept 7 to 9, 2006
IATO to build 50 hotels
The Indian tour operators will enter the hotel business to increase room availability in the country.



TAAI convention to promote SAARC tourism
Uttaranchal - India's future Switzerland
Uttaranchal to have tourist police soon
TAAI to hold next convention in Colombo from Sept 24
Unesco confers heritage award on Lakhpat Gurudwara in Kutch
Uttranchal initiative to promote Himalayan tourism
Himalayan Environment Trust awards given away
Himalayan Adventure Expo 2005 popular
Last village on Tibet border gets a facelift
Pay for quick check out at Delhi airport
IATO, Greek counterpart sign MOU to promote tourism
MD's Midas touch brings Centaur out of red
Himachal becomes first State to remove sales tax on ATF
Visa on Arrival gains steam

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