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North hot spot for Christmas, New Year holidays

By Deepak Arora

V N DhootNEW DELHI, Dec 20: Over five lakh tourists are likely to visit various tourists destinations such as Jaipur, Udaipur, Massourie, Nanital, Shimla, Kullu-Manali, Kashmir valley, Goa, Mysore and Trivantapuram during forthcoming Christmas and New Year holidays, beginning Friday.

According to the estimates made by the ASSOCHAM based on feedback received from various tour operators, bookings for Christmas and New Year celebrations have begun and the above identified spots are emerging as top priorities for tourists in various pockets of India.

As a result of economic boom and rising hotels tariffs in large metro’s and larger townships are the primary factor for shift of tourist choices to secluded places in states like Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Kerala and Karnataka, in which the tourist destinations could be best enjoyed with budgeted pockets, says Venugopal N. Dhoot, ASSOCHAM President.

The tourist operators and agents that appraised the ASSOCHAM emerging
trends for the tourist during forthcoming Christmas and New Year include Angad Travels India, India Tour Guide , Indian Travel and North India Tours.

During the last holidays, Goa happened to be highly congested tourist spot, for tourist belongings to not only western part of country but equally for central and south India because it provided tourism opportunities at competitive tariffs.

D S RawatThis year, the trend is more towards tourist spots that are comparatively cheaper as tariffs for hotels accommodation have jumped up by nearly 35 to 40 per cent with food and beverages cost also going up by nearly 20 to 25 per cent in larger towns and metros, said D S Rawat, Secretary General ASSOCHAM.

Tourist spots that provide for cheaper cost have become the preferred
destinations and tourist would like to enjoy the beginning of crisp winter in smaller places like Mussourie, Nanital, Shimla and Kullu-Manali.

Mussourie and Nanital are also emerging as the best tourist destinations for North Indians as tourists can attain twin objectives their - one is that of site seeing and another of religious tourism as both Haridwar and Rishikesh are nearer to Massourie and that of Nanda Devi close to Nainital.

It has been observed that the identified places for Christmas holidays are best India suited for all kinds of tourism including rural, cultural, eco-tourism, spiritual, sports and adventure. The tourism industry encompasses accommodations, travel, transport, leisure and entertainment and offers immense employment potential at almost all levels.

Also, India's tourist industry is booming due to a rush of foreign tourists and increased travel by Indians to domestic and overseas destinations. With the great potential available and the development initiatives taken by the government, Indian inbound Tourism has shown a substantial growth in 2006-07.

However, India has to struggle to market itself to the world tourists. For a long time, tourism has been treated as a leisure activity of the rich and somewhat unnecessary destruction for the poor in India. Hence, no concerted efforts were made to develop tourism as an industry in the country.

Now, the story is different as the government is making tourism as a lead industry because of its immense potential for higher revenue realization and i.e. campaign like incredible India was launched in recent times.

National policy to boost adventure tourism: Soni

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 18: With the Bali conference coming to an agreement to check the climate change and conserve the natural resources, India has decided to formulate comprehensive guidelines for adventure tourism with the aim to boost this niche segment.

Inaugurating the 6th Annual Convention of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) in New Delhi, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni has express the need to revise the existing national eco tourism policy in the light of the ongoing international debate on climate change.

Ms Soni said that she has often come across complaints that by-diversity is being eroded further on account of adventure, world life and eco-tourism.

“There was a genuine concern that adventure tourists are not only polluting the place but have little regard for conserving the existing natural resources.”

The Minister cautioned the ATOAI that if they wish expand the scope of adventure tourism, they need to be careful and how they pursue it.
Ms Soni said “responsible tourism in any form will not only help to preserve the natural resources but would enable generate revenue for the betterment of the place and the local communities.”

She assured the industry that the focus of the government was on giving “greater boost to adventure tourism”.

The Minister said “We consider adventure tourism extremely important in taking forward one of the important niche tourism segments of the country.”

She said India was richly endowed with natural diversity consisting of mountains, wildlife, natural parks, rivers and beaches which provide ample opportunities for pursuing adventure sports such as white water river rafting, paragliding, hot air ballooning, skiing, mountain biking, scuba diving, hiking-trekking and rock climbing and rappelling.

“All these add to the multi-dimensionality of the tourism potential which is not very common in many parts of the world,” she added.

The Minister assured the industry that the Government was looking to the problems the industry was facing in promoting adventure tourism.

“The government is looking into the demand of the industry for reducing import of duty on adventure sports equipment, provision of GPS and satellite phones, contour maps for mountaineering, tax holidays and waiver of service taxes, do’s and don’ts signage’s in wildlife parks and development of human resource through government run institutes.”

On this occasion, the Minister also released a special 30 seconds television commercial on Adventure Tourism and the report on “Incredible India campaign” during 2007.

The prime focus of this convention with the theme “Indian Adventure Tourism – the Next Step?” is to create widespread awareness about the multi-dimensional face of the Indian tourism sector.

It seeks to promote India as one of the most exciting Adventure Tourism destinations in the world and intends focusing on the innumerable adventure and eco-tourism opportunities in the country.

Early snowfall brings cheers for tourists, industry

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: Early snowfall in Shimla, the world famous ski resort of Gulmarg and Trikuta Hills of world famous Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Cave Shrine augurs well for the tourists and the tourism industry.

Monday’s snowfall in Shimla, the first of the season, has come after 10 years in the month of December, said the Met office. Generally, Shimla gets its first snowfall in January.

Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir is also gripped with freezing cold. But the daring ones have taken out their warm clothes, mufflers, caps etc and are rushing for holidays at the famous and not so famous tourist spots.

A happy Subhash Goyal, President of Indian Association of Tour Operators, said the phone has been ringing non-stop with the people eager to rush to Shimla as its closer to Delhi and other cities in Haryana.

“Our company is offering packages to different resorts in and around Shimla and other winter spots in Jammu and Kashmir like Gulmarg, Mata Vaishno Devi shrine,” said Goyal, who is also Chairman of Stic Travels.

Vijay Thakur, President, Indian Vision Tours and Travels, said “the early snow suddenly boosts travel and tourism. Families suddenly decide to pack their bags and rush to nearby snow spots like Shimla. Proximity to home, helps in this sudden spurt.”

Thakur, who is also IATO Vice President, said there is sudden spurt in hotel bookings as the long weekend is coming ahead with two holidays of Id on December 21 and Christmas and Christmas on December 25. “This will help the economy of the region as more and more people will get jobs with the influx of tourists.”

"The winter season is peaking, and the snowfall will give a big boost to the tourism industry here," said Yogesh Behl, a local Shimla resident and a hotellier.

There are many people who mix up tourism with religion. Therefore, there is sudden rush of religious tourists to the world famous Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Cave Shrine, which has also experienced snowfall. In fact, this year the snowfall at the snow was late by six days as last year the pilgrims experienced it on December 4.

The daring ones also visit Drass, the world's second coldest place after Siberia, where the night temperature has dipped to minus 15 degrees. At Leh, another popular tourist region is experiencing minus 11.8 degrees.

Much to the delight of tourists, Gulmarg slopes have turned white after continuous snowfall. The report said Tangmarg also experienced four inches of snowfall, first of the season while Gurez and other high altitude areas had half-a-foot to two feet of snowfall.

The holy Amarnath caves have received about two feet of fresh snowfall while Sheshnag, Mahaguns, Pissu top and Panjtherni have received one to two feet of snowfall.

Shimla Meteorological Department Director Manmohan Singh attributed the snowfall to western disturbance (WD), which lay over Himachal and said it would bring light to moderate rain and snow in the state during the next 72 hrs. He said the tourist resort had experienced 31 cm of snowfall ten years ago on December one in 1997.

For the delight of the tourists, it may be mentioned that the tourist places close to Shimla such as Kufri (about 16 km), recorded four to five cm of snow, Narkanda 10 to 11 cm and Khara Pather 15 cm since this Monday morning. It would not be long by the time the famous tourist resort of Manali in Kullu district also receives snow.

Revellers thronging this cool and picturesque town of Shimla, came out of their lodges, hotels and guest houses to enjoy the snowfall. "I am here in India for two weeks. I am enjoying the weather here. It's lovely. It feels like home. It's very cool, wet and fresh," said a Canadian tourist.

This early December snow is considered auspicious for apple growers residing in the upper reaches of Shimla. This early snowfall will benefit the tourism and horticulture sectors of the town.

The economy of Himachal Pradesh is heavily dependent on tourism. More than 3 million domestic and foreign tourists visit the state annually.
In the winters, over 5 lakh domestic and foreign tourists throng Shimla. As per the Department of Tourism records, last winter Shimla played host to 4,77,507 domestic and 18,184 foreign tourists. The number is expected to increase this year.

Rohtang Pass, situated at about 13,050 feet, has recorded about one feet of snowfall since Monday. Bhuntar in Kullu district also experienced about 2.1 cm of snowfall since morning.

The higher altitude areas of the tribal districts of Kinnuar, Lahaul Spiti and Chamba in Himachal have also been experiencing snow. Similarly, the higher areas in the remote Pangi and Bharmaur areas in Chamba district continued are also experiencing snowfall.

Similarly, reports of snowfall have been received from Saach and Kugti Passes and Mahalwar mountain ranges, which have received about three and half feet snow during the last four days.

Keylong, the district headquarter of Lahaul Spiti district, and Kalpa in Kinnuar district had recorded about two cm of snow.

Dinesh Khanna is new President FHRAI

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Dinesh Khanna, Executive Director, Eastern International Hotels, has taken over as the new President of Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI).

He assumed charge from Rajesh Mishra on October 28, which was the last day of the 43rd Annual FHRAI Convention in Kolkata.

Speaking on the occasion, Khanna said, “It is a great honour to be appointed as President of this august body representing the hospitality industry. There are innumerable challenges in the light of the tremendous expansion in the hospitality industry across the country.”

He adds, “As the President, my focus will be on the major challenges of infrastructure and I will also have to liaison with various ministers in the state government and at the Centre in terms of matters relating to taxation and incentives. I will also be involved in specific programmes for encouraging corporate and domestic travelers to stay on for the weekends, a period where occupancy dips as far as business travel is concerned.”

Kamal Sharma, Secretary General FHRAI said, “Khanna’s expertise and experience in the industry will help bring in positive changes in the Indian Hospitality Scenario. This move will also induce professionalism in the industry.

Dinesh Khanna has been a committee member of Hotel & Restaurant association of Western India (HRAWI) since 1986. This year he also took over as the President of the association. His major achievements include obtaining license for providing Hotel Reservation facility at both the International and Domestic Airports in Mumbai through the State Aviation Minister.

During his tenure in HRAWI, Khanna has been instrumental in successfully organising the FHRAI Conventions and has attended many meetings with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, other political leaders, state Excise Commissioner and others regarding outstanding issues of Police License Fee and other State Excise Issues.

Born on October 29, 1950, Khanna studied in St. Columbus High school New Delhi. He completed his ‘O’ Level degree – certification by Cambridge University, London. He did his graduation in Commerce from Hindu College New Delhi, after which he completed his Master of Professional Studies (Hotel Administration) from Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.

Currently, Khanna has acquired a 25 acre land in Bekal, Kerala and is building a Five Star Deluxe property in collaboration with Taj Hotels. This plans to open in 2008.

A multifaceted personality with multifarious interests…seems to be an apt description of Dinesh Khanna. Apart from being actively involved in activities of HRAWI, he is also a member of the Skal Club Mumbai, Rotary Club of Mumbai West, Giants International, Juhu Beach Clean Committee, American Alumni Association and Indo-German Chamber of Commerce among others.

Tourism neglected in West Bengal: CM

By Deepak Arora

KOLKATTA, Oct 26: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has conceded that the tourism sector in West Bengal has been neglected.
He said the government had identified some new ways, including tea tourism, to give it a fillip and create job opportunities in the state.

Inaugurating the annual convention of Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) in Kolkata, Bhattacharjee said "the tourism sector in the state is still neglected. We are failing to exploit it. We have identified some new areas including tea tourism in North Bengal which will attract foreign tourists. Plans are also underway to develop eco-tourism in the Sunderbans."

He said the government would develop tea tourism jointly with private companies. Small hotels would be set up in tea gardens where tourists could stay, play golf and visit nearby wildlife sanctuaries.

Referring to development of eco-tourism in Sunderbans, a world heritage site, the Chief Minister said he had talks with the Centre and UNESCO in this regard. The state government has also appointed an expert agency to promote eco-tourism in the Sunderbans.

He said "the government should not run hotels and restaurants, but develop infrastructure. The Centre should also work in this direction," he said.

He said that emphasis only on the PPP (public private partnership) model will not help. The government has to invest a lot more in infrastructure such as airports and seaports for the development of tourism.

FHRAI president Rajesh Mishra also reiterated the need for infrastructure development. “At Rs 1,026.35 crore, the country’s tourism budget is only 0.15 per cent of the Indian budget. The tourism budget for other Asian countries is China 3.8 per cent, Singapore 9 per cent, Malaysia 7.2 per cent, Thailand 6.8 per cent and Nepal 14 per cent of their respective budgets. Thus, India needs to give significant importance to tourism in the years to come,” he said.

Mishra spoke about the need for more hotel rooms, encouraging the PPP model and the Rural Bharat Certificate Scheme launched by FHRAI for uneducated youth from villages and remote areas of the country.

Ron Scott, director of APIU Global, said a lot of issues being addressed in India were also being addressed in the UK. He too, spoke about the need for the Centre to invest more in infrastructure and the need for tourists to have easy access for places to go to.

“There are several UK-based companies at the budget and business level who are very interested in India. Leading budget hotel company Premier Travel Inn is looking at India and has earmarked sites in Mumbai and Delhi. Another leading chain for value accommodation, Travelodge, is also very interested in setting up a property in the country,” said Scott.

Need to improve infrastructure to attract tourists: Azad

By Deepak Arora

SRINAGAR, Oct 29: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that state-of-the-art infrastructure would be set up in Jammu and Kashmir to attract domestic and foreign tourists, whose numbers have already registered an appreciable increase.

Azad said Jammu and Kashmir has great tourism potential due to its natural beauty which needs to be harnessed.

He said "tourism, the mainstay of the state's economy, had received a setback due to militancy but with the improvement in the situation the sector has been put on the rails," and added tourists, particularly foreign, have once again made Kashmir their destination and already appreciable increase has been registered in their arrivals.

He urged the Defence Ministry and other agencies of the Central government to help the state in creating, expanding and modernising the tourism infrastructure in the state.

Referring to the scenic beauty and climate of Pahalgam, the Chief Minister said the place can emerge as an international tourist destination especially for adventure and winter sports tourism and there is need to create the matching infrastructure.

Azad said the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports (JIMWS) can do a lot in this direction. The institute can be a catalyst in attracting a large number of youth to Pahalgam for skiing, river rafting, mountaineering and other adventure sports, he added.

Creating prosperity together

By Deepak Arora

Rajesh MishraNEW DELHI, Oct 23: Keeping in mind the acute shortage of hotel rooms in the country, the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) has urged the Government to work in tandem with the hospitality industry to create prosperity for all, including the aam admi.

Speaking to this correspondent, FHRAI President Rajesh Mishra revealed that India was lagging behind countries like China in the hospitality industry. “There are around 1.5 lakh hotel rooms in India against 10 lakh rooms in China.”

Keeping this in mind, the FHRAI has aptly kept the theme of its forthcoming 48th annual convention in Kolkata as “Hospitality and the Government – Creating Prosperity Together”.

Mishra said the three-day convention beginning Friday “will emphasize upon the fact that the Government and the hospitality industry need to work in unison.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee will inaugurate the convention. The three-day convention will see serious interaction and debates on burning issues on topics like “Redefining hospital education” and “Inspirational leadership”, “Debt and education”, “Innovate strategies”, “Consumers and Copyright Act” and “Stress management.”

The first plenary session will deal with the theme of the convention and will be attended by policy makers as well as members of the hospitality industry.

The President said Ron Scott, in his keynote address, will present the European model of togetherness. “We will try to present a comparison in Indian and European model of hospitality and the government – creating prosperity together at the convention.”

A session on “Why Restaurants fail?” will be addressed by S K Khullar, Charles Mantosh, Kamlesh Barot, Vikram Bakshi, Anjan Chatterjee and Shawn Kenworthy.

In a first in the country, Mishra said the convention would see a Tourism Minister’s Conclave where policy makers would be deliberating on the ways, means and strategies with land bank policy and PPP model for setting up new hotels in different states of India.

Kamal SharmaThe Tourism Ministers from Jharkhand, Tripura, Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana are expected to participate in the conclave.

In another first, Mishra said “there will also be a session on Women entrepreneurs that will be attended by leading ladies of the industry including Smita Parikh, Archana Capoor and Poonam Dhillon.”

FHRAI Secretary General Kamal Sharma said “we have invited bankers, infrastructure developers, government officials, decision makers and ministers connected with hospitality and tourism industry to the convention."

Sharma said "it is going to interesting for all those entrepreneurs who desire to make their dreams come true.”

S P JainS P Jain of FHRAI said the convention would update with members with the latest technology developments in the hospitality industry.

On the shortage of hotel rooms, Mishra said “the land crisis has almost made it impossible for developers to launch projects in the smart or budget category. If the government does not address the issue immediately, the bulk of the market will be lost.”

The convention will also see a trade show that would showcase products and services from manufacturers and suppliers of the hotel industry, establish contacts and services from them and discuss business deals.

Sri Lanka leads global Carbon Free Destination Initiative

By Deepak Arora

Renton de AlwisNEW DELHI, Oct 9: Proactively recognising the need for the Tourism Industry to prepare for a possible change in tourism demand as a response to global climate change, destination Sri Lanka has come up with a proactive initiative of global significance.

With transport as one of the most visible contributors to global warming, increased awareness regarding climate change might induce tourists to switch from long haul to short haul destinations. But these shifts could potentially harm least developed countries, most of which depend heavily on tourism income. As many as 46 of the 49 poorest countries of the world rely on international tourism as their primary source of foreign exchange earnings.

Addressing the second International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism in Davos, Switzerland, Renton de Alwis of Sri Lanka Tourism announced the initiative "A Tourism Earth Lung – Towards a Carbon Clean Sri Lanka".

Milinda MoragodaThis practical policy response championed by Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda represents a bridge across the trade-off between environmental awareness and tourism's pro-development potential.

As a small country which depends heavily on long-haul travel to generate tourism income, Sri Lanka is facing up to the climate challenge and aims at becoming the first carbon neutral destination.

As its tropical forest systems can store large amounts of carbon which otherwise would add to the CO2 in the atmosphere, Sri Lanka aspires to be a travel and tourism Earth Lung. Sri Lanka is also home to the 'Sinharaja', a virgin rain forest which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its commitment to a range of LULUCF-activities (Land Use, Land Use Change & Forestry) associated with appropriate Carbon Offset Programs (COP), "this initiative has both real and symbolic value and we hope other countries and stakeholders to join the Earth Lung Community to create a global framework that will contribute to the overall UN response to climate change," said UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General, Geoffrey Lipman.

Sri Lanka Tourism has initiated action to include tourism in the country's Carbon Trading Policy Framework and will take on significant initiatives to make Sri Lanka a Carbon neutral tourism destination within a specific time frame.

The is expected to set the agenda for a ministerial tourism meeting in London in November ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for Bali, Indonesia in December. It has been organized by UNWTO together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and supported by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Swiss Government.

Addressing the meet, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Francesco Frangialli has said tourists could become a rare breed as global warming takes its toll on holiday destinations.

Delegates were warned that tourists could turn their back on traditional destinations and even opt to stay at home.
Mr Fraangialli said “damage to tourist sites could cause severe job losses and economic disruption. The consequences for some destinations could be very serious. Climate change is not a remote future event for tourism.”

Holidaymakers could be discouraged from going away as they considered the potential environmental impact of their lifestyles and as some destinations lose their allure. Tourism is said to account for 5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming, the bulk caused by transport.

Global warming poses a threat to coastal areas, which risk being overwhelmed by algae as a result of warmer seas, while ski resorts, particularly at lower altitude, are already suffering from less snowfall.

Shardul Agrawala of the Organisation for European Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the European Alps were particularly sensitive. Since the 1980s, warming in the Alps has been three times the global average.

An OECD report last December said an additional warming of one degree Celsius would lead to a 60 percent decrease in the number of 'naturally snow-reliable' ski areas in Germany. Under a four-degree warming, practically none of those areas would remain viable ski resorts.

The 450 delegates, who attended the conference from governments, the tourism industry and environmental organisations, were told adaptation was a necessary step and would have to go hand in hand with mitigating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Astronaut's son buys $30 M space ticket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Sept 30: The son of a retired astronaut is about to follow his father into orbit, after buying a $30 million ticket for a seat on a Russian rocket.

Richard Garriott, who made his fortune in computer games, is scheduled to blast off aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan in October 2008 on a one-week trip to the international space station.

His father, Owen Garriott, 76, spent 59 days aboard Skylab, America's first space station, in 1973 and flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1983.

It will be the first time a child of an American astronaut rockets into space. In Russia, sons have followed their fathers into the cosmonaut corps three times, and one is slated to go to the international space station next spring.

"My dad was an astronaut so I grew up believing that space was going to be available for everyone at some point in the future," Richard Garriott told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. "But I realized that the NASA method was a statistical improbability. If I was going to get a chance to go myself, it would have to be through private space travel."

Garriott is 46 and lives in a medieval-style mansion in Austin, Texas, complete with its own dungeon and secret passages. The house is modeled after the setting of his "Ultima" video games.

He plans to dedicate much of his time in space to science, engineering and educational projects. A biotechnology company co-founded by his father, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, will send up protein experiments for him to work on.

"Because of my career, it was almost natural for Richard to be interested in space and exploration," Owen Garriott said in a statement issued Friday by Space Adventures Limited, the Virginia company that brokered the trip.

Space Adventures has organized orbital flights for five previous millionaires, including the first paying space tourist, California businessman Dennis Tito, in 2001. The early trips went for a reported $20 million each, but in July, Space Adventures President Eric Anderson said the weak dollar had spiked the price to a minimum $30 million.

Richard Garriott, a University of Texas dropout, developed the "Ultima" series, a computer game franchise, and with his brother, Robert, founded Origin Systems, a computer game developer and publisher. He also co-founded the North American arm of NCsoft, an online game developer and publisher. His newest game, "Tabula Rasa", is due out in October.

In Russia, Sergey Volkov, 34, a pilot, is set to fly to the international space station, as commander, next spring. His father, Aleksandr, rocketed into orbit in the 1980s and early 1990s. And Roman Romanenko, 36, trained as a cosmonaut but has never flown in space. His father, Yuri, flew as a space commander in the 1970s and 1980s.

Neither of the father-son cosmonaut combo of Aleksandr Skvortsov Sr. and Jr. has flown in space.

On the U.S. side, space has proven to be a family affair for identical twins Scott and Mark Kelly, both shuttle pilots, and several married couples. One couple, now divorced and married to other people, even flew on the same shuttle mission in 1992.

Ambika opens China National Tourist Office

NEW DELHI, Aug 20: Union Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni and China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) Chairman Shao Quwei jointly inaugurated the China National Tourist Office here today.

Speaking on the occasion Soni said the opening of the CNTA office is in conformity with the Action Plan adopted by the two countries in February during the launch of 'India-China Year of Friendship through Tourism'.

Soni said it is also an indication of the importance that Beijing attaches to expanding people to people links with India through tourism.

She said her ministry will provide all necessary support for the smooth functioning of the Chinese Tourist Office.

Soni said UNWTO survey has placed China and India amongst the fastest going outbound destinations in the world. A very interesting feature of outbound statistics reveals that 78 per cent of outbound traffic from Asia is within the region itself. The Minister said she is confident that if India and China can manage their two way tourist traffic, it will make a significant contribution to the Asia region.

The Indian Minister said the Beijing Olympics next year is a major event for China. Massive infrastructure has been created and Chinese people are working round the clock to make it a success. India too is gearing itself to hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

She said these mega events have enormous touristic value both during and after the event. We need to share our experiences and learn from each other, she added.

Chairman of the National Tourism Administration of China Shao Qiwei said on the occasion that the opening of Tourist Office in India will further promote bilateral relations. He said his country is looking tourists from India during Olympics and World Expo in Shanghai.

Earlier, the India-China Tourism Forum met to exchange information for future cooperation in the tourism sector between the two countries. More than 120 delegates from India and China attended the meeting.

Soni and Shao Qiwei also held a brief meeting to discuss ways to further promotion of bilateral relations in tourism sector.

A high level Chinese Tourism Delegation led by Chairman of the National Tourism Administration of the People's Republic of China (CNTA) is currently in India at the invitation of the Indian Minister of Tourism and Culture.

A series of events will be held in New Delhi and Mumbai during the stay of the Delegation in India which include China Tourism Night in New Delhi and Mumbai. Over 200 travel industry representatives in each place have been invited to meet with their Chinese Counterpart and explore business opportunities with them.

Tour operators demand closure of e-biz portal

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 7: India’s top tour operators and travel agents have criticized the Tourism Ministry for threatening the livelihood of hundreds and thousands of entrepreneurs by launching an e-commerce platform on the official website of ‘Incredible India’.

The country’s top tourism associations, who have come together under the banner of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), demanded a probe in handling the e-commerce business to a foreign party "on a platter".

Demanding the closure of the portal, they said “we can not give on a platter Incredible India brand worth millions and millions of dollars to a foreign company Eviivo of the UK.”

In a statement they said the Tourism Ministry should not get involved in the commercial activities which would adversely affect the livelihood of over 200,000 tour operators and agents as it connected customers directly to service providers.

The statement said “the Tourism Ministry should take cognizance of these irregularities and respond by canceling the appointment of Eviivo in its present role and institute an enquiry to investigate that how such a major decision was taken affecting all of us by ignoring all norms of public interest and accountability.”

IATO president Subhash Goyal said "they have created an uneven ground in the tourism business and endangered the existence of lakhs of tour operators and travel agents. The industry has not been taken into confidence."

At a meeting held in the Capital, leading tour operator associations demanded the government show "transparency" on its tie-up with Eviivo, the UK-based technology partner, which has been authorised to conduct business through the official website

Besides IATO, other associations protesting the move included Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), and Indian Tourist Transporters Association (ITTA).

Goyal said "the business has been handed over on a platter to a foreign tour operator, bypassing all other stakeholders, tour operators, travel agents, domestic tour operators, adventure tour operators, Indian IT industry in a non-transparent manner."

Demanding the cancellation of appointment of Eviivo, the IATO president said "this step towards creating a monopolistic situation is not only against national interest but also raises many questions such as through what process was Eviivon selected? What were the criteria for approving it as the Ministry of Tourism partner?"

The tour operators also demanded to know the revenue sharing model of the government with Eviivo.

Raising suspicions on the "urgency" with which the e-commerce portal was launched, Goyal alleged that even 10 days after its launch, there are no bed and breakfast accommodations (B&Bs), no hotels in any city except a few in places like Delhi and Mumbai on the site.

On July 25 last, the ministry had announced its tie-up with Eviivo, for operating an e-commerce platform on its flagship portal.

Expressing shock at the move, Goyal said: "The government should not get involved in commerce and go beyond its role of a facilitator."

At the meeting IATO president said “all the associations will take joint action to safeguard the interest of their members.” This was unanimously supported by Rajji Rai, Vice President, TAAI, Praveen Chugh, President, TAFI, Krishan Yadav, Hony. Secretay, ITTA, Jyoti Kapur, Past President, ADTOI and Akshay Kumar, EC Member, ATOAI.

They also decided to form a “Joint Action Group” to not only fight against the Incredible India E-Commerce platform but also take up all other issues facing the entire industry like service tax, fringe benefit tax and VAT.

This Joint Action Group would meet regularly and complete the formalities by getting mandate from their associations to form a “National Federation of Tourism and Associations”, said the statement.

Incredible India now in the e-biz world

By Deepak Arora

Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, July 31: The Tourism Ministry's 'Incredible India' campaign now has an e-commerce platform that allows domestic and international tourists to access information about any travel destination in India with suitable accommodation and book the facilities online.

Launching the e-commerce platform on its Incredible India website here recently, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni said that the latest initiative of the ministry would be the most effective method of accessing information by the tourists.
Soni said there is no doubt that the web based enabled services in tourism will strengthen the industry and empower the customers.

She said it will facilitate customers to communicate directly with the agencies, tour operators, hotels and Bed and Breakfast establishment 24 hours a day and many of these service providers have become registered members of the online e-commerce platform.

The e-commerce platform through website has been developed jointly by the tourism ministry and EVIIVO, a UK-based company that operates similar e-tourism sites in Britain and Australia.

It offers online booking services for a range of accommodation businesses across India, enabling international and domestic tourists to use the services by searching on the homepage and complete their transactions in dollars or rupees.

The Minister said 'this is a big boon for our bed and breakfast scheme. It will put those who want to give out their accommodation for rent and those who want to occupy it in direct contact.”

Tourism Secretary Christy Fernandez said this initiative would help remove the general perception that India was an expensive destination.

“There is a general perception that India is an expensive destination. This initiative will help the consumer get in touch with small and medium service providers and access services at affordable rates.”

Fernandez said “a consumer wants the best offer at the most competitive prices. This initiative will benefit all the stakeholders of the tourism sector.”

Soni said the foreign tourist inflow to India grew from 3.29 million in 2005 to 4.43 million in 2006.

The Minister said “medical tourism will benefit maximum from the e-commerce platform. We had 125,000 medical tourists to India in 2004 and the numbers are set to increase much more.”

Soni said “the medical tourism industry is worth US $ 333 million and is growing at the rate of 25 percent every year. We have been able to facilitate special medical visas for a year and are working with the ministry of home affairs to increase the duration to three years.”

She also urged the people to support the 'Atithi Devo Bhava' (guests are like gods) campaign of the ministry which encourages sanitation and proper sewage disposal and campaigns against graffiti on historical monuments.

The main objective of this platform is to facilitate SME (Small and Medium Entrepreneur) to be on a global network to promote online sale without any committed investment.

Nearly 4,000 hotels, 40 bed and breakfast units, six State governments and about a dozen tour operators have tied up with the ministry to offer their services on the Incredible India website. The Ministry is hoping that more service providers would join the initiative soon.

China targets one million tourists from India

By Deepak Arora

Chinese Tourism Minister Shao QiweiBEIJING, July 24: As a build up to the growing economic and political ties between the two countries, China has set its eyes to attract one million tourists from India. Last year, 450,000 Indians had traveled to China, an immensely popular tourist destination worldwide.

Speaking to this correspondent in Beijing recently, Mr Shao Qiwei, Chairman of China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), said “China and India are big developing countries having 40 per cent of world’s population. The two countries are set on the path of strategic cooperation and enjoy good political relations.”

Mr Shao, who is China's Tourism Minister, said “the two countries have laid good economic and political foundation for furthering understanding between the two countries. The current two-way trade between the two countries was US $ 23 billion and it is expected to reach US $ 40 billion by 2010."

However, he said that the tourism between the two countries was not maintaining the same pace as the growth in trade volume. “There is a great potential to develop tourism ties between the two nations.”

With the combined efforts of the Tourism Ministries of the two countries, Mr Shao expressed confidence in increasing the tourist arrival numbers. Last year, about 450,000 Indians visited China as compared to mere 50,000 Chinese visiting India. He pointed out that last year China had attracted 5 million tourists from Japan and Korea each.

Mr Shao said the China-India Friendship Year 2007 through Tourism would help further promote tourism cooperation between the two countries.

Beijing next year is hosting Olympics. Obviously, this would focus world’s attention on China. “We take this as a good opportunity to promote tourism in three stages: pre-Olympics, during the Olympics and post Olympics.”

He said “when we will not only market city of Olympics – Beijing, but other cities too. To go with the spirit of ‘One World One Dream’ slogan of the Olympics, we will encourage visitors to visit neighbouring countries such as Japan, Korea and other countries in the South East.”

In this regard, he said these countries would be enhancing marketing efforts with China. He also offered such cooperation with India to promote Indian tourism.

Recalling his two visits to India that took him to New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta and Bangalore, Mr Shao said he was greatly impressed by the beauty and architecture of Taj Mahal.

Calling for exploiting the huge tourism potential between the two neighbouring countries, the CNTA Chairman said there was an urgent need to increase direct flights between important cities.

Expressing satisfaction at India starting Chinese version of 'Incredible India' website, Mr Shao urged Indian authorities to create Chinese language facilities. He also said the accommodation in India was bit too expensive for the Chinese traveller to afford a trip to the Indian destinations. On an average, room tariff for five-star hotel in China is about 780 Yuans (Rs 5,850) -- down from India where it goes Rs 8,500 and up.

Drawing comparisons between India and China hotel facilities, Wang Yan Jie, Deputy Director, CNTA, said, "In China we have facilities according to the star-ratings. But in India five star hotels have five star facilities but when it comes to four or three star hotels their services fall down at once and they are no star. So, either they are five-star or no-star."

Mr Shao is visiting New Delhi next month. Besides meeting his Indian counterpart, Tourism Minister Ambika Soni and other Indian leaders and travel and tourism professionals, he would also open China National Tourism Administration office that would promote the understanding between the two people.

He also allayed India's fears that the metalled highway to the base camp of Mount Everest would result in ecological damage. China would "strictly monitor" the number of tourists treading that road, he added.

"We want to develop tourism and environment both. But when we have to chose between the two, environment will be our first priority," said Mr Shao.

Brushing aside allegations that China cared a little about environment when it comes to implementing state interests, he argued environment itself was important to attract tourism in China. "If we do not protect our environment, we cannot expect to attract tourists here."

Tourism, clean environment close to Pratibha Patil’s heart

By Deepak Arora

Pratibha PatilNEW DELHI: The likely next President of India, Pratibha Patil’s love for tourism is well-known. What is significant is that she becomes next incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhavan at a time when the United Nations has set the theme for World Tourism Day as “Tourism opens doors for women”.

The Day is celebrated each year on September 27, the anniversary of the adoption of the original UNWTO statutes. Following on the “Tourism Enriches” theme in 2006, this year’s campaign highlights the opportunities that the sector offers for women.

In the context of UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, the Organization intends to join forces with UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) to enhance further the role of women in tourism. It will be reviewed annually through 2015, the year targeted by the UN to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Indian tourism industry has also expressed their happiness for a woman of the stature of Pratibha Patil being almost set to be the next President.

Subhash GoyalIndian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) President Subhash Goyal said Pratibha Patil’s love for tourism was evident when at a short notice as a Governor of Rajasthan she agreed to inaugurate our convention at Jaipur last year.

"When the IATO team went to Raj Bhawan to invite her we found that she was unassuming, down to earth, caring and warm person," said Goyal. She was aware that how the growth of tourism industry could transform the life of “aam aadmi”, especially the women folk.

At the IATO convention she had asked other States to emulate the success story of Rajasthan tourism that would contribute significantly to tourism growth in the country. She also emphasized on developing medical tourism in the country. "We have some of the best heart surgeons in the world and a heart surgery here costs much less," she added.

Balbir MayalFormer TAAI President Balbir Mayal, who was also present at the IATO convention in Jaipur, said that she has a pro pro-tourism bent of mind.

Mayal said India is changing at a fast pace with women holding important top positions. They have been excelling in sports, education, politics and space.

“Look around, UPA Chairperson and Congress President is Sonia Gandhi. Then we have Ambika Soni as Tourism and Culture Minister, Renuka Chowdhury, Women and Child Development Minister and Kiran Choudhary, Haryana Tourism Minister, who have left their indelible mark on the Indian polity and their respective fields.”

Mayal said the elevation of a woman to the highest office of the land would be another jewel in the crown for India in the world arena and the tourism sector.

Kiran ChoudharyHaryana Tourism and Forest Minister Kiran Choudhary Haryana, said "since India was the biggest democratic country in the world, it was a matter of great pride for a woman to be the President of the country."

She said UPA Chairperson’s decision to announce the name of Pratibha Patil for election to the post of President of India was a step towards welfare of the women in India and their uplift. “Her elevation would help the cause of tourism, environment, cleanliness, honesty and transparency, the issues close to her heart.”

FHRAI President Rajesh Mishra said “Swami Vivekananda has said if your female folk is qualified and developed than your entire family will be developed. If you have a woman Rashtrapati, who is qualified and developed and has lot of experience, our country is bound to reach new heights under her Presidentship.”

Rajesh MishraMishra said India is in a pre-boom situation and tourism is growing at a very high rate. With modern thinking and globalization age and whenever we gather from the industry about the prospective Presidential candidate, we welcome her candidature as it will be a growth oriented step for the hospitality industry. Her tourism friendly mind will help India to be more prosperous in tourism in the next five years.

This year’s host nation for World Tourism Day is Sri Lanka where the programme will be launched. Together with the Sustainable Tourism Research Centre in Australia, UNWTO will launch a new dedicated website. will focus its attention on the role of gender in tourism and how to enhance it, addressing women as agents of change in and for sustainable tourism.

In order to increase public awareness of the interrelation between tourism and its beneficial role for women, UNWTO will launch an online photo contest to show women playing leadership roles at all levels within the sector. The 12 selected winners will be exhibited during the UNWTO General Assembly in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in November.

“With Sri Lanka as the Host Country and planned celebrations around the world, UNWTO is launching this new initiative to show the achievements, opportunities and challenges for women in tourism”, according to UNWTO Francesco Frangialli.

“By working closely with our sister Agency UNIFEM and using our Global Code of Ethics for Tourism as a framework, we believe we can help this industry make even greater contribution to the Millennium Development Goals.”

The promotion of gender equality, empowerment of women and the elimination of gender disparity in education is the third UN Millennium Development Goal to which the UNWTO is committed.

Ambika Soni votes for Taj Mahal

By Deepak Arora

Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, June 22: The echoes of “Mera Bharat Mahan and Mera Taj Mahan” are reverberating all over the world. In India too the people in different cities have launched vigorous campaign to ensure that the Taj Mahal, monument of love, makes to the list of the Top Seven Wonders of the World.

On Friday, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni voted for Taj Mahal. She voted through an SMS. The voting is taking place to include the Taj Mahal in the list of seven new wonders of the world. The campaign is being organized by a privately funded Switzerland based organization.

Along with the Minister, the Secretary Culture Badal K. Das and Joint Secretaries R. C. Mishra and N.C. Goel also voted in favour of Taj Mahal.

Ambika SoniaThe race for the seven marvels closes early next month and the results will be announced in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 7. Pupular Bollywood actress, Bipasha Basu, has been invited for the event.

The Taj has made it to the top 10, but it needs more votes to make it to the top seven, according to the New 7 Wonders Society, a Swiss non-profit group that has launched the global online, phone and SMS poll. Anyone can cast his or her vote at or by sending SMS to ‘Taj at 4567’.

Subhash GoyalThe Presidents of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) Subhash Goyal and the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) Rajesh Mishra and Balbir Mayal, former president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) have also urged people, especially in the travel and tourism industry to ensure that the Taj makes it top ten.

Balbir MayalWith less than two weeks to go for the final list, Balbir Mayal has not only ensured the vote of his family but is also appealing to people to vote online for the Taj as this is India's only hope to be proud of having one of the seven wonders in India.

Rajesh MishraRashesh Mishra has taken a lead on the issue and asked all the units of the FHRAI to ensure that everyone votes for the Taj and the monument of love continues to wonder with its prestine love and beauty.

At the Berlin International Sand Sculpture Championship India’s sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik through his sculpture appealed to art-lovers worldwide to vote overwhelmingly for the Taj.

Youths in different Indian cities are also continuing with a frenzied campaign to encourage people to vote for the Taj. They are distributing pamphlets and posters at the colleges, bus stands, railway stations, cinema halls, universities and other public places where more and more people can read these posters and pamphlets.

Mapping the future of sustainable tourism

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 19: Tourism has long term resilience, despite man made and natural disasters. Moderation of historical annual growth trends of 6 per cent during the past half century to a projected 4 per cent going forward, signals a maturing of the sector. It is particularly important, that developing country markets are growing at a higher rate than the global norm.

With sustainable management, the tourism sector can make a lasting contribution to socio-economic development at both a global and local level, according to Hammamet Declaration adopted at the just concluded fifth International Tourism Forum for Parliamentarians and Local Authorities in Tunisia.

The meeting was held under the auspices of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the patronage of Tunisia President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The conference brought together over 300 representatives from 95 countries. The participants reviewed the key factors affecting tourism and how the sector interfaces with national and local governments, ranging from economic aspects to social, cultural and environmental issues.

Officials and representatives of parliaments and local governments met with members of the private sector, underscoring the increasingly important role which national, regional and local governments have in mapping the future progress of sustainable tourism.

The declaration stated that the tourism industry and its institutions are learning to anticipate risks, to respond rapidly to shock and are increasingly conscious of the need to match expansion with carrying capacity.

“This is particularly important at the local destination level where the impacts are most acute, where the public and private sector must collaborate closely for adequate response and where the views of communities have to be factored into the decision making process.

“This decentralization will intensify and the roles of UNWTO’s Affiliate Members and new Centre of Excellence for Destinations will be increasingly relevant,” it said.

The Declaration said that tourism has to play its part in responding to the two major challenges of our time - the issues of extreme poverty and climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has rightly identified the need for a coherent strategy – for energy conscious sustainability and for development focused solidarity.

UNWTO as the central UN Agency for the sector can seriously help the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals alignment of key programs of the organization for this purpose. It is a positive sign – most notably its ST-EP (Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty) program which focuses on the use of sustainable tourism for the elimination of poverty and its application to community integration and capacity building.

UNWTO can also help the sector in the essential constructive response to the Climate imperative. That response has to establish a long term framework of change that must be initiated now with a focus on adaptation, mitigation and new technologies across all parts of the tourism supply and demand chains.

Products, processes and structures will need to be re-focused at both industry and consumer levels. The need to protect developing and emerging countries, which rely on tourism exports, was emphasized – particularly in the context of their vital air transport development lifelines.

To underpin its work on poverty and climate, UNWTO should consolidate its sector defining initiatives to measure economic impacts through the Tourism Satellite Account, to establish responsible tourism practices through the Global Code of Ethics to drive destination management through its Sustainability Indicators, to promote Africa through its Windows on Africa Portal and to support emergency response, particularly avian influenza preparedness, through its initiative.

Tourism is a crosscutting sector which can provide valuable inputs and synergies for many sectors such as infrastructure, communications and investment of the economy at local, national, regional and global levels. It is important that government at all levels recognize this reality and factor it into their primary decision making activities.

The development community should also take account of both its social and economic impacts and synergies. As should the World Trade Organization in its Doha Development Round and Aid for Trade initiative, it said.

Indians worldwide push for a Taj Wonder

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 12: Indians worldwide have launched a vigorous campaign to ensure that the Taj Mahal, monument of love, makes to the list of the Top Seven Wonders of the World. The race for the seven marvels closes early next month and the results will be announced in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 7.

The Taj has made it to the top 10, but it needs more votes to make it to the top seven, according to the New 7 Wonders Society, a Swiss non-profit group that has launched the global online, phone and SMS poll. Anyone can cast his or her vote at or by sending SMS to ‘Taj at 4567’.

Kevin KaulThe US-based Kevin Kaul, Chairman, Friends of South Asian American Communities, has also been reaching to all Americans and Indians to ensure that the Taj makes it to top ten.

With less than a month to go for the final list, Kevin Kaul is appealing to people to vote online for the Taj as this is India's only hope to be proud of having one of the seven wonders in India.

India’s sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik is going to make a last-ditch attempt to canvass for the “Monument of Love's” inclusion in the prestigious list. He is participating in the Berlin International Sand Sculpture Championship beginning from June 14 where he has decided to use the forum as a medium to appeal art-lovers worldwide to vote overwhelmingly for the Taj.

"Paradise is the theme given to me as the base of the sculpture that I will design in the Berlin fair.”

Youths in different Indian cities have also launched a vigorous campaign to encourage people to vote for the Taj. They are distributing pamphlets and posters at the colleges, bus stands, railway stations, cinema halls, universities and other public places where more and more people can read these posters and pamphlets.

Artists in Bikaner are painting their bodies with pictures of the Taj Mahal in a bid to have the 17th century monument included in the new Seven Wonders of the World list. "I am getting my face and body painted to convince people to vote for the Taj Mahal. I roam around the city everyday and appeal to people to vote," said Mohsin, an artist. These artists are also planning a nation-wide campaign in favour of the monument.

"I have painted the pictures of Taj Mahal on the bodies of 50 people. I want more and more people to vote for the Taj Mahal," said Khemchand Sharma, a fine arts student.

"Before May 23, the voting percentage of Indians was only 0.7, but after publicity drives have been launched, it has rapidly increased, standing at 4.5 per cent yesterday," said Bharat Kapadia, the Chairman of 'Indian Unites for the Taj' campaign, which is mobilising people to vote for the monument of love.

"The campaign is gradually gaining momentum. But we will have to really keep it up, especially in view of the fact that other countries are also voting spiritedly for their monuments," Kapadia, whose I Media Corp is the official partner of N7W Foundation in India, said.

Some 50 million people have voted so far in the competition designed to produce a 21st Century list of the world's greatest man-made heritage sites, but Tia Viering, a spokeswoman for the organisation, said the result is wide open.

Many countries are carrying out special events to encourage people to vote for their sites. "There are some really creative, phenomenal things going on in the last four weeks that will influence the final result," Viering said.

These include an Indian singer dedicating a song to the Taj Mahal and Brazil's soccer team urging Brazilians to vote for Christ Redeemer, the statue that adorns Rio de Janeiro's skyline.

Besides the Taj Mahal, the 21 finalists in this list also include Rome's Colosseum, Jordan's ancient city of Petra, Britain's Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. These were shortlisted on January 1 by an experts’ panel chaired by the former UNESCO chief, Federico Mayor.

Viering said the number of votes so far for each site will not be divulged as it could influence the final result. The organisation running the competition, which could become the largest ever global poll, was established by Swiss/Canadian filmmaker Bernard Weber.

Only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world remains is standing today — the Pyramids of Giza. The originals, located in the Mediterranean region, also included the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

A Swiss-based organisation New Open World Corporation (NOWC) had started the process called "New seven wonders of the world" in September 1999. In November 2004, there were as many as 177 monuments for consideration as wonders of the world. This list was reduced to only 21 monuments in January 2006.

Mughal Emperor Shahjehan built the Taj Mahal as a symbol of his enduring love for his wife Mumtaz. It stands on a marble platform in the city of Agra, 200 km south of Delhi, and is surrounded by ornamental gardens.

Uttrakhand emphasis on world class tourism infrastructure

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: “Uttrakhand is going over a new makeover to attract high-end rich domestic and foreign tourists. However, that does not mean that we would ignore other tourists. We plan to upgrade and create new properties to attract middle-class and budget tourists,” says Prakash Pant, State Tourism Minister.

Spelling out his priorities, Pant said the emphasis will be building and strengthening road, rail and air and hotels and motels infrastructure to make a pleasant stay for tourists in the State.

Keeping the financial constraints in mind, he said “we plan to follow the Public-Private Participation (PPP) mode to build ropeways, hotels, sky resorts, motels etc.”

To attract rich tourists, Pant said the State’s first five star hotel would come up at its capital in Dehradun through the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) mode.

“We will give 10 acre land on lease for 30 years and Emmar group has agreed to give us Rs 53 lakh and 2 per cent of revenue. Our revenue share will be about Rs 7 crore per annum. The private group will construct and operate the 165 room hotel that will have a heath club and a 600 capacity convention hall. The hotel will be build at a cost of Rs 75 crore.”

Keeping in mind increasing number of pilgrimage tourists to the Char Dhams and destinations like Haridwar and Rishikesh, the Minister said “we plan to set up new motels and budget hotels at a distance of every 50 to 75 kilometers on tourism circuits for the middle-class and budget class tourists.”

He said the state public-sector undertakings – Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd -- have 6,000 bed-capacities in about 130 tourist bungalows. “We will upgrade these properties too.” For the budget class tourists, who travel a lot, we are providing financial support to local residents to set up small motel-like residential accommodation and other tourist related infrastructure.

He said the state-of-the-art infrastructure for pilgrims on the four pilgrimage centres referred to as the Char Dham – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath -- would ensure their safety as well as comfort.

Pant said “we are also building ropeways through the PPP mode at Yamnotri, Rishkesh-Neelkanth, Kedarnath and Hem Kund Sahib.
Besides, he said the State is also expanding its airports and air strips to attract high-end tourists. “Once expansion of the airports is complete we will receive bigger aircraft. We also plan to encourage helicopter service in the State that will cover more tourist and pilgrimage spots.”

The Minister said the State also plans to re-launch heritage rail trek from Haridwar to Rishikesh. “We will discuss this project with the Central Government.”

Pant hopes that the State would see the increase of domestic and foreign tourists from 20 to 25 per cent in the current year. Last year, he said 1.94 crore tourists visited the State.
The number of foreign tourists that visited the State last year were 96,264 up from 92,742 in the year 2005.

He said the State is also gearing up to host the Asian Winter Games at Auli in district Joshimutth in 2008.

Haryana, Delhi to revitaize Yamuna

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 1: The Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) made a presentation of Yamuna Revitalization Project to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda here on Friday.

The CMD of Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), Dr Sanat Kaul, apprised the Haryana Chief Minister about the Yamuna Revitalization Project and said that this project would help in addressing the problem of water shortage in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and enhance the tourism potential for Delhi and Haryana.

Dr Kaul said that under the project, mega reservoirs would be built on the Yamuna and the Hindon rivers and by using the monsoon flows water storage would be increased.

The Haryana Chief Minister appreciated the Yamuna Revitalization Project and asked the CMD of DTTDC to examine the feasibility of the project for its implementation in Haryana.

Haryana’s Irrigation Minister, Captain Ajay Singh Yadav, the Principal Secretary to Haryana Chief Minister M.L.Tayal, Financial Commissioner and Principal Secretary, Irrigation, R.N.Prashar, Resident Commissioner P.K.Mahaptra and senior officers of the Irrigation department Haryana also attended the meeting.

Amend Act to give Industry status to hotels: FHRAI President

By Deepak Arora

Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, May 25: Keeping in mind the shortage of rooms in the country, Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni has asked Finance Minister P Chidambaram to extend the tax holiday to more regions, including the Buddhist circuits, for the hotel industry.

In the just passed Finance Bill, the Finance Minister has give a five-year holiday from income tax for new two, three or four-star hotels in Delhi and adjacent districts between April this year and March 2010 in view of the Commonwealth Games.

"The hotels should be completed and begin operations in the National Capital Territory of Delhi or in the adjacent districts of Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad or Gautam Budh Nagar during the period April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2010," Chidambaram had said in his Budget speech.

In the letter, Ambika Soni asked Chidambaram to extend the tax holiday for the new hotels in the National Capital Region (NCR), tourist destinations and circuits and cities that face shortage of hotel rooms for the ever growing domestic and foreign tourists.

Christy FernandezThe new Tourism Secretary, Dr Christy Fernandez, is optimistic his Minister's views would be accepted by the Finance Ministry and the Income Tax benefit would be extended to more regions, especially Buddhist circuits, in the larger interest of the country.

Dr Fernandez said the hotel industry in the NCT of Delhi have been given infrastructure status u/s 80 ID of Income Tax Act.

However, the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) President, Mr Rajesh Mishra, continues to demand infrastructure and industry status for the hotel industry all over the country.

To give the industry status to the hotel industry, Mr Mishra, who is a qualified charter accountant, company secretary and a lawyer, said the Central Government must amend the Industrial Development and Registration Act 1951 to give i ndustry status to the hotel sector.

Rajesh MishraThe FHRAI President said that the Industry status to the hotels must be given under Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 so that the Hoteliers can get the benefit of electricity at industrial rate, allotments of industrial land for construction of hotels and other benefits allowed by State governments from time to time.

He said Schedule I of this Act must be amended to include 'Hotel' then only 'Hotel' can be defined as an industrial undertaking and will get the benefits associated with Industry status.

Mr Mishra said that a few State Governments like Gujarat, West Bengal and Orissa have already declared hotel as an industry but the hotel industry was not getting the benefits of industrial rate of electricity and industrial land allotment as the Central Government has not yet included hotel in Schedule I of the Industries Development & Regulation Act.

He also urged the Government to grant infrastructure status u/s 80 IA of Income Tax Act to the Hotel industry. This would allow it a 10 years tax holiday as in the case of infra-structural projects like road, ports, power and telecommunications.

Mr Mishra said "the NCR may need 20,000 rooms for the Commonwealth Games, but India needs one lakh hotel rooms. Due to this shortage, the room tariffs are skyrocketing. The Finance Minister must take broader view of the actual shortage of rooms prevailing in the country. Therefore, he must extend the tax holiday to rest of the country and also include 5-star hotels in this scheme."

To meet the acute shortage of rooms and spiraling room rates, former TAAI President Balbir Mayal urged the Government to set up hotels on PPP (pubic private partnership) mode on urgent basis.

"Otherwise, the country will have to have heavy price as the foreign tourists will move from India to other reasonably priced destinations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia," said Mayal from his experience.

Tourism throws a growth challenge to IT industry

By Deepak Arora

Dr Christy FernandezNEW DELHI, May 22: The new Tourism Secretary, Dr Christy Fernandez, is a man with a missionary zeal. Even though the tourism sector has been showing a growth of over 20 per cent, he has put the Tourism Ministry in a mission mode so that the industry’s spill over benefits reaches the “aam aadmi”.

Soon after Dr Fernandez took over as Tourism Secretary three weeks ago, he set a target for his officers in the Ministry. The target is: Can you challenge the IT sector in the country? In other words, can you match the growth and benefits of the IT sector to the people and the country?

His team of officers led by Additional Director General Sanjay Kothari and Joint Secretary Leena Nandan readily agreed and it was decided that the Tourism Ministry will be available to the travel and tourism industry 24 x 7.

The new Secretary acknowledged that the Ministry has succeeded in putting the Indian tourism on high pedestal and repositioned itself in the world arena. Then what, he asked while speaking at a reception hosted in his honour by the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) on Monday night. Dr. A.K. Misra, former Secretary Tourism, was also bid farewell.

To challenge the IT sector, Mr Fernandez said the booming tourism sector faces two major constrains – shortage of trained manpower and wayside amenities. To achieve the new targets, he announced a paradigm shift in looking at the sector.

“Let us have a dream and re-engineer the tourism sector,” he told the gathering of the captains of the travel and tourism industry.

He announced two missions for his Ministry and the industry – Human Resources development and setting up way side amenities along the national highways and tourism destinations.

A 2004 report in the tourism and hotel industry had stated that the shortage of trained manpower in the tourism sector is to the tune of 60 per cent. Mind you, despite the over 20 per cent growth, the sector is yet to boom. So, one can figure out the challenges that would go with it.

Mr Fernandez asked “why our least educated and Wharton return boys and girls should beg for a job – any job? They should able to earn a decent living with a pride. And they sincerely want that opportunity. And they are eager to and have the ability to take risk so that they can put the country on the high growth mode.”

“What is required is we need to give them opportunity to study in good hotel management institutes,” he added.

In this direction, the new Secretary recently called a brainstorming meeting of principles of 26 leading hotel management institutes and leading chefs of the national Capital.

He also asked the private sector to come forward to set up high quality hotel management and food craft institutes so that we can provide trained and qualified young boys and girls to the industry.

Dr Fernandes hopes to announce a detailed action plan in this direction soon whereby the present 26 Central and State-run institutes would create more seats for the youth to choose a decent career with pride.

Though the country is now almost connected through North and South and East and West network of roads, he said “but we lack decent public amenities and tourist information centres.”

Dr Fernandez said “the Tourism Ministry in association with the Transport Ministry, States and Oil companies plans to launch a nation-wide programme for developing way side amenities.” He said invited large scale participation of the private sector to achieve this mission.

The IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, offered his association support in taking forward the new initiatives of the Ministry.

Dr Fernandez also assured his full support and efforts in resolving pending issues of the industry.

Earlier, IATO Vice President Vijay Thakur welcomed the delegates and all present.

In his speech, Mr Subhash Goyal enumerated the rich contribution of Dr. A.K. Misra to bring Indian Tourism to such higher status and global recognition. “It is through his untiring efforts, he had ensured that tour operators get the deserved service tax reduction, infrastructure status to tourism and benefits under section 80HHD, which gained the hearts of our members.”

Dr. A.K. Misra spoke about the significant role played by the Ministry of Tourism in selling India overseas and the overwhelming response to Indian tourism efforts as was visible in recently concluded ITB.

“Tourism offers immense opportunities to entrepreneurs in various segments. What was detrimental to our tourism growth is the lack of basic facilities at our monuments, pilgrimage places, tourist sites. We need to have higher involvement in improving the basic facilities by adopting such centres for improvement of facilities as government can not alone do this job. Let the trade also share the cost and state governments come forward to provide land for this purpose by forming partnership with the private sector”, said Dr. Misra.

Major Murli Dhar, IATO Senior Vice President Major Murli Dhar thanked Dr. Misra for the efforts he had made to resolve the issues pending for long time. He also thanked Dr Fernandez for taking up the issue of export industry status to tourism.

Fiji lures Indian tourists, investors

By Deepak Arora

Mahendra Choudhary with Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, May 15: Fiji Finance Minister Mahendra Choudhary has invited Indian hotel and travel industry to invest in his country and offered incentives to lure Indian tourists.

During his visit to India, Choudhary met India’s Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni and discussed ways to boost tourism and culture ties between the two countries.

The visiting Minister said air connectivity between the two countries was an area where improvement is required. He said his Government was keen to invite Indian investors in hotel and hospitals sectors and currently negotiating with some big names in India in these two sectors.

Ambika Soni stressed the need to promote tourism between the two countries through package tours.

The visiting Minister urged Indian travellers to look to Fiji as a holiday destination. He said a considerable proportion of Indian travellers were goings to Australia and New Zealand and they should be encouraged to look further south. Around seven million Indians travel overseas each year, and the figure is growing at 20 percent annually.

Choudhary also had a separate meeting with Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda where they discussed matters of mutual benefit.

He also urged more Indian companies to explore investment opportunities in Fiji. He says the two governments are co-operating closely on areas of agriculture, trade, communications, health and tourism.

The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) hosted a reception in his honour. Addressing the captains of the travel and trade industry, Choudhary said that Fiji gives visa on arrivals to Indian nationals.

“The visitors are granted visas on arrival when show that their necessary travel documents are in order and have sufficient funds to sustain the trip,” he added.

Adding that Fiji has an Air Services Agreement with India, he said: "However, my government will endeavour to upgrade this to an open skies agreement, similar to the one India has in place with the US and the UK and is currently negotiating with ASEAN."

In 2005, Fiji and India had formalised an agreement on cooperation in enhancing the tourism sectors of both the countries.

"The agreement envisages that a joint tourism committee would be formed in the near future to explore avenues of enhancing trade and tourism relations between Fiji and India," Choudhary, who was also Fiji's first Indo-Fijian prime minister, said.

He talked in length about the nostalgic memories and timeless wonders of India. “Fiji offers a diversity of sports from scuba diving to sky diving. Being a small island nation with abundant natural resources, its island are blessed with year round warm weather, golden sandy beeches, clear blue water, attractive coral reef and exciting high waves. Fiji has the facilities, infrastructure and atmosphere to provide a truly unique and unforgettable vacation experience,” said Choudhary.

Recalling the age old ties with Fiji, IATO President Subhash Goyal said many of the Indian settled in Fiji several decades ago. However, they retained their original culture but adopted the local dress, behaviour, religion and language. The natives have common culture with India as represented through dance, music and custom. They have interestingly made a great unity between their local culture and of India.

Therefore, he said, one feels at home when people from India visit Fiji Islands. Fiji is a group of over 333 islands, only about 100 are inhabited by human and rests are left as natural reserves.

“Fiji is truly the hub of the south pacific region and a perfect holiday destination for Indians,” said Subhash Goyal.

Fiji High Commissioner Luke Rokovada said that entry visas are granted on arrival to Indians. Everything has been done to make the process as pleasant as possible. “Indians will find good food, local culture, shopping and one need not travel more than a few hours to get anywhere on the island. Therefore, one can enjoy many island resorts during a visit.

At present, there are four entry points when traveling between the two countries. These include flying through Australia and New Zealand or directly through Seoul or Tokyo.

Choudhary said Singapore is being eyed as a hub or transit point which will provide access to all major centres and cities in India and which is expected to alleviate some of the transit difficulties Indian nationals’ face when traveling to Fiji.

"Fiji aims to aggressively target the newly emerging markets in Asia such as India, China and Korea,'' he said. He also sees the possibility of a tourism office for Fiji to be established in India in the near future.

A colourful video presentation of Fiji Tourism was also made. It gave details of various places of tourist interest and the government initiatives to boost tourism.

IATO Vice President Vijay Thakur thanked the visiting Minister and the other members of his delegation for giving IATO an opportunity to interact with the tourism industry.

Andrew Steele is new GM at Shangri-La, New Delhi

By Sushma Arora

Andrew SteeleNEW DELHI, May 2: Mr. Andrew William Steele has been appointed the new general manager of Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi. An Australian national, Steele is well versed with hotel management, having more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry.

Starting his career in his native Australia, he went on to work in various hotels around the world, gaining experience and honing his skills.

He has successfully managed, opened and renovated hotels in Australia, England, Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Prior to this latest appointment at Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi, Mr. Steele was hotel manager at Shangri-La’s largest flagship hotel in China, Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai.

On his appointment to Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi, Mr. Steele said, “It is with great pleasure that I take on the responsibility of becoming general manager of Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi.”

He attributes his success thus far to persistent leadership, hard work, strong determination to excel and team work. In his new role, he is additionally entrusted with setting strong standards for the future role of Shangri-La in India.

Mr. Steele is a perfectionist with a strong sense of discipline who always aims at getting results. He is known for his generosity in sharing his management skills and leadership style to further strengthen the hotel’s management team and assist in its efforts to move forward.

He believes firmly that, today more than ever, the strength of relationships, honesty and integrity with clients decides the degree of success of any service organisation.

In his spare time, Mr. Steele enjoys golf, sailing and mountain climbing.

Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Asia Pacific’s leading luxury hotel group, currently manages 50 hotels under the five-star Shangri-La and four-star Traders brands, with a rooms inventory of over 23,000. The group has over 40 projects under development in Canada, mainland China, India, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Seychelles, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.

Nayyar is Resident Manager ShangriLa, New Delhi

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, May 5: Mr. Prameet Nayyar has joined as Resident Manager for Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi. He brings with him 16 years of experience in Hotel and service industry. His last assignment was with Vertex as Deputy Vice President-Operations.

His drive for challenges brought him to take up various assignments during his operational career with refurbishing and turnaround of The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi, opening team member of the Marriott Welcomhotel, New Delhi and a successful stint with The Taj Mahal Hotel.

India to showcase tourism potential

DUBAI, May 1: To showcase India's potential as one of the booming tourism location, nine Indian states and 24 tour operators are participating in the four-day Arabian Travel Market 2007 in Dubai, starting on Tuesday.

The states taking part include Kerala, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Uttarakhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The Tourism Ministry of Kerala, Uttarakhand, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir would lead their respective delegations, Indian Consul-General Venu Rajamony said.

Arabian Travel Market 2007 the Middle East's premier travel and tourism show has 2,600 exhibitors from 64 nations, marking a 24 per cent increase from last year, said Tom Nutley, chairman of the event organiser Reed Travel Exhibitions.

"The outbound potential of the Middle East, particularly the Gulf, which embraces countries with some of the world's highest per capita income, continues unabated and competition for the region's traveller is becoming very intense," he added.

Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, under whose aegis the show is being organised, said the event was significant to Dubai as it comes at a time when the country's tourism sector was booming DTMC Director (Operations and Marketing Division) Mohammed Khamis bin Hareb said, "Tourism is the country's strong economic sector and the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 places it among the six 'building blocks' for future growth."

"The total revenues of Dubai's hotel industry increased by 22.8 per cent to cross the AED 11-billion mark in 2006, with an all-time high 6.5 million guests staying in the country's 414 hotels and hotel apartments," he added.

India seeks Japan’s support for developing tourism infrastructure

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 30: Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni has said that India has sought Japan’s support for developing the country’s tourism infrastructure to further boost people-to-people contact.

"Every single state of India has influences of Buddhism. So, each state is looking forward to your help and your cooperation in developing places of Buddhist interest for people around the world. I can look forward to greater cooperation," Soni said at the launch of the 'Japan-India Tourism Exchange Year 2007' here on Monday.

Buddhist places of importance exist in Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has already extended a credit line of 5.4 billion rupees for building basic facilities at Buddhist centres in Uttar Pradesh.

India is also doing its best to increase tourist facilities in the country, Soni said.

“We are paying a lot of emphasis on budget hotels, on facilitation of visa facility. For the first time, we have long term visas for multiple entries, and we are now insisting on visas on arrival.”

“We have developed a partnership. In India, we are developing tourism through a partnership of the State Governments, the private players, the corporate world and the Government of India,” she added.

Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, appealed to India to relax visa norms for Japanese tourists.

"There are many people who have been traveling between India and Japan. It has been increasing steadily. The total number at the moment is 6.1 lakh," Fuyushiba said.

India is the largest recipient of Japanese development aid, but trade and investment between the two economies has been unspectacular.

Japanese companies have tended to focus on markets in China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Japan's trade with India in 2005 amounted to 740 billion Yen, less than four per cent of its trade with China.

Japan's foreign direct investment in India was just 11 billion Yen in the April-June quarter compared with 173 billion Yen for China.

Subhash Goyal is now 'Ambassador of Tourism'

By Deepak Arora

Subhash Goyal receiving award from Tourism Minister Ambika SoniaNEW DELHI, April 20: Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Ambika Soni has conferred “Ambassador of Tourism Award” on Subhash Goyal, President of The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and Chairman STIC Travels, one of India’s largest travel groups.

The award has been instituted by SATTE. It was conferred during the inaugural session of the three-day SATTE conference, which is South Asia’s biggest B2B travel and tourism exposition.

SATTE outlined the contribution of Mr. Goyal in the aviation and tourism industry in the national economy and his deep involvement in all the areas related to tourism. He is represented in the tourism committees formed by the Ministry of Tourism for various tourism development programme and his contribution as a specialist has been well acknowledged by the government and the trade.

The award recognised Goyal’s pioneering efforts and dynamic approach to develop India as a prime holiday destination both for domestic and international tourists.

He has also played an important role in the formation of India’s Open Sky policy. His company, Stic, represents good number of international carriers as GSA.

The fifth time President of IATO, Goyal is also Chairman of ASSOCHAM’s Expert Committee on Tourism and Aviation and Co-Chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (FICCI).

He is also associated with several Govt. bodies and contributes frequently to national dailies and magazines on tourism and aviation subjects. Goyal is a well-known TV personality who is frequently invited by on STAR News, ZEE News, Aaj Tak, Sahara, NDTV and Doordarshan news for interviews, discussions and talks.

Goyal is an author of book entitled “Poverty Eradication & Economic Development through Tourism” which has won him wide recognition and acclaim.

Tourism can bring peace between India and Pak

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 20: It was galaxy of leaders from the travel and tourism trade that adorned the inauguration of the 14th annual South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) which was attended by over 220 foreign buyers and 1,350 Indian sellers.

The presence of the three powerful women Tourism Ministers – Ambika Soni (India), Nilofer Bakhtiar (Pakistan) and Kiran Choudhary (Haryana) -- outdid everyone else.

“Time has come for women (tourism ministers) to take charge and push for people to people exchanges which will usher in peace between India and Pakistan through tourism,” thundered Nilofer Bakhtiar, Pakistan Tourism Minister, to a loud applause.

Stressing that it was very important to bring peace between two neighbours, she said this was the right time as the ice was melting. “If men cannot solve the differences then let the ladies (women ministers) take charge and bring about peace,” said Ms Bakhtiar.

Indian Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni called for better air, train and bus connectivity to promote tourism in the SAARC Region.

Ms Soni said South Asia is witnessing unprecedented economic changes and for enhanced growth rates in the region, the need for greater connectivity in terms of rail, road and air is important. She said all members of the SAARC must collectively commit to making travel easier in the region.

She said people to people contact and connectivity are the best ways to have harmonious relationship and peace in the region. She said efforts should be made to work on Tourist Circuits which will take people to at least two to three countries.

The Minister said tourism has kept pace with the overall rate of growth of the economy in India. In the last five years, foreign tourist arrivals have grown by 78 per cent and foreign exchange earnings have increased by 122 per cent.

She said although in rare terms the figures may be small as compared to many of countries in the neighborhood, what is important is that we have taken up on ourselves the challenge to unleash the full potential of the tourism sector.

She said tourism has multiplier effect on the economy as the biggest employment generator and every year the sector is said to be creative two to three million jobs – both direct and indirect.

Listing the various initiatives taken by the Government in the tourism sector with the objective of providing visitors to India with a world class experience, Ms Soni said an Advance Passenger Information System and Long Term Visas are on the anvil to facilitate tourists. Foreign investment in the tourism sector is encouraged and overseas investors are allowed to invest up to 100 per cent equity on repatriation basis.

She said India is focusing on promotion of niche segments and innovative concepts such as Rural Tourism, Medical Tourism, Conference and Convention, Cruise Tourism, Golf Tourism, Luxury Trains, wedding and Honeymoon Tourism.

In his address, Chairman, Egyptian Tourism Authority, Mr. Amr El Egaby lauded the Incredible India Campaign and efforts of the Indian Tourism Ministry to spread social awareness about preservation and cleanliness of cities and historical monuments for domestic tourists.

Mr. Amr El Egaby said his country would be happy to know the process how Forts and Havelis have been converted into Heritage Hotels in India. He also offered Egyptian expertise in the field of monument preservation. The Egyptian side also suggested twinning of the cities between India and Egypt as the two countries have many similarities on historical destinations.

Panchayati Raj and North-East Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer invited the foreign and Indian buyers to explore the huge tourism potential present in the states of North-East.

Executive Director of SATTE Navin Berry proposed a vote of thanks.

IATO’S Silver Jubilee convention in Delhi

By Deepak Arora

Pix by Noyanika

NEW DELHI, April 14: A historic convention of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), marking its 25th anniversary, will be held here from September 1, according to Mr Subhash Goyal, President of the largest body of tour operators.

The Convention would be inaugurated either by the President or the Prime Minister who were being approached to grace this occasion. A publication is also being brought out on this occasion listing IATO’s achievements during the last 25 years.

Speaking at the association’s monthly luncheon at The Park here, Goyal disclosed IATO’s talks with Finance Ministry on 90 per cent abatement on Service Tax had reached a crucial stage and the outcome was expected within a fortnight.

Asked to comment on the reports that the Finance Ministry was ready to offer 75 per cent abatement, the IATO President said “We have received no official communication as yet but anything short of 90 per cent abatement would only benefit the big tour operators and not the small tour operators.”

He added that a tour operator’s margin of profit after making all payments under the package deal towards the hotel tariffs, transport, entry fees to museums etc. was not more than 10 per cent and he should be taxed only on this margin and not more.

South Asia’s biggest travel expo set to rock industry

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 14: Pakistan Tourism Minister Nilofer Bakhtiar, who is facing a fatwa or religious edict from Islamist radicals for hugging her para-jumping instructor, along with her counterparts from India Ambika Soni and Egypt would be attending the inaugural session of the three-day annual SATTE conference beginning Friday.

While Ambika Soni will inaugurate South Asia’s biggest B2B travel and tourism expo at New Delhi, the function will also be attended by Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer.

Mexico, Japan and Spain are among the exhibitors this year in the outbound segment of SATTE “Openworld”. Outbound at SATTE is gaining ground with almost 150 booths sold this year, perhaps making it the largest outbound specific event in this region.

As many as 15 countries would be exhibiting, bringing their private industry along with them to meet with their Indian counterparts. Kuwait, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Mauritius will be once again present this year as supporting countries.

The 14th annual SATTE Buyer-Seller consolidates upon the theme of “Openworld”, reflecting this huge growth curve in the business in all segments of the industry. SATTE promotes inbound, domestic, regional and outbound travel and tourism.
India has fast emerged into a major travel and tourism player and New Delhi is the new focal centre of this dramatic change.

New airlines, new routes are providing unprecedented connectivity. Incredible India is the flavour of our times. Inbound last year grew 15 per cent while outbound galloped to over 7 million, expected to cross 10 million by end 2007.

Dubai that is attending SATTE is coming with a strong Industry delegation. It will launch their India road show, kicking off with SATTE in New Delhi. Twelve organizations have registered already. Dubai has been registering steady growth from India, anxious to sustain, if not outgrow, the pace of growth registered ion recent years.

Pakistan and Egyptian Tourism Ministers will lead their respective country delegations to SATTE.

Pakistan would be leading Outbound Exhibitor at SATTE this year. The Pak Tourism Minister has been very keen to explore tourism between India and her country. Besides hosting the inaugural dinner, she will be bringing with her a huge cultural surprise for the attending buyers and sellers. Pakistan has taken an impressive country pavilion and will bring an upbeat private sector, along with PIA and PTDC to meet with their Indian counterparts.

Among the foreign hotel chains, Starwood, Accor, Hyatt and Carlson Hotel Groups are exhibiting this year, selling both Indian hotels as well as their overseas properties for the outbound.

Indian hotel space will be suitably represented by ITC Hotels, the Taj Group, Leela Hotels, the Park Hotels, Bharat Hotels, Sarovar, Jaypee and ITDC. Apart from the chains, some 50 other boutique and stand alone properties will be taking stands.

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir are partner states this year, creating umbrella pavilions along with the private industry. Along with them, there is the theme pavilion of the North East, featuring the eight states. Over and above, we have almost every nook and corner of the country represented at SATTE 2007.

The might of the Indian travel and tourism industry will also be seen at the expo with the growing importance of the travel agent and tour operator, selling domestic, regional and outbound. As many as 250 Buyers are expected from around the world.

SAARC emphasis on Tourism Union

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 10: Realising the potential of tourism in improving the life of the people of South Asia, the recent SAARC Summit had called for increasing the flow of tourists amongst the eight nations of the regional union.

While emphasizing on connectivity – physical, economic and of the mind, the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, sought to double the intra-SAARC flow of tourists in the next five years.

In his inaugural address at the 14th Summit at New Delhi, Dr Singh said the dream of full regional connectivity would not be realized merely by building roads and railways. “We must commit to actually making the travel freer and easier.”

As an immediate step, Indian Prime Minister announced a unilateral liberalization of visas for students, teachers, professors, journalists and patients from SAARC countries. India also proposed linking SAARC capitals through direct flights.

The fellow nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – welcomed New Delhi’s proposals that would not only boost the flow of tourists but would also help in economic development of the region.

Bangladesh Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed also called for intensifying SAARC efforts to promote the South Asia region as a common tourist hub.

Expressing similar sentiments, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said year 2007 has been named the “South Asia Year of Tourism”. He said “tourism is one of the most lucrative trades that has not been fully tapped and developed systematically in our region. Our governments need to find new avenues to develop inter-regional and intra-regional tourism in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.”

Rajapaksa said “more intra-regional travel will promote people to people contact we have advocated for so long. Further, this initiative will help our peoples to begin to appreciate the different cultures, different religions and multitude of traditions in our region.”

Subhash GoyalWelcoming SAARC leaders’ initiative to boost tourism in the region, IATO President Subhash Goyal called for a common SAARC visa and currency.

He also urged joint marketing and developing of joint tourism circuits among the nations.

Rajesh MishraFHRAI President Rajesh Mishra sought dismantling of artificial barriers like requirement of visas and development of tourism circuits, hotels and airports on the private public participation (PPP) model.

Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said the SAARC car rally traversing among our nations, except Afghanistan, was a graphic reminder of the potential of connectivity.

The cross-border caravan with 30 decorated Tata Safari cars is cruising through the seven-member States and end in Maldives on April 14. Some 110 participants from the member countries are taking part in the event. They will drive along an 8,200-km path, across varying terrain, over a 30-day period.

Saying that SAARC belongs to over 1.4 billion people, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said the key to regional success is greater connectivity. “South Asia must re-connect with itself, as well as to the rest of the world.”

To strengthen tourism contact, Haryana Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhry met President Rajapaksa who assured that Sri Lanka would be participating in the 2008 Surajkund craftsmela at Faridabad.

Mrs Choudhry said such participation will promote the trade between the two countries and the artisans of both the countries will be benefited by such ties. She said that the Sri Lanka President expressed his keen interest in holding such type of melas in his country also.

Almaty to Host a Grand Tourism Fair

By Deepak Arora

April 10: Kazakhstan, often called as a Paradise of Central Asia, will host the three-day Kazakhstan International Tourism & Travel Fair (KITF) 2007 in Almaty from April 26 to showcase its booming tourism sector to worldwide tourist operators, investors and travellers.

Today Kazakhstan’s great connectivity has made it a very popular tourist destination. It has over 1,000 tourism agencies that offer appealing tour packages to travellers and vacationers.

“KITF 2007” will be served as a meeting point of participants. It offers a unique opportunity to find new business contacts and access to up-to-date information on Central Asian tourism. As many as 30,000 visitors are expected to visit the fair.

“KITF 2007” will focus on the sections such as national and regional travel agencies, tour operators and travel agents, airlines and air agencies, hotels, hostels, health centres, transport agencies, business trips and intensive tours, educational tourism, bus tours, sport tourism, healthcare tours, museums, parks, insurance and banking services in tourism; IT in tourism and many others.

Information on participation and facilities available at the Tourism Fair could be accessed on the website

Haryana speedily developing Herbal Parks

By Deepak Arora

President Kalam with Kiran ChoudharyNEW DELHI, April 3: India has been pioneer for centuries in developing and realizing the potential of herbs and its medicinal values. We as a nation have been reviving this tradition. In fact, President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, has added a herbal garden in the already existing beautiful and much admired garden in the precincts of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

As a pioneer State, Haryana has now taken a lead in the country in developing herbal parks. Haryana Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhary has reiterated that the State was committed to develop Herbal Parks in all the districts and was striving to increase the forest cover in the State.

She conveyed this when she called on the President, Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, recently. Dr Kalam appreciated the efforts being made by the Haryana Government in the development of Herbal Parks and advised that afforestation should also be developed at par with urban development so as to maintain a sound ecological balance.

It may be mentioned that Dr.Kalam had inaugurated the first Herbal Park in Yamunanagar district of the State and had evinced keen interest in the promotion of more such parks.

Mrs.Choudhary assured the President that Herbal Parks would be developed in a big way in the State, besides which efforts would also be made to increase the forest cover from 6.6 per cent to 10 per cent by the year 2010.

Bahrain, India to boost tourism ties

NEW DELHI, April 3: Soon after the visit of the Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to India, Bahrain has decided to further improve its tourism ties with New Delhi by launching a campaign to increase traffic between the two nations.

Magnum Events and Exhibitions Management (MEEM), organisers of the Bahrain International Travel Expo (BITE), will join India Tourism to launch the campaign during "BITE 2007" in early May.

"As part of the campaign, a 76-page colour brochure on India in Arabic and English will be launched at BITE 2007 next month," according to Jamil Wafa, Chairman, Magnum Holdings group.

The event will be held at Bahrain International Exhibition Centre from May 8 to 10. "It will be our earnest endeavour to strengthen the tourism ties between Bahrain and India, following up on the outcome of the successful visit of the Crown Prince to India last month."

India Tourism regional director for West Asia and Africa, Kamal Lochan Das informed that the number of tourists from the Gulf and other West Asian countries increased from 120,000 in 2005 to 150,000 last year.

Indian embassy figures show that 8,000 people were issued visas last year to visit India as compared to 6,450 in the previous year.


NEW DELHI, April 2: A CAG report has indicted Ashok Travel and Tours, travel division of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), for not doing enough to recover Rs 6.68 crore in 2005-06 from the government departments in lieu of booking air tickets for them.

The report said the division not only did not follow the established procedures for recovering its money, it continued to deal with defaulter departments and extend credit facilities to them.

The report said "audit scrutiny of debtors revealed that the efforts to recover debts as envisaged in their credit policy were not made by the management and there was no system in place for debtors' control. The company did not even file a legal case (against the debtors)."

ITDC has also came for criticism in the CAG report which pointed out that improper handling of a hotel project in Chandigarh had resulted in a loss of Rs 4 crore to the company.

ITDC had acquired land for a five-star hotel in Chandigarh in 1981 but began construction only in 1999. However, midway through the construction, the company realised it did not have enough funds to finance the project and sold the hotel off in 2002.

"The decision of the management to take up the construction of the hotel was not based on sound financial considerations and resulted in a loss to the extent of Rs 4.02 crore with contingent liability amounting to Rs 12.55 crore," the report said.

Conserving monumental cultural heritage

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 20: India cultural heritage is monumental. Be it the monument of love, Taj Mahal, or Red Fort, Qutab Minar or Chaar Minar of Ajanata and Ellora, tourism is incomplete without conserving and strengthening the cultural heritage of the country. It is for this reason every efforts must be made for a proper survey and documentation of archaeological resources.

Reaslising this huge potential and its contribution to the tourism of the country, Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni has launched a National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities. With this mission, the Government has taken a firm step in the direction.

All of us can contribute towards this by doing simple things like not dirtying the monuments during our visits. In fact, Ambika Soni went one step and asked the industrial houses and Members of Parliament to contribute for this mission. “MPs can earmark some money of their MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for conservation and preservation of monuments of their choice in the country,” said Soni while launching the mission.

Every MP gets Rs.2 crore each year for the development of their constituency under the MP Local Area Development Scheme.

The National Mission is a big leap forward for the conservation of its millions of heritage sites. The Government has allocated it with a budget outlay of Rs.90 crore to create a broad database and devise ways for preservation.

Supporting Soni’s proposal, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, went one step further and said “not only MPs but members of the State Legislatures can also contribute in conservation and preservation of heritage sites and monuments through their Local Area Development Fund.”

Ahluwalia said Planning Commission supports fully the ideas about preservation of monuments as it will help future generations to understand the past of the country. He suggested that any policy conceived by the Archaeological Survey of India should be put on its website for public debate.

'The history department of various universities and colleges can also ask students to give suggestions for better upkeep of these places,' he said.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Director General C. Babu Rajeev said the newly launched mission has a five-year mandate and within the period it will prepare a national register of built heritage, sites and antiquities.

It will set up a state-level database on built heritage, sites and antiquities for information and dissemination to planners and researchers and for better management of such cultural resources. It attempts to create a systematic, accessible and retrievable inventory in the country.

Babu Rajiv also said it would promote awareness about the benefits of preserving the historical and cultural aspects and “extend training facility and capacity building to the concerned state departments, local bodies, NGOs, universities, museums, communities in the field of conservation of built heritage, and preservation and management of antiquarian remains.”

Right now, only some 7,000 monuments are “protected” — 3,667 by the Archaeological Survey of India, the rest by state governments — and some 4.5 lakh antique pieces are registered under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act.

“These numbers are minuscule compared to India’s vast and rich cultural heritage,” said Badal K Das, Culture Secretary.

The ASI will co-ordinate with state governments and voluntary organisations to put in place an easily accessible register of monuments. This would include half-forgotten structures that have not been identified as monuments and are “fast disappearing without any record”. The team will similarly document antiques.

According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, anything classified as a monument must be at least 100 years old. The national mission, however, will also consider any structure that existed before Independence. The mission hopes to generate awareness on conservation and perhaps pick select monuments for more attention.

'Incredible India' leaves mark at Berlin

By Deepak Arora

Ambika Soni and Kiran ChoudhryNEW DELHI, March 13: It was ‘Incredible India’ all the way in Berlin. The Indian billboards, rickshaw, songs and dances, fashions and food left an indelible mark on all those who visited the just concluded ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism fair.

“As a partner state, the five-day International Tourism Bourse (ITB) provided the ideal platform for showcasing India’s unique tourism products and promoting India as a preferred destination,” said Ms Ambika Soni, Tourism Minister, who had inaugurated the Indian pavilion on March 7.

Set up in an area of 870 square metres, the Indian pavilion saw participation of 20 state tourism departments, organisations like Air India, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and the India Tourism Development Corporation. There were 49 chefs, 75 folk artistes and over 50 travel agents, tour operators, hotels and resorts that rocked Berlin with Indian cuisine, dances and culture.

Over 5 million people from across Europe visited the fair in Germany, which has emerged as the fastest growing market for India in Europe. Germany sent more than 140,000 tourists to India last year. It also has the highest percentage growth amongst all the countries in Europe in sending tourists to India in the last three years.

Europe is important to Indian tourism because most Europeans are big spending travellers not merely visiting relatives unlike many from America.

Subhash GoyalIndia’s participation at the world's biggest tourism fair has given its growing tourist trade a boost and created a new image for India, according to participants. It also helped in reaching out to the largest audience of travel industry representatives, decision makers, the media and potential travelers, said Mr Subhash Goyal, IATO President.

Indian exhibitors also received more bookings and business inquiries than in the previous years at the show and India’s participation as partner country also successfully generated greater interest among the German and other European nationals.

Mr Goyal expressed confident that German tourist travel to India in the coming years would benefit from the promotion campaign at the ITB.

As the partner state, India hosted the opening ceremony, during which a cultural programme featured a unique fashion and audio visual presentation -- The Tree of Life -- portraying the country's rich textile craft heritage in contemporary terms, while retaining its cultural ethos.

It showcased a spectacular visual journey across some of the most craft rich areas of India and toldl the historic story of its 16 million crafts persons who, till today, practice their art much as their ancestors did.

Ritu Kumar, one of India's foremost fashion designers, mesmerized the audience with the show that highlighted the influence of Indian design motifs on the world.

The dance extravaganza, thereafter, included the Kathak and Mohiniattam dance forms, musicians from Rajasthan, folk dancers from Gujarat and Orissa, drummers from Manipur, exuberant and rhythmic dancers from Punjab, martial dance forms, acrobatic acts and a lot more.

The daily activities at the pavilion included “Colours of India” as its theme and comprised cultural performances, live demonstration of Ayurveda and art and craft skills, application of henna, and distribution of brochures, posters, bindis, bangles and other promotional material.

Indian ambience was further enhanced with the graffiti splattered on the shuttle buses plying within the fair ground. There were also a host of seminars on subjects like business opportunities in India, trekking in the Himalayas, medical and wellness tourism, and scuba diving and river rafting.

For 40 years, ITB Berlin has been a driving force in the worldwide travel industry, attracting high-ranking professionals with decision-making powers, and has shown a steady increase in the number of exhibitors and visitors year-on-year. This year nearly 11,000 exhibitors from 184 countries participated in the fair.

Kiran ChoudharyHaryana’s Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhary, who led the three-member delegation, made her presence felt by successfully marketing the State to the international tour operators and businessmen.

Ms Choudhary stated that Haryana Tourism intends to organize specific tourism packages for the tourist from Europe after having a liaison with various tourism organization of Northern States in India.

“This will felicitate the foreign tourists coming to India to have a hustle-free visit to India and would give them a glimpse of its rich cultural heritage and architecture,” she said.

The Minister stated that the concept of public-private-partnership have been successfully tried in Haryana. She invited them to invest in the hotel and tourism industry in Haryana and benefit from the friendly investment policies. She also spoke about the avenues of tourism available at Kurukshetra, Pinjore, Morni Hills, Surajkund and in golf and adventure tourism.

The other members of Haryana delegation included Keshni Anand Arora, Secretary and Commissioner, Tourism, and Satwanti Ahlawat, Managing Director, Haryana Tourism Corporation.

Chatwal to open chain of hotels in India

NEW DELHI, March 10: Sant Singh Chatwal, a sikh Indian-American businessman, will invest Rs 4,500 crore by 2009 for setting up a chain of hotels, including 7-star, in India.

All hotels would be state-of-the-art with different food restaurants, discotheques and conference rooms. "We want to create convention centres with a capacity for 2,000-3,000 people in every hotel," Chatwal, President and CEO of Hampshire Hotels and Resorts (HHR) said.

"We are doing the master planning for phase-I, which includes high-end 7-star hotels in major cities like Delhi/Noida, Mumbai and Bangalore and dream hotels in Kochi, Hyderabad and Chennai," he said.

"India is a virgin country in the hospitality sector... I would like to explore the potential here," said Chatwal.

Elaborating on the business plans, he said he has already acquired land in Bangalore, Noida, Kochi and Hyderabad while negotiations are on in Mumbai and Chennai.

HHR owns hotels in the US, UK and Thailand with over 2,500 rooms in Manhattan. Along with this, the 1.5 billion dollar group has set up Bombay Palace locations around the world including Montreal, Toronto, New York, Washington, Houston, Budapest and Kuala Lumpur.

Chatwal is a trustee of former US President Bill Clinton's William Clinton Foundation, which focuses on global issues of health, security, economic empowerment (HIV/AIDS initiative).

Ambika Soni seeks tax waiver for hotels in entire country

By Deepak Arora

Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, March 7: Bowing to the demand of the FHRAI, IATO and other tourism and hotel lobbies, the Ministry of Tourism has asked the finance ministry to extend the five-year income tax waiver for small and budget hotels in the NCR to the rest of the country.

The tax waiver, announced in the Union Budget on February 28, was for Delhi and the NCR region, including Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad.

Tourism Minister Ambika Soni, who is in Berlin to attend the ITB Berlin, said that she has written to the Finance Minister P Chidambaram asking that the five-year tax holiday be extended to the entire country. After all, we are selling the entire country as a destination and accommodation is required in almost all cities."

The tax waiver for Delhi and surrounding areas has been done keeping in mind the Commonwealth Games 2010. "A little loss to the exchequer will reap massive benefits in the long term," said Ms Soni.

Rajesh MishraIn his comments on the Union Budget, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) Rajesh Mishra had forcefully said that the tax holiday should be extended to the entire country and also include 5-star hotels.

India received 4.4 million tourists in 2006, a jump of 13 percent over the previous year and is targeting 10 million tourists by 2010. But a major deterrent for inbound traffic is the lack of rooms.

According to estimates, there is a shortage of 20,000 rooms in Delhi alone, a problem that needs to be addressed before the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

But tourism officials point out that while Delhi must be a thrust area, other cities of tourist interest like Agra, Khajuraho or metros like Bangalore and Chennai should not be ignored.

The high room rents are a huge deterrent for tourists and travel agencies are very often forced to redirect tourists interested in India to cheaper south East Asian destinations like Malaysia and Singapore.

Mr O P Ahuja, former IATO President, says that the shortage of rooms and sharp jump in hotel tariffs have made Delhi and Mumbai as the most expensive destinations in the world.

Haryana to promote tourism destinations at Berlin convention

Kiran ChoudharyBERLIN, March 7: A three-member delegation, led by Haryana Minister of State Kiran Choudhary, is participating in ITB-Berlin, being organised from March 7 to 11.

Other members of the delegation are Keshni Anand Arora, Secretary and Commissioner, Tourism, and Satwanti Ahlawat, Managing Director, Haryana Tourism Development Corporation.

The delegates from various states of the country were also participating in this five-day convention. Haryana is show-casing its achievements in the field of tourism and projecting Kurukshetra, Pinjore, Morni Hills and Surajkund as tourist destinations.

The state is highlighting the avenues of tourism available in the state, including heritage property at Kurukshetra, Pinjore, golf tourism and adventure tourism.

The new avatar of Paris!

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 6: The city of Paris has myriad facets. It is a melting pot of romance, culture, leisure, fashion and lifestyle, gastronomy, conventions and exhibitions.

The Paris Visitors and Conventions Bureau in association with Maison de la France and French Tourist Office India launched the first ever edition of `Paris Event' in India on Monday.

Paris Event is a showcase of Parisian tourism offerings to the Indian media and travel trade. It also calls for the Indian people to come and discover the new avatar of Paris.

Over 10 of 17 members of the Paris India Committee participated in the 2007 road show.

The India Committee is a platform that brings together Parisian tourism and hospitality players who have a commercial interest in the Indian market and who are constantly endeavoring to adapt their products to cater to the ever-changing needs of this dynamic market.

Spearheaded by the Paris Visitors and Convention Bureau, this committee for the first time in India exhibited a plethora of offerings through a dedicated Parisian platform.

While Paris is the gateway city into France and certainly the first and natural destination for Indians, there is a strong need to create more awareness of the innumerable tourism opportunities in and around the capital.

And this is essentially the objective of the event - to better acquaint the Indian travel fraternity with the multitude of options that Paris has to offer.

Extend tax holiday to hotels on all-India basis

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 6: There has been a mixed reaction to the Union Budget 2007-08 from the Travel and Tourism industry. Though the industry has welcomed a 5-year tax holiday for the 2, 3 and 4 star hotels as well as for convention centres with a seating capacity of not less than 3000 in the NCR, it has asked the Finance Minister to extend this benefit to rest of India too.

Rajesh MishraThough the National Capital Region (NCR) is facing shortage of 20,000 rooms to meet the challenge of the Commonwealth games, FHRAI President Rajesh Mishra says that India needs one lakh hotel rooms to meet the booming tourism growth.

Therefore, Mr Mishra says, “the tax holiday must be granted on all-India basis and not limited to Delhi NCR. The new hotels would also help check room tariffs that have been skyrocketing.”

The President FHRAI (Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India) also called for tax holidays for the 5-star hotels on all India basis.

Mr O P Ahuja, Chairman, Holiday Makers, says that China has one million hotel rooms to receive over 30 million tourists. He says that the Government must on urgent basis announce incentives to the hotel and tourism industry, which churns out maximum number of jobs; so that India could en cash the tourism boom.

He also warned that the increasing room tariffs have made one of the most expensive destinations in the world. “There is a need to check this by ensuring that rooms mushroom all over the country quickly.”

Subhash GoyalIndian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) President Subhash Goyal said "the increased allocation for tourism infrastructure and also income tax holiday for hotels and convention centres are very positive steps to boost tourism."

However, Mr Goyal said unless the land was made available on long-term lease or at concessional rates, this would not have much impact.

Expressing similar sentiments, Mr Rajendra Kumar, Vice President of FHRAI and Director of Ambassador Hotel, said "if the Government is serious about budget hotels, land has to be made available at resonable rates. Buying land for hundreds of crores means that only expensive five-stars can be set up to recover investments made."

FHRAI Honorary Secretary S P Jain said, “Rs 520 crore have been granted for building tourist infrastructure in 2007-2008. The total planned and non-planned outlay of the budget is Rs 6,80,521 crore and against this, a meager amount of Rs 520 crore has been given for development of tourism infrastructure, which is an eyewash and will not serve the purpose.”

S P Jain“We are campaigning for Incredible India and where tourists come, they find poor infrastructure and such a small amount will not be sufficient to even create the public utilities and basic needs across the country,” said Mr Jain.

Although tourism is the third highest foreign exchange earner and highest employment generating industry, still the Government’s reluctance to promote tourism is really painful.

In a nutshell, this budget has only partly fulfilled the expectations of the industry and the Finance Minister could have done a lot when the tax revenue is escalating and the economy is booming.

Tourism gets a push in Budget

By Deepak Arora

P ChidamabaramNEW DELHI: The travel and tourism and aviation industry has by and large welcomed the sops in the Union Budget for 2007-08 presented in Parliament on Wednesday and felt it would give further boost these sectors.

The Finance Minister proposed a five-year holiday from income tax for new two, three or four-star hotels in Delhi and adjacent districts between April this year and March 2010 in view of the Commonwealth Games. Finance Minister admitted that there was a requirement of 20,000 rooms for the Commonwealth Games.

Mr Chidambaram said this exemption would also apply to convention centres with a seating capacity of not less than 3,000.

"They should be completed and begin operations in the National Capital Territory of Delhi or in the adjacent districts of Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad or Gautam Budh Nagar during the period April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2010," he said.

In a generous gesture, the Finance Minister hiked the allocation in tourist infrastructure development from Rs 423 crore last year to Rs 520 crore this year. Further, mutual funds will now be able to launch dedicated infrastructure funds.

To give a push to national highways that are arteries of tourism movement, he announced to increase provision for National Highway Development Programme to Rs 10,667 crore versus Rs 9,945 crore. Further, allocation for rural road programme of RIDF-13 continues to be at Rs 4,000 crore.

Ankur BhatiaResponding to the Budget, Mr Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director, The Bird Group, said "this budget definitely brings in good news for the travel and tourism industry. We have enough reason to cheer, as we gear up for the upcoming common wealth games, with the increase in budgetary allocation for tourist infrastructure and the tax holiday for four and five star hotels."

While welcoming tax holiday for the hotels and convention centers in the NCR, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) President Rajesh Mishra said "it should have been extended to rest of the country too."

Rajesh MishraMr Mishra said "the NCR may need 20,000 rooms for the Commonwealth Games, but India needs one lakh hotel rooms. Due to this shortage, the room tariffs are skyrocketing."

He said "The Finance Minister has taken a very narrow view of the actual shortage of rooms prevailing in the country. Therefore, he must extend the tax holiday to rest of the country and also include 5-star hotels in this scheme."

FHRAI Honorary Secretary S P Jain said, “Rs 520 crore have been granted for building tourist infrastructure in 2007-2008. The total planned and non-planned outlay of the budget is Rs 6,80,521 crore and against this, a meager amount of Rs 520 crore has been given for development of tourism infrastructure, which is an eyewash and will not serve the purpose.”

S P Jain“We are campaigning for Incredible India and where tourists come, they find poor infrastructure and such a small amount will not be sufficient to even create the public utilities and basic needs across the country,” said Mr Jain.

Although tourism is the third highest foreign exchange earner and highest employment generating industry, Mr Kamal Sharma, Secretary General of FHRAI, said still the Government’s reluctance to promote tourism is really painful.

Mr Mishra welcomed the venture capital fund to promote business tourism for hotel-cum-convention centres as a pass-through status. “We further welcome the proposal of the launch of US $ 5 Billion for infrastructure financing initiative by Citigroup, Blackstone, IDFC and IIFCL,” he added.

Mr Kamal Sharma said that it was disappointing to note that the Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) on travelling has not been abolished. “This has direct correlation with the tourism industry and the Finance Minister should have taken a positive view on this,” he added.

Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) President Subhash Goyal said "the increased allocation for tourism infrastructure and also income tax holiday for hotels and convention centres are very positive steps to boost tourism."

Subhash GoyalHowever, Mr Goyal said unless the land was made available on long-term lease or at concessional rates, this would not have much impact.

IATO President also expressed his happiness over the higher outlay for national highway development programme as this will facilitate surface transport packages commensurate with automobile revolution in India.

Mr Goyal expressed his disappointment with the fact that the Budget did not say a word on exemption on the service tax which hurt its competition with rival destinations in India's neighbourhood.

Expressing his "disappointment", the IATO President said the tourism industry's long standing demand of full exemption or 90 per cent abatement on the service tax has not been addressed by the Finance Ministry.

"Our members were also expecting relaxation on the Fringe Benefit Tax on the travelling, use of telephone etc as these are essential tools for undertaking tourism business," Goyal said.

High allocation for ITDC and North East tourism

NEW DELHI, Feb 28: After being dwarfed in terms of properties and prestige by disinvestment in past few years, India Tourism Development Corporation got a shot in the arm with Rs 146.35 crore allocated for its revival in Budget 2007.

Significantly, the state-owned public sector company, which has been battling for survival after the disinvestment blow, had received no budgetary support for past two fiscals.

Recognising the "tremendous scope" of development of tourism through diverse attractions available in the North East, the region came under special focus with the Finance Minister proposing Rs 96 crore in the plan outlay.

The Minister also earmarked a lumpsum provision of Rs 96 crore in the tourism budget for projects and schemes benefitting the region.

Tourism as a whole got a fillip with allocation of Rs 996.62 crore this year against Rs 842.82 last fiscal -- registering an increase of 18.2 per cent.

The high-profile 'Incredible India" campaign, domestic and overseas, of Ministry of Tourism got unfaltering support of the Finance Ministry with allocation standing at Rs 228.2 crore for the third consecutive fiscal.

Budget likely to have sops for tourism

By Deepak Arora

Ambika SoniNEW DELHI, Feb 27: Taxes are one of the major stumbling blocks in realizing full potential of tourism in the country. Tourism Minister Ambika Soni realizes this and has been pleading with Finance Minister P Chidambaram to slack taxes so that required investment can come into the infrastructure sector.

On the eve of the Union Budget, the Tourism Minister has expressed confidence that there would be some tax cuts, particularly for the hotel sector. "This will help in reduction of hotel tariffs, which are very high right now," said Ms Soni.

"We have urged Finance Ministry to give tax holidays for parties investing in budget hotels. I have been fighting for this for quite long. May be you have some good news to hear in this budget," she said.

The minister also pointed out that $ 6.5 billion of foreign direct investment is in the pipeline in the hospitality sector but then added: "The government must realize the fact that private players will invest only if this is facilitated, for instance, by single window clearances."

A recent report by PATA entitled 'Total Tourism India' says that a wide range of taxes on everything related to tourism and tourists was "one of the main deterrents to tourism growth" in India.

Credit card major Visa and the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) have jointly brought out the report that took 12 months to prepare. It recommends a seven-point action plan to advance India's tourism development.

This includes expanding airport capacity, reforming airline policy, expanding accommodation inventory, reducing and simplifying the taxation regime, cutting bureaucratic delays, boosting human resources and streamlining visa processing.

The report said India was one of the world's biggest and fastest expanding tourism markets with inbound, domestic and outbound travel setting new growth records in 2006.

However, significant infrastructure limitations, such as clogged airports, ageing air traffic control systems and a chronic hotel shortage — in combination with slow and cumbersome bureaucracy — was threatening to slow down India's ascension, it said.

The 300-page report says that severe shortage of hotel rooms has put Indian tourism on a huge competitive disadvantage as compared to many of its South and South-East Asian neighbours. It says India suffers from a chronic shortage of high-quality yet reasonably-priced hotel rooms.

The report says "there is an immediate opportunity for the development of a broader range of three and four-star accommodation. Estimates currently place the accommodation shortfall in the vicinity of 1.5 million rooms."

It says "excessive red tape on development approvals and slow release of land are contributing factors for the shortage. Only a concerted national effort with the states, civic bodies and village councils on board can address this enormous task."

They range from luxury hotel taxes such as 12.5 per cent on the published room tariff, to taxes on domestic airline tickets, which vary from sector to sector, 20 per cent on alcoholic drinks service and state toll taxes.

"These contribute to raising overall prices, potentially to unsustainable levels, thereby jeopardizing the competitiveness of India's hotels, tour operators and other travel and tourism-related companies," said the report.

The report said international inbound arrivals had peaked at a new record level of 4.4 million in 2006, driven by the successful re-positioning of the destination brand through the 'Incredible India' marketing campaign. Domestic trips reached an all-time high of 430 million in 2006, up by 13 per cent in 2005.

The report also showed that international outbound trips by resident nationals peaked at around 8.3 million in 2006.

Nearly three million arrivals were from Asia-Pacific destinations, making India the region's fourth-largest source market — after China, Japan and Korea. Inbound tourist traffic increased by 45 per cent and foreign exchange earning by 62 per cent in 2006, as compared to the previous year.

The largest inbound tourist traffic came from Germany, the number of arrivals from which saw an increase of 69 per cent — followed by Australia (64), USA and UK. Most outbound traffic was to Macau (31 per cent), Papua, New Guinea, Malaysia, Cambodia and Australia.

Noting that 97 of the tourist trips were domestic and only three per cent outbound, the report said domestic trips numbered 430 million in 2006.

Tourism industry praises railway budget

By Sushma Arora

Subhash GoyalNEW DELHI, Feb 26: Mr Subhash Goyal, President Indian Association of Tour Operators, has welcomed the Railway Budget for 2007-08 for its proposed reduction in AC first class fares and NO hike in passenger fares besides introduction of 32 new trains and construction of 225 stations.

“These steps are sure to benefit the domestic as well as international travelers and help the tourism industry reach further heights," said Mr Goyal.

He said these steps would also help the railways to fight the competition with budget airlines.

IATO President also praised the budget for re-vamping of railway infrastructure and ensuring easy availability of rail tickets at petrol pumps and ATMs.

Mr. Goyal said the Railway Minister Mr Lalu Prasad had shown great consideration for women and senior citizens by ensuring them priority lower berths. He also appreciated the budget for announcing specially designed coaches for the handicapped.

Subhash Goyal conferred top travel award

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 24: Mr Subhash Goyal, President The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and Chairman STIC Travel Group (one of the India’s largest travel group), has been honoured by ITFT-Group and the Directorate General Resettlement (Ministry of Defence) Government of India, with the “most innovative tourism personality of the year 2006 Award”.

The award was given by the Himachal Governor, Justice (Retd.) V.S. Kokje, on behalf of ITFT-Group at Chandigarh on Friday, for his “pioneering efforts and dynamic approach to develop India as a green destination both for domestic and international tourist.”

Earlier Mr Goyal, in his keynote address at a seminar organized by ITFT-Group and Directorate General Resettlement outlined the contribution of aviation and tourism in the national economy and the present scenario in these two industries.

Mr Goyal, acquainted the gathering (consisting mainly of retiring and retired Defense officers), with the employment and self-entrepreneur opportunities available in different segments of tourism and civil aviation.

The third time President of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), Mr Goyal is also Chairman of ASSOCHAM’s Expert Committee on Tourism and Aviation and Co-Chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India.

He is also associated with several Government bodies and contributes frequently to national dailies and magazines on tourism and aviation subjects. Mr. Goyal is a well-known TV personality who is frequently invited by on STAR News, ZEE News, Aaj Tak, Sahara, NDTV, DD News for interviews, discussions and talks.

Mr Goyal is an author of book entitled “Poverty Eradication and Economic Development Through Tourism” which has won him wide recognition and acclaim.

FHRAI seeks higher budgetary support

By Deepak Arora

Rajesh Mishra with S P Jain and Rajindera KumarNEW DELHI, Feb 14: The Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) has sought higher Budget support of at least 1 to 2 per cent from present 0.11 per cent for travel and tourism sector.

In a tête-à-tête with this correspondent, FHRAI president Rajesh Mishra said “our neighbouring countries are flouring as they have much higher share for travel and tourism in their respective national budgets.”

To make his point, Mr Mishra said “the share of travel and tourism in India Budget is 0.11 per cent compared to China’s 3.8 per cent, Singapore 9 per cent, Malaysia 7.2 per cent, Thailand 6.8 per cent and Nepal 14 per cent.”

FHRAI Secretary General Kamal Sharma, Honorary Secrtary S P Jain, President Rajesh Mishra and Vijai PandeHe said that India last year witnessed 13 per cent growth in number of foreign tourists and 17 per cent growth in foreign exchange earnings from January 2006 to December 2006. The foreign exchange earnings from over 4.4 million foreign tourists were US $ 6,569 million compared to $ 5,730 million in 2005 and $ 4,769 million in 2004.

Mr Mishra reminded that all this was happening at a time when India was in the pre-boom period in the tourism sector. “We already are facing shortage of hotel rooms and Delhi itself needs over 60,000 rooms in the next two to three years to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth Games.”

What will happen when the boom arrives in the tourism sector in the next 5 to 7 years? The FHRAI president said “India needs investment of US $ 320 billion for infrastructure development to be ready for this boom.”

He also asked the Finance Minister to announced measures to give a boost to the hotel industry in the country to meet the future challenges. He urged the Finance Minister to declare hotel as an industry under the Industrial Development Regulation Act 1951 which would allow the industry to get electricity at concessional rates.

FHRAI teamMr Mishra also sought infrastructure status for the hotel industry under Section 80 1A of the Income Tax Act which would give 10 year tax holiday to smaller and budget hotels.

The FHRAI president stressed on the need for building budget hotels and creation of land banks and building hotels under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.

Mr Rajindera Kumar, president, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India, and Vice President FHRAI, composite tax in place of multiplicity of taxes.

He also urged the Government to give a helping hand to the upgrade one, two and three star hotels to meet the challenge of the Commonwealth Games.

Mr S P Jain, Honorary Secretary, FHRAI, sought single window clearance for the hotel industry. “Otherwise India may miss an opportunity which is knocking at our door,” he added.

The members also called for abolishing of punitive taxation measures and fringe benefit tax. They also urged the Government make VAT uniform at 4 per cent as it’s as high as 12.5 per cent in some States.

The FHRAI has also requested that service tax be exempted on services like mandap keeper, convention services, health club and beauty parlours, fitness centres, dry cleaning services, rent a cab services, event management and internet access.

Mr Mishra pointed out that basic custom duty on liquor at 160 per cent is already high and the high rate of additional duty or countervailing duty is taking the overall duty in certain price categories to about 600 per cent. He said the excise duties of State Government if calculated on landed CIF price of imported product comes to 15 to 20 per cent.

The FHRAI also sought restoration of depreciation rate of hotels to 20 per cent, waiving of excise duty on unpackaged freshly made cakes and pastries and abolishing of service tax on foreign exchange earnings.

Mr Vijai Pande, General Secretary, Uttar Pradesh Hotel and Restaurant Association, called for Leave Travel Concession (LTC) all income tax payers to promote domestic tourism and development of hospitality sector. At present, 40 lakh government employees are given the LTC benefits.

Mr Pande said each income-tax payer should be allowed 10 per cent rebate in income-tax to avail the LTC facility every year like in the government organizations.

“This was required to meet expenses on visiting tourist places by the income-tax payer along with their family members once a year and, in turn, will increase the flow of money, employment avenues and tax revenue of the government,” he added.

India-China Year of Friendship Launched

Tourism to usher world peace, stability: Soni

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: India and China on Wednesday launched ‘India –China Year of Friendship through Tourism’ in 2007 to promote tourism between the two countries.

Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhoaxing and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee attened the inaugural ceremony of the tourism year.

In her address, Mrs Ambika Soni said “India and China, as leading economies of the world, are set to play dynamic roles on the global stage in the 21st century.”

She said “friendship between the two countries is extremely pertinent for world peace and stability. It is in this larger context that we see the significance of bilateral cooperation through tourism.”

Mrs Soni said the Civil Aviation Agreement signed between the two countries in April 2005 has triggered the airline connectivity between India and China in a modest way. But this does not cater to the full potential of our tourism, she added.

She said “we should both aim at having at least 50 direct flights a week in the coming years between our two countries connecting different cities.”

Mrs Soni said the ‘Action Plan’ which has been drawn out through mutual consultations, has several interesting activities to be undertaken this year.

“There will be several familiarization trips for tour operators and media to showcase our tourist attractions. We should also make it possible that both India and China open their tourist offices this year in order to undertake promotion and marketing of their tourism destinations more aggressively in each other’s country.”

Mr. Li Zhaoxing said both China and India enjoy splendid culture and rich tourism resources and there was a sound basis and great potential for enhancing our cooperation in tourism and cultural fields.

He said last year 450,000 Chinese and Indians exchanged visits. This, however, is still a small number compared with our total population of 2.4 billion. He said the two sides need to redouble efforts to increase our exchanges.

Mr. Li said the launching of Year of China-India Friendship through tourism is an important decision by the leaders of our two countries. It is a key component of the ten-pronged strategy aimed at enhancing China-India strategic and cooperative partnership.

Mr Pranab Mukherjee said with the rise in living standards, both India and China have become impressive sources for outbound tourist traffic. “Increased tourist traffic between the two countries will help up rediscover our shared cultural heritage and bring to the fore the instinctive warmth and friendship the people of India and China feel for each other.”

To mark the launch, a joint logo was unveiled to mark and publicize 2007 as India-China Year of Friendship. A monthly action plan till January 2008 was also released. Chinese version of Incredible India website and a set of India’s tourism literature in Chinese language was also released on the occasion.

IATO builds on tourism links with Mexico

By Sushma Arora

IATO-MexicoNEW DELHI, Feb 9: While welcoming Mexican delegation headed by Ambassador Rogelio Granguillhome, IATO President Subhash Goyal stressed on need to build tourism and poeple-to-people links with Mexico.

In a colourful presentation, Mr. Guillermo Eguiarte, Director, Mexico Tourism Board, showcased the potential of Mexico for Indian tourists with beaches, wonderful scenic places, California peninsula’s rich attractions, golfing holidays, marine life, rock culture and Maya civilization experience with the concluding remark ‘Mexico Beyond Your Expectations”.

He also talked about infrastructure facilities available and how affordable packages are on offer within the Mexico City and role of tourism in economy of Mexico.

Mexican Ambassadorin India Rogelio Granguillhome talked about the link between Indian and Mexican ancient civilizations and how tourism could build bridges between Mexico and India in the fiel of tourism, trade and commerce. It could also help establish people to people contact among the nationals of both the countries.

In his welcome address, Mr Subhash Goyal talked about the role the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) played in the country’s tourism promotions and how India can learn from Mexico with experience for infrastructure development which has more hotels in one beach city than whole of India.

He urged the Mexican Ambassador to help create awareness among the Indian tourists about his beautiful country and also to ensure that prospective tourists with business and leisure do not face any problem in getting visas.

"Indians are great shoppers and would like to visit Mexico which has great shopping potential. Indians are termed number one shoppers in Dubai, Singapore, the UK," said Mr Goyal.

He also called for visa relaxations so that more Indians could be drawn towards Mexico. He said that many Indians would like to visit Mexico as an extended tour from USA.

Atleast those who are holding US visa or gold credit card etc could be given Visa on Arrival to boost Indian tourists, said Mr Goyal.

The delegation had lively and useful interaction with IATO members and media members present. Tourist literature on Mexico destination were made available to all.

Ski Dubai welcomes its millionth visitor

By Sushma Arora

MUMBAI, Feb 9: Ski Dubai has just reached a major milestone in its short history. The landmark leisure destination recently welcomed its millionth visitor after only a year or so of operations.

Developed by MAF Investments as the signature feature of Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai has successfully established itself as a major leisure destination for residents and tourists alike.

Ski Dubai is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. It is located inside the Mall of the Emirates, the latest development from MAF Shopping Malls. Ski Dubai offers an amazing indoor snow setting that offers visitors superb skiing, snowboarding, and tobogganing. Ski Dubai is a unique mountain-themed attraction that offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy real snow in Dubai all year round.

Ski Dubai offers the ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding, with a choice of five runs, as well as a 3000 square metre snow park with tobogganing, a twin track bobsled ride and tubing, among other activities. Ski Dubai's Snow School offers guests the opportunity to learn skills suitable for all ages and abilities from beginners to experienced skiers and snowboarders.

India-China Friendship through Tourism

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 8: The boom in the tourism industry, including all the inflow and outflow of travelers and their spending power, remains a major driver and one of the most dependable indicators of high-level social development. It comes only with sustained economic growth accompanied by infrastructure development and the creation of jobs in new sectors and regions.

However, in the case of China and India, the tourism boom is expected to also facilitate peace and friendship by raising mutual awareness and enhancing mutual stakes.

Realising this potential, India and China are celebrating the year 2007 as the Year of India-China Friendship through Tourism. This was decided during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to India last year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who arrives Sunday in Patna, Bihar, will launch the India-China Tourism Friendship Year along with Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni.

The Chinese Foreign Minister will also attend the opening of the revamped memorial hall for famous Chinese monk Xuanzang in Nalanda, which was undertaken by China, according to Sun Yuxi, Chinese Ambassador to India. Xuanzang travelled to India some 1,300 years ago.

During his four-day official visit to India, Li will also visit New Delhi where he will meet top political leadership and discuss bilateral ties with a view to cement the strategic partnership between the two Asian giants. The Ambassador said the visit would promote friendly relations and strategic partnership between the two countries oriented towards the 21st century.

Indian Ministries of Tourism and Culture and Aviation are gearing up to tap the huge potential of tourists from China.
The Tourism Ministry has decided to set up a tourism representative office in China, promote Buddhist circuits and medical tourism for the health conscious Chinese.

Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni had visited China late last year and had stressed on increasing people-to-people contacts between the two countries. She also assessed that Buddhism, yoga and Bollywood are major attractions for the Chinese.

According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) estimates, China will have biggest outbound market by 2020 with 100 million Chinese travelling out every year. Presently, this is limited to 12 million outbound travellers a year.

The huge tourism potential of China can be gauged from the fact that it has been the world's fourth largest tourist destination since 2004. It is projected to become the second largest tourism destination, next to the United States, within a decade.

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) expects China to become the world's No 1 tourist destination by 2020, if not earlier. According to WTO, Chinese tourists now spend more than US$21.8 billion in traveling abroad, already at par with, if not slightly higher than, that of the Japanese.

On the other hand, India last year attracted 5 million foreign tourists and earned more than US$5 billion from tourism. These figures may seem small compared with China, but the Indian tourism industry has been picking up momentum, promising to grow much faster as the Chinese tourism growth rate stabilizes in coming years.

Against this backdrop, the India-China Tourism Year can strengthen and accelerate India's tourism and herald a new era of people-to-people goodwill. It can also enhance friendship on a lasting basis.

To encash this travel boom, Indian (Airlines) plans to start a flight to Guangzhou in China, according to V Trivedi, Chairman and Managing Director, Indian. Air India already flies to China.

The two countries can also explore their own unique selling points along with their mutual attractions and interests. China, for instance, has recently emerged as one of the top destinations for Indians with small businesses, and more than 5,000 Indian students are currently studying in Chinese universities.

At the same time, India's has emerged as a medical travel destination for international travelers. This can be one area to attract health-conscious Chinese whose health services have become expensive.

Another encouraging development is the reopening of the historic Nathu La Pass in July last year. The opening of the third border pass between China and India raises hopes that it will become a gateway for China-India tourism from Tibet to Sikkim.

The Sikkim Chamber of Commerce aims to make this high altitude area a trans-shipment hub like Singapore. By 2011, when Nathu La is scheduled to be open for tourism, more than 300,000 Chinese are expected to travel through the mountain passes.

Beyond the statistics, the flow of people, goods and services across the mountain borders will open several new avenues for building mutual confidence and ensuring tranquility in these remote border areas. The new tourism is also expected to bring prosperity for the isolated communities on both sides of the Himalayan divide.

The tourism will facilitate pilgrimages by Indian Hindus and Sri Lankan Buddhists to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar in China's Tibet and allow Tibetans to freely visit Buddhist monasteries on the Indian side.

Sonia inaugurates Surajkund mela

By Deepak Arora

SURAJKUND (Harynana), Feb 1: The UPA Chairperson and Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, on Thursday inaugurated the Surajkund Crafts Mela, Asia's largest handloom and handicrafts fair, here amidst throbbing beats of drums and reverberating folk music.

Mrs Gandhi was received at the Charminar gate, the commemorative structure erected by the theme state Andhra Pradesh and given a traditional welcome with garlands, shower of petals and flowers by craftsmen dressed in their traditional constumes.

The UPA Chairperson, accompanied by Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Haryana Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhry, visited various stalls in the fair and took a keen interest in the display of sculptures, metal wares and textiles.

She was welcomed at every nook and corner with tribal and traditional dancers who gave special performances at their designated places.

She appreciated the work of craft persons from SAARC countries and Thailand, which is the focus country this year.

She also witnessed a special cultural programme, presented by children from Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, at the chaupal soon after she lit the ceremonial lamp signaling opening of the mela.

Mrs Gandhi was so impressed that she wrote in the comment book: “This is the most beautiful way of showcasing the multitude of our handicrafts. I wish the Surajkund mela all the success and I pay my compliments to all the participants.”

The 21st Suraj Kund Mela has the largest congregation of craft persons with national and state awards. Over 320 persons are taking part in the mela from all corners of the country.
Special cuisine from across the county as well as from Thailand and the SAARC countries is the highlight of the fair.

Ms Kiran Choudhry said that one of aims of the mela was to create a scenario of sustained employment for craftpersons. “We will be organizing meetings between exporters and craftsperson.

To encourage children to participate in large numbers, the organisers are providing free entry to them.

A fashion show by National Institute of Fashion Technology, Hyderabad will be another attraction of the event. About 75 folk artistes will present traditional art forms like "Tappetagullu", "Veeranatyam" and "Kommu Koya."

About 15,000 international tourists are expected to visit the venue of the festival. Special bus services have been introduced in and around Delhi to facilitate active participation in the festival.

Sonia to open Surajkund Mela on Feb 1: Kiran Choudhry

By Deepak Arora

Kiran Choudhry and Keshni Anand AroraNEW DELHI, Jan 30: The UPA Chairperson and the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, will inaugurate the two-week long colourful Surajkund crafts mela in Haryana, on the outskirts of the Capital, on February 1.

Besides Mrs Gandhi, the Union Tourism and Culture Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, Qatar Culture Minister, Hassan Ali Hussain, the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, several ministers and MPs will be present at the inaugural ceremony of the 21st edition of the mela that has attained international stature, according to Ms Kiran Choudhry, Haryana Tourism Minister.

Ms Choudhry said over 320 craftsmen from across the country will be participating in the mela. She said for the first time craftsmen from Thailand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be participating in the mela. A visitor can not only relish the authentic Thai food at the mela but also take home the famous Thai silk.

"This is the first time that we have invited craftsmen from SAARC countries and Thailand to the mela. This is a move to popularize crafts of Haryana worldwide,” she said.

Haryana is also looking at the possibility of holding crafts fair in other countries. The aim is two-fold: To exploit the State’s tourism potential and explore avenues for export of handicrafts.

Kiran Choudhry and Keshni Anand AroraThe first such fair on foreign land will be soon held in Doha. Hassan Ali Hussain, the special emissary of the Amir of Qatar is already here to witness the Mela.

An exporter-craftsmen meet will also be held in this year’s Mela with a view to provide the craftsmen access to the export market.

The Minister said “participation of craftsperson from SAARC countries and Thailand is mainly organized to provide them a forum for interaction with each other. In this direction, the mela authority is organising an Exporter-Craftsmen forum to initiate interaction between exporters and craftsmen. This will be coordinated by the Ministry of Textiles.”

Haryana Tourism Secretary Keshni Anand Arora said there will also be a painting and photography competition to commemorate the 2550th Year of Mahaparnirvana of Buddha. Dance performances by Shovana Narayan and Saroj Vaidyanathan are also being planned at the mela this year.

If Thai craft does not excite your desi sensibilities, the theme state of the year is Andhra Pradesh. "We are going to have handwoven cotton sarees from Pochampally, Venkatgiri and Bell metal crafts on display in the mela this time. Besides Thai cuisine, visitors can always visit our stalls for Hyderabadi biryani and kebabs," said Ms Choudhary.

Ms Keshni Anand Arora said the participating renowned craftspersons will showcase a large variety of unique and intricate handicrafts -- sculptures in wood and stone, metal ware, sand stone, shell, bamboo and terracotta crafts -- during the fair.

Other highlights of the fair, she said, will be a designers' workshop, folk music and an open air theatre along with performances by traditional dancers every day.

Andhra, Thailand flavours at Surajkund Mela

By Deepak Arora

Kiran ChoudhryNEW DELHI, Jan 23: The annual Surajkund Crafts Mela brings a fascinating display of exotic culture, ancient crafts tradition and glimpses of a heritage that is legendary for its vitality.

This year over 400 state and national award winners and craftsmen from all over the country will participate in the 21st Surajkund mela. The crafts mela, which has attained international stature, is held during the first fortnight of February at Surajkund Tourist complex in Faridabad district of Haryana.

Weather during the mela is perfect as one gets the warmth and vibrancy of the spring. It also reminds one that the cold and grey winter is behind.

Haryana Tourism Minister Kiran Choudhry said that Andhra Pradesh will be the theme state this year. She said the exhibition had become an international attraction for showcasing India's finest handicrafts and handlooms.

Ms Choudhry said an added attraction would be the folk dances and cuisines of Thailand and other neighbouring South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries (SAARC). Twenty craftsmen from these countries would also participate in the exhibition.

The Minister said holding of designer's workshop, exporters-craftsmen meets, and kite flying, photography and painting competitions will be other highlights of the Surajkund Crafts Mela.

The crafts mela is held by Surajkund Mela Authority comprising of Union Ministries of Tourism and Textiles and Haryana Tourism.. It has come to occupy a place of pride and prominence on the international tourism calendar.

Jugglers, drummers, puppet showmen and folk dancers will also perform on small stages to be set up at several places at the venue, said Ms Choudhry.

The Natyashala, which is an open air theatre at Surajkund, will come alive in the evening with the rhythm and beautiful dances, magicians and artists during the mela time. There is no entry fee for the cultural programmes.

The mela is also a fantastic shopping extravaganza for the entire family. It is also a meeting ground for the talented artists, painters, weavers, sculptors and craftsmen who execute and exhibit their creations. The arts and crafts lovers from all over the world, including India, flock here to admire and purchase these creations.

Suraj Kund owes its name and perhaps its very existence to a historic and ancient amphitheatre sun pool dating back to the 10th century the remains of which can still be seen here.

Historians tell us that this area once fell under the domain of the Tomar lcan. Raja Suraj Pal, one of the chieftains of this clan of sun worshippers, had a sun pool built in this area. It is believed that a temple also stood on its periphery. It is after this sun pool that this complex has been named Suraj Kund.

Surajkund is a common weekend getaway. Here one can go around the amphitheatre Sun pool or step into Crafts Museum and admire the handicrafts.

One can also experience fine dining at Shaheen restaurant in Hotel Raj Hans. The Hotel Raj hans offers special family weekend and weekday packages during the Mela.

Over one million Indians to visit US this year

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: The civil nuclear deal between India and the US has triggered all-sector cooperation between the two countries. Aviation and Tourism are two such sectors. Over 1 million Indians alone are expected to visit the US this year.

“Last year the American embassy had issues 800,000 visas and this year the figure is expected to cross one million,” said John Fennerty, Deputy Economic Counselor of the US embassy in India. It may be mentioned that over 7 million Indians traveled abroad last year.

Mr Fennerty said the year 2007 would be a watershed year for the new level of historic economic, trade and travel and tourism ties between the US and India. He said the civil nuclear cooperation would ensure all-round growth.

“The foreign direct investment from each side has already crossed US $ 8 billion. This does not include figures of indirect investment.”

The Deputy Economic Counselor said the travel and tourism industry has given further push to aviation sector. “Already three US carriers are flying direct to India. Air India and Jet Airways are also expected to launch direct flights to the US in the next few months.”

He expressed his confidence that India, China and the USA would become the biggest economic powers in the next 10 years.

To give further push ties, a large delegation from the US Asia Business Forum, a non-profit organization, based in Los Angeles California, concluded a successful visit to India last week.

The delegation consisted of investors from areas of Entertainment, IT, Banking and Financial Services, Healthcare, Real Estate, Construction, Hotel and travel and tourism.

The delegation consisted of well known names of US like Ramesh Kapur - Chair of the DNC, Nirmal Sinha – PBD 2007 awardee and more than 30 other entrepreneurs from the US and Canada.

Agreements worth more than US$ 2 Billion were signed between various companies from India and the US.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi inaugurated the Indian chapter of the US Asia Business Forum USABF) in the presence of over 200 well-known personalities, including Kishore (Kevin) Kaul and Gurbax Bhasin, Executive Directors of the USABF.

In his address, Mr Dasmunshi hoped that USABF would play the role of a catalyst and will act as a bridge to harmonise the activities of FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM. Besides, Mr John Fennerty, others who address the meeting included Union Minister of Statre for Urban Development Ajay Maken and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

In their inaugural welcome address, Kevin Kaul and Gurbax Bhasin said that the attempts being made by US Asia Business Forum will strengthen trade relations between US and India.

Mr Dasmunshi also stressed on the linkages between Bollywood and Hollywood to improve quality of the films which also would enhance people to people contacts between the two countries.

Krishna Shah a Film Producer from Los Angeles saw a big connection between Hollywood & Bollywood and said that the two had a great future with their counterparts in France and England having failed to make any big impact.

To attract NRIs and PIOs to their roots, Mr Ajay Maken said that his Ministry had asked all the states to modify or do away with the rent control and urban ceiling acts making investment in real estate safe and secure for the investors.

He also invited PIOs and NRIs to avail themselves of 100 per cent FDI permitted in real estate and construction sectors. He said while tax incentives were proposed to be given in economic zones in India, particularly to PIOs and NRIs, taxes were already the lowest in India compared to other countries in the world. Giving an instance he said while the tax, GDP ratio was 22 per cent in China, it was only 8.8 per cent in India.

Emphasizing on good ties between two nations, President of US Asia Business Forum (India Chapter) Subhash Goyal said the action plan suggested by him in his book entitled “Poverty Eradication and Economic Development through Tourism” could create 100 million jobs in the next 20 years.

J.C. Sharma, a former Indian diplomat, traced the entire gamut of Indo-US Relations since the country achieved Independence and said there was never the time as now for “close, friendly and constructive ties” between the two countries.

Ramesh V Kapur, a prominent member of the delegation, explained how he and his group had lobbied with the US senators and US Congressmen for bringing the recent US Nuclear deal to its logical conclusion.

A presentation on Incredible India was made on behalf of Ministry of Tourism by Rajvir Mittal, Regional Director (North India).

Cut duty on equipment to promote adventure tourism

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: The Adventure Tour Operators Association Of India (ATOAI) has called for reduction in custom duty to popularize and made adventure tourism safer in the country.

“Lot of hardware equipment meant for climbing, rafts, GPS, high-range walkie-talkies are not available in India,” says Tejbir Singh Anand, Treasurer of ATOAI.

Tejbir, who was also Chairman of the recent ATOAI convention, said import duty on these equipments was as high as 45 per cent. “The Government must bring down the duty to 8 per cent and increase the capital expenditure to take adventure tourism to the next level.”

The theme of the ATOAI’s annual convention was “Adventure Tourism: Are you ready?” Uttaranchal Tourism Minister Lt. General (Retd) T.P.S. Rawat inaugurated the two-day convention, which was attended by leading luminaries from the travel trade.

The convention, considered as the single largest forum for promoting Adventure Tourism, explored the latest marketing trends to upscale the adventure tourism in India.

In his address, Gen Rawat emphasized on safety and planned growth which should culminate in responsible and sustainable tourism. He also called for guidelines for conduct of adventure activities and setting up a central coordinating committee at the Centre and State levels.

Union Tourism Secretary A K Mishra urged the ATOAI to identify places to create necessary infrastructure for tourism. He also asked them to approach the Ministry with creative ideas for marketing adventure tourism in India and abroad.

Highlighting the key prospects of Adventure Tourism in India, President of ATOAI Ajeet Bajaj said “India as an adventure tourism destination has also grown in popularity on the international circuit especially in the last few years, wherein inbound tourism especially in the area of adventure tourism is growing steadily.”

He said “the influx of domestic tourists has increased at a phenomenal pace grossly outnumbering overseas visitors in recent times.”

ATOAI Vice President Mandeep Singh Soin called for closer cooperation between key partners like Uttranchal, a Himalayan State, Madhya Pradesh and Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
Soin said policies were required for the Himalayas for responsible and eco tourism and to make it as a world class destination. “To love is not to look at each other but to look together in the same direction,” he added.

At the convention, Hall of Fame awards were given to Col S S Singh, Belinda Wright and Col N Kumar and Hall of Excellence award was given to Malli Mastan Babu, the first Indian to climb the tallest mountain in each continent.

There was also a call for greater synergy between the Tourism and the Forest Departments in the States to promote adventure tourism. “Madhya Pradesh has taken a lead in this,” said Tejbir.

The Convention also had value additions like “Protecting your intellectual property” and “Safety guidelines, ethics in adventure tourism and good environmental practices.”

Safety and security lectures, good field practices, rescue and evacuation programmes and operations were also part of the convention to upgrade ones knowledge and skills about the various facets of adventure tourism.

Elaborating on the key objectives of ‘Adventure Tourism: Are you ready?’ Tejbir Singh Anand said, “the prime focus of this convention was to create widespread awareness about Adventure Tourism as the multi-dimensional face of the Indian tourism sector.”

“It also sought to promote India as one of the most exciting Adventure Tourism destinations in the world. The convention focused on the innumerable adventure and eco-tourism opportunities in India and the way ahead.”

Some of the key speakers who addressed the convention included Vikram Madhok, Managing Director, Abercrombie & Kent India Pvt. Ltd; Himmat Anand, CEO, Kuoni Travel Group, India; Vivek Govil, Vice President, Oberoi Group of Hotels and Chander Lall, Director, Lall & Sethi Advocates.

Dubai shopping festival prize banaza to top AED 50 million

By Sushma Arora

MUMBAI, Dec 1: Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) organizers announced that the value of prizes during the 2006/2007 edition of the retailing and recreational extravaganza will exceed AED50 million in total.

Prizes worth AED25 million will be given away for the Lexus Mega Raffle, a popular fixture since the event began in 1996. The Lexus promotion is 50 per cent of the combined value of DSF prizes with other car companies, jewellery stores and event sponsors set to announce details of their giveaways.

DSF's total prize value is more than 35 per cent more than last year after organizers merged the 2006 and 2007 editions of the festival into a single 45-day bonanza starting next month.

2006 edition was cancelled following the death of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum days before the start of the show in January this year.

In 2005, DSF drew in 3.3 million visitors over 32 days. Total DSF spending hit AED6.67 billion compared to AED5.8 billion in 2004. This year's event is expected to break all records as the 45 day period coincides with Christmas, New Year and Eid Al Adha holidays.

The DSF will be held from December 20, 2006 to February 2, 2007.

The Government of Dubai, Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has had a representative office in India for over eight years which has been functioning as an initial contact point and query-processing centre for the Indian travel trade interested in doing business in Dubai.

The India office aims at promoting commerce and tourism, through the organization of marketing activities such as presentations, road shows, advertising, brochure distribution, direct sales meetings and media education programmes, which include familiarization visits for business and travel journalists to Dubai.

The DTCM expects to play an important role in boosting bilateral ties by promoting a widespread awareness of the opportunities Dubai has to offer in both business and tourism. The presence in Mumbai brings to 15 the total number of offices in the DTCM's international network.

India allows long-term tourist visas

NEW DELHI, Nov 30: With an objective to promote India as a favourite tourist destination, the government on Thursday introduced a long-term tourist visa with multi-entry facility for the nationals of 18 countries.

They are France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Switzerland , Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Vietnam.

The visa will have five-year validity with the stipulation that continuous stay in India on each visit shall not exceed 90 days. The long-term visa would facilitate repeat visits by the nationals of these countries for tourism purposes.

Tourist arrivals to India jumped 13 per cent in the last fiscal and brought in almost $6 billion, the third largest source of foreign exchange.

For the year up to March, 3.91 million tourists arrived compared to 3.45 million in the previous fiscal year and provided employment for almost 42 million people.

According to tourism ministry officials, the upward trend is expected to remain firm in the coming years.

Philippines joins the race to woo Indian tourists

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 28: If India attracts 4 million foreign tourists, then 7 million of us travel abroad. No wonder that one country after another is coming to India to woo Indians. The Philippines is the latest country to join the bandwagon.

For the high fly launch of its tourist office here, the Philippines sent its Tourism Minister, Joseph H. Durano, to India with a 27-member delegation to promote his country as a viable Southeast Asian alternative to current hotspots Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Mr Durano, who is the youngest member of the Cabinet, described India as "one of the most dynamic outbound markets". The Minister said "our traditional markets five years ago were Japan, Korea and the US. Later, we started looking at newer markets like China and India."

The Vice Minister Tourism, Mr Eduardo Jarque Jr, described India as the "new China". It may be mentioned that the Philippines targeted China about three years ago when it attracted about 34,000 tourists. Within a year, the figure had almost quadrupled to 107,000.

On the numbers from India, he said "we received some 18,000 tourists and we hope to double it every year from 2007. We plan to promote Philippines all year round in 2007 and attract as many tourists in India."

Mr Durano said with Indian outbound market is growing at 20 per cent annually with eight million Indian tourists traveling abroad, the Philippines hopes its arrivals will also increase incrementally from India.

The Minister admitted that connectivity was an issue between the two countries. However, he said "we have now tied up with Singapore Airlines, who are our natural partners, to handle traffic from India. The two destinations - Singapore and the Philippines - complement each other and we see no reason why we cannot promote the two together."

He said the bilateral air agreement between the two countries might be reviewed in March next year when the Philippines president visits India. He said the Philippines Department of Tourism was also engaged in talks with Malaysian Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways to put together packages aimed at bringing more Indian groups to the country.

On the tourist flow from the Philippines to India, he said the figure stands at mere 5,000. However, he conceded that "it cannot be a one-way situation. There has to be two-way traffic" to sustain tourism between the two countries.

The Minister said "unlike traditional tourists who opt for beaches and sightseeing, our research shows that Indian tourists love the many facets of metropolitan cities and have a strong preference for shopping. The fact that they spend an average of US $ 1,200 per visit makes them much-appreciated appreciated tourists - apart from the fact that they are repeated travelers."

It may be mentioned that several countries from Southeast Asia, the Gulf, Australia notably Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Dubai have been mounting tourism road shows in Indian cities in order to attract tourists from here with attractive shopping and flying offers.

Mr Durano said the Philippines is a cluster of 7,106 islands and is initially positioning three cities - capital Manila, as also Cebu and Davao - for the Indian market. According to him, these three destinations offer the perfect blend of leisure, shopping, entertainment, dining and gaming.

He said "we have set up a naval task force to secure these islands. It is absolutely safe to visit the Phbilippines."

'We offer nature at its wondrous best, a multi-racial culture, unmatched adventure activities, unique arts and crafts, and a vibrant urban lifestyle.

Sanjeet of Buzz Travel Marketing and India Marketing Chief informed that the major thrust of marketing in India, beginning next year, would be on shopping, adventure, beaches, and the casinos. "The feedback has been that the shopping experience in the Philippines is even better than in Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia," adds Sanjeet.

FHRAI Call to Declare Tourism as Essential Services

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 24: The new FHRAI President, Mr Rajesh Mishra, has urged the Government to declare tourism as an essential service. Speaking to newsmen here on Friday, Mr Mishra said as India's economy is moving at a robust growth rate of 9 per cent and the literacy rate of Indian population is also improving, it is a time to create a civil society by ensuring that unplanned Bandh and political Hartals without prior notice are abolished from the country.

"The tourists who are ignorant of these unplanned Bandh get stranded due to this uncivilised behaviour and the Government must by way of legislation rescue these tourists for free movement on these days," he added.

Others who addressed the press conference included Mr S P Jain, Honorary Secretary, Mr Rajindera Kumar, President, HRANI, Mr S M Shervani, Honorary Secretary, HRANI, Dr Sunil Gulati, Chairman Uttrakhand Hospitality Ltd, Mr Suresh Nanda, Chairman, the Claridges, Mr Kamal Sharma, Secretary General, FHRAI, Mr Vijay Pande, Managing Director, Pandit's, and Mr Ratan Marothia, Member of FHRAI Administrative team.

A man with great vision, Mr Mishra, plans to focus on technological up gradation of all the operations of the FHRAI and its website and take them to international standards. He emphasised on taking the FHRAI Institute of Hospitality Management to a greater height. "The quality of education and its administration will further be streamlined."

He promised to create a data bank and highlight statistics from time to time regarding the hospitality industry by collecting relevant data from the members of FHRAI and the industry at large. He wishes to do this and place it before the Government for the mutual benefit.

He also urged the Government to grant infrastructural status u/s 80 IA of Income Tax Act to the Hotel industry. This would allow it a 10 years tax holiday as in the case of infra-structural projects like road, ports, power and telecommunications.

The President also sought Industry status for hotelsy under Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 so that the Hoteliers can get the benefit of electricity at industrial rate and other benefits applicable to the industries.

He also said the time has come that uniform taxation policy must be followed by all the State Governments and Union territories for VAT, Luxury Tax, Entertainment Tax and State Excise Duty.

"The Public Private Participation (PPP) model must be encouraged and further strengthened for developing hotels, restaurants and food plazas in future. More thrust should be given to develop budget hotels and also on hotel institutes in PPP model by the State Governments by allotting the land for educational purposes at a concession rate," said Mr Mishra.

Mr Mishra said that the All India Technical Education Council must encourage Section 25 Companies for setting up Hotel Institute in the country with foreign collaborators and Government should plan to develop the cities infrastructure in a planned and systematic manner.

Unfortunately, he said "in our country none of the curriculum had included infrastructure as a subject and only recently IIM, Ahmedabad introduced infrastructure as a subject, which is the need of the hour.

Similarly, he said the ecological balance in the hill station must not be disturbed by haphazard unplanned construction of high rise buildings resulting in drinking water shortage and sanitation problem.

Mr S P Jain, who is also Chairman of Pride Group of Hotels, said the hotel and tourism industry is the most labour intensive and can solve the unemployment problem in the country. Mr Jain the hotel industry retains 92 per cent of the foreign exchange it earns as compared to 10 to 12 per cent by other industries. He also urged the Government to urgently solve the pricing of TV channels used by the hotel industry.

Mr Rajindera Kumar said "tourism stands as a neglected child." He urged the Rajsathan Government to notify its tourism policy.

Mr Suresh Nanda, President, Delhi Hotels and Restaurants, stressed on the need for building pressure groups to get the hotel industry its due share. Mr Nanda called for urgency to set up hotels to meet the rush during the Commonwealth Games.

Kurkshetra on international tourist map

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 24: Haryana Government is taking measures to place Kurukshetra on the international tourist map by transforming it into a great place of pilgrimage and tourist attraction.

Speaking with this correspondent, the Haryana Tourism Minister, Ms Kiran Choudhry, said that a strategy was being devised to market, position and jointly develop Kurukshetra on the international tourist map in public-private partnership.

Ms Choudhry informed that a piece of land measuring six acres has already been allocated to the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to build a unique temple highlighting the glory of Lord Krishna and the eternal and timeless wisdom of Bhagavad Gita.

She said the Haryana Governor, Dr. A R Kidwai, will inaugurate the four-day Kurukshetra Utsav-Gita Jayanti Samaroh on November 28. She said that the Samaroh would be organized on a large scale on the pattern of the Pinjore Heritage Festival which was organized at Yadavindra Gardens, Pinjore in October this year.

Giving details of the Samaroh, Ms Choudhry said that declamation, Gita Recitation competition and quiz on Mahabharta and Srimadbhagwad Gita would be organized to inculcate moral values that were preached in the Bhagwad Gita.

She said that the four-day cultural extravaganza would include rendering of devotional music, dance, drama, ballet and Sufiana singing. On the opening day, the cultural evening would begin with 'Shree Durga' presentation by Shri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra. Cultural performance of Sufiana singing by famous Hans Raj Hans and Pakhawaj playing by Mr Bhawani Prasad would be the highlight on the second day.

The Minister said that famous playback singer, Vanni Jai Ram would enchant the evening with her devotional singing on November 30. The Gita Jayanti Samaroh celebrations would culminate with a mega musical ballet entitled, 'Krishna Lila' by Kathak exponent, Shovhna Narayanan. She further added that the Kurukshetra Development Board started the celebration of Gita Jayanti in 1989.

Ms Choudhry said that Kurukshetra has the special privilege of celebrating the Gita Jayanti festival as the celestial message of the Bhagwad Gita was delivered here by Lord Krishna. This event is also celebrated elsewhere in India as Moksha Ekadasi which falls on the 11th day of the bright moon fortnight in the month of November-December (Margshirsh), according to the English calendar.

Arabian Nights at Shangri-La Hotel, New Delhi

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 16: From the mesmerizing land of mystical flavours and vibrant cuisine, comes Chef Amjad Ghadur, specially flown in by Etihad Airways, from Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai, bringing you the myriad range of delicacies originating from the Middle East.

Arabic cuisine has its roots in tent cookery. Nomadic tribes could use only transportable foods such as rice and dates, or ambulatory stock like sheep and camels in their recipes. As the caravans journeyed throughout the Middle East, new seasonings and vegetables were discovered and added to the existing repertoire. Each new discovery was incorporated into the diet in quantities palatable to a particular tribe.

At Shangri-La New Delhi's Alfresco Area , one can begin the journey to the Middle East with a refreshing traditional hookah pipe, enjoy the seductive scent of rose water, the beguiling taste of sumac or the sharp tang of lemon juice in exotic delicacies like Moskhan, Kebbeh Bel Laban, Shish Taouk or Hummos, and round up your feast with a delightful baklawa, while the belly dancer entertains.

Mr Andrew Quinlan, General Manger on bringing this food festival says, "The foreigner who takes time to learn and experiment with this excellent cuisine will be immediately won over and rewarded with many wonderful surprises. Arabic food can rival any international gastronomy for originality and good taste, because it basically comprises simple, natural and easily digested foodstuffs, it ranks high in nutritional value with today's fitness-conscious society".

For the Arabian Nights festival, Shangri-La has teamed up with three-time winner of the World's Leading New Airline -Etihad Airways. Like Shangri-La Hotel, Etihad Airways also believes in putting hospitality first and are setting new standards in the sky. The Arabic feast concludes on November 26.

New FHRAI President seeks infrastructure and industry status for Hotel sector

By Deepak Arora

CHANDIGARH, Nov 12: The new FHRAI President, Mr Rajesh Mishra, has demanded infrastructure and industry status for the hotel industry.

Soon after being elected as the President of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), Mr Mishra also sought uniform code of taxation for the hotels and restaurants spread all over the country.

The other members of the new FHRAI executive team, which were elected on Sunday, are: Mr R S Bedi, Mr M P Purushothaman and Mr Rajindera Kumar (Vice Presidents); Mr S P Jain (Honorary Secretary); Dr Sunil Gulati (Honorary Treasurer) and Mr K Syama Raju (Joint Honorary Secretary).

Mr Mishra took over from the outgoing president, Mr Manbeer Choudhary.

To get the industry status to the hotel industry, Mr Mishra said the Central Government must amend the Industrial Development and Registration Act 1956 to give benefits to the hotel sector.

To meet the rising demand for hotel rooms in the country, the new President said the Government must adopt public-private partnership model whereby it can take 25 per cent stake in the hotel.

Explaining further, he said the government can sell the share to the hotel owners three years later. "If the hotel does not perform well, then the government can take it back and re-sell it someone else. This way the land can be saved from going in the hands of speculators."

He also called for giving a chance to meritorious people in the PPP model. "Otherwise those who have wealth will continue to expand their wealth."

The FHRAI Secretary General, Mr Kamal Sharma, informed that at age 44 Mr Mishra is the youngest president of the Federation. "Mr Mishra is also a qualified charter accountant, company secretary and a lawyer," he added.

Mr Sharma said "Mr Mishra's election as the President will give a great impetus and boost to the FHRAI."

Mr Mishra said the hotels and restaurants should be brought under the essential services act so that sudden political bandhs do not disrupt the life of the tourists.

The president said time has to develop the budget hotels in the country. "The tourism policy should lay stress on the budget hotels and the government should promote them by giving them more tax benefits."

Kazakh woos Indian tourists; to open first Kairali Ayurvedic centre

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Ayurveda, an intricate Indian system of healing, is becoming popular the world over. Now, Kazakhstan, with its booming economy and tourism, plans to set up its first Ayurvedic centre by end of the year. "We are in touch with Kairali to set up Ayurvedic health centre in Kazakhstan," said Mr Timor Duisengaliev, Director of Zhetysu chain of hotels.

Mr Duisengaliev, who was here as a part of a 13-member government delegation to participate in India-Kazakhstan Tourism Fair during the last week of October, said "we shall open the first Kairali centre by end of the year." He said "though Kazakh has a few Ayurvedic massage centres, but those are not authentic. We have asked Kairali, a pioneer healthcare Indian group, to give us the Indian staff to give our customers a traditional experience of Indian art and science of healing."

Expressing his happiness over keenness of Kazakh hotel chain to open a Kairali centre, Mr Abhilash K R, Director, Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort, said "we are also opening franchises in Vietnam, Spain, London (UK), Germany and Boston (USA)." At present, Abhilash said "we have 25 full-fledged Ayurvedic treatment centres including franchise spread over India, Dubai and Abhu Dhabi in UAE and Yokohama and Tokyo in Japan.

The Kazakhstan Ambassador, Mr Kairat Umarov, informed that developing tourism was one of the priorities for his country to accomplish an ambitious goal that President Nursultan Nazarbayev put before Kazakhstan's Government to enter the ranks of 50 most competitive nations in the world.

Ms Rashida Shaikenova, leader of the delegation and Executive Director of Kazakhstan Tourist Association, said "over 5 million foreign tourists visit our country and we plan to increase the numbers. As part of this, we are here to attract Indian tourists to our country."

Ms Gulnar Koldasova, Head of the Tourism Development Board, said that tourism contributes US $ 120 million to Kazakh economy. She said tourists refer to Kazakhstan as "Paradise of Central Asia".

Ambassador Umarov said "business tourism has been picking up between the two countries. As a result, trade turnover has been increasing steadily for the last three years. Last year it was US $ 120 million, 24 per cent higher than the previous year. For the first half of 2006, bilateral trade has almost reached the level of the entire 2004's trade volume that is US $ 96.6 million. So there is an expectation that this year will show a significant increase in the bilateral trade and, as a consequence, an increase in business tourism too."

The Ambassador said "the first-ever fair aims to tap the unused part of our tourism potential ie people-to-people contacts. Hospitality is the main character of our people in Kazakhstan. Therefore, there are ample opportunities to enlarge people-to-people contacts between our countries."

Mr Umarov said Kazakhstan's economy has been growing by 10 per cent in average for the last seven years. "It is a stable country with a thriving political system, vibrant civil society, dynamic economy and blossoming democracy."

The Ambassador said there were two flights a week between Kazakhstan and India by our national carrier Air Astana. While in Kazakhstan, one can witness beautiful nature, modern cities and benefit from well developed tourist infrastructure. "It is a native land of snow leopard and pink flamingo, a country of thousand lakes and gates to the space, model of inter-ethnic and religious harmony."

"Greatness of mountain peaks, fabulous glow of glacier, mild shadow and exceptional aroma of pine forests, everlasting enigma of the desert, mind-blowing canyons and emerald surface of the high-mountain lakes are what tourist look for and what they find easily in Kazakhstan," said the Ambassador.

Tourism Ministry launches 'Bed & Breakfast Scheme'

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 19: To overcome the shortage of rooms and meet the challenging demand for more beds during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Tourism Ministry has launched a novel scheme that offers tourists cheaper accommodation along with a chance to experience the Indian culture from close quarters.

Entitled "Incredible India Bed & Breakfast" scheme, Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said the Government would recognize spare rooms available with house-owners in the national capital and make them available at an "affordable cost for the common tourists who wish to experience the Indian culture".

Though the scheme aims at building up a capacity of over 10,000 rooms in Delhi and nearby areas of the National Capital Region (NCR), Delhi's Tourism Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely, who was present along with his colleagues from Punjab and Himachal, Jagmohan Singh Kang and G S Bali respectively, said the response in the Capital would be much higher and could reach 25,000 to 30,000 in a short span. Delhi's existing capacity is one lakh rooms.

Himachal Tourism Minister G S Bali said a similar scheme is available in his State. Punjab Tourism Minister Jagmohan Singh Kang expressed keenness to replicate the scheme in his State.

Mrs Ambika Soni said "this will be a unique opportunity for house owners, especially the housewives, to earn an extra income while being at home. It will also make rooms available at an affordable cost for the foreign tourists while giving them an opportunity to stay with Indian families and experience their culture."

Based on the experiences at Melbourne Commonwealth Games, it has been estimated that there would be a requirement of between 40,000 and 50,000 budget category rooms for tourists in Delhi and surrounding areas in 2010, she said.

Under the scheme, which is quite common in many places abroad, house owners can offer up to five rooms or 10 beds, with good comfortable beds, working space, air-conditioning facilities as well as attached western toilets for putting up guests.

The Tourism Ministry will grant them recognition as 'Incredible India bed & breakfast establishments' and classify them under 'Gold' or 'Silver' categories depending upon the quality of facilities provided.

Once the establishments are recognized under the bed & breakfast scheme, the ministry will provide professional training to the house owners for running them efficiently. It will also publicize them widely through its Incredible India website and other facilities in the print and electronic media, explained Amitabh Kant, Joint Secretary, Tourism Ministry.

Apart from other comfortable facilities for their stay, the owners will also be required to provide Indian and continental breakfast to guests and display the rates to be charged for the rooms as well as meals. These rates will be fixed by the tourism authorities, he said.

Those interested in running such establishments will have to apply in prescribed application forms to the India Tourism offices. The bed & breakfast scheme has also been simultaneously launched in all other states across the country and will become functional soon, Kant said.

Efforts are on to set up a large number of budget hotels as well as star-category hotels in the NCR within the next three years, said Mrs Soni. She said the issue of giving tax benefit, under section 80 IA of Income Tax Act by declaring them as "infrastructure projects" for 3 and 4 star hotels, which are constructed prior to 2010, has been taken up with Ministry of Finance."

Kamal Sharma new Secy Gen FHRAI

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 18: Mr Kamal Sharma is the new Secretary General of the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India (FHRAI), which has 3,000 members across India.

He succeeds Mr Shyam Suri to this prestigious assignment.

The FHRAI through its vast regional network is responsible for interfacing with the Government, industry and the media for the benefit of the hospitality sector. The FHRAI is 51 years old and is headquartered in New Delhi.

Mr Sharma brings with him fresh thinking and a distinct ability to usher in change in the hospitality sector. In his last posting as the Managing Director of the Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) that manages the Centaur group of hotels and Chef Air, Mr Sharma brought about an unprecedented turnaround in his organization of 6,000 employees.

From a public-sector undertaking in the red for 12 years, HCI became a profitable body that successfully ran a chain of five 5-Star hotels and two flight kitchens under Mr Sharma's leadership.

A highly qualified professional who has several degrees against his name, including from the Cornell University of Hotel Management of Ithaca, New York, Mr Sharma has served in several global stations including London and West Asia.

He has also been Chairman and Managing Director of Centaur Indo Hokke Ltd, an Air India subsidiary, a director with the Tea Board and chaired the Global Tourism Task Force.

ITDC records 340 pc jump in profits

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 13: At a time when the economy is growing at 8 per cent and tourism at 20 per cent, India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) has shown an amazing gain in profits to the tune of 340 per cent in the first half of 2006-07 as compared to the corresponding period in the previous year.

Major contribution of this profit has come from the Hotels Division which has recorded an increase of 1,636 per cent over the previous year. And remember, this is the lean season for the tourism industry when hotels across the country showed occupancy levels ranging from 11 per cent to 51 per cent. The exception was Hotel Samrat that had occupancy of 81 per cent.

The remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of the ITDC coincides with the two events. One was taking over of Mrs Ambika Soni as the Union Tourism Minister early this year. With the disinvestment a passé with the new Congress-led UPA Government, the Minister has been taking active interest in revival of the ITDC. She has been even helping ITDC generate business.

The second has been appointment of Mr Pervez Dewan as Chairman and Managing Director of ITDC.

With ITDC showing huge profits and turnaround, the public-sector undertaking is becoming another case study for the IITs and IIMs. Why not? It is a much bigger turnaround story that the Indian Railways.

In the first half of the current financial year, the Corporation not only offset a loss of Rs 4.44 crore but also achieved a rise profit of Rs 10.65 crore, thus showing a rise in profits by 15.09 crore, said Mr Pervez Dewan.

In comparison to a profit of Rs 0.44 crore in the first half of last year, the Hotels Division earned a profit of Rs 7.70 crore, thus making an increase in profit of Rs 7.26 crore. However, Mr Dewan admitted that hotels at Jammu, Jaipur and Patna were not doing as well.

This half year, the Duty Free Division recorded a net profit rise of 172 per cent over last year. As compared to first half loss of Rs 3.66 crore last year, it showed a profit of Rs 2.64 crore ie an increase in net profit of Rs 6.30 crore.

With Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in 2010, the CMD said the Corporation plans to build three hotels in Delhi as public-private partnership. "One hotel will come up at Qutub (65 to 100 rooms) and the other at Kalkaji (both in South Delhi) while the third venue is not yet finalised."

The Corporation has also sought nod from the NDMC to build a 165-room hotel in an empty plot in Hotel Ashok. The group's property in the heart of Delhi, Hotel Janpath is already under renovation to give it a 5-Star look.

To capture the MICE market, he said that ITDC would set up five convention centres, one each in Delhi, Guwahati, Bhuwaneshwar, Jammu and Jaipur. The second convention centre, with a seating capacity of 4,000, linking Ashok Delhi and Samrat is to be build. ITDC has received expressions of interest from 16 national and international parties for the convention centre. The work is expected to commence in April next year.

In order to revamp the image of its hotels, the corporation has taken new initiatives ranging from free internet access in its hotels to renting laptops, gowns for lawyers and medical tests at unbelievable low prices to increase its business.

Lalit Suri dies in London

NEW DELHI, Oct 10: Leading hotelier and Rajya Sahba member Lalit Suri died in London earlyn this morning after a massive heart attack, family sources said here. The 60-year-old Chairman of Bharat Hotel chain is survived by his wife Jyotsna and four children. Jyotsna was with him when he breathed his last.

Suri's body will be flown to Delhi tomorrow for the last rites, his family said. The hotelier, born in Pakistan's Rawalpindi, was elected to the Rajya Sabha in January 2003. He was a member of a number of parliamentary committees including that of Defence and Science and Technology.

Known for his entreprenuer skills, he established a network of hotels across the country including in Delhi, Bangalore and Khajuraho. He was trained as an automobile engineer and started his career manufacturing vehicle bodies. Known as the "uncrowned hotel king of India", Suri started his first hotel in the capital in 1988 and later became one of the prominent hoteliers in the country.

Kerala model impresses Ambika Soni

By Deepak Arora

KOCHI, Sept 30: While the tourism industry in India is growing, it is growing at much faster pace in Kerala. The statistic for the first six months of the current year reveal that the international and domestic arrivals in Kerala have grown by 34 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

It thus gives Kerala Tourism the status of highest growth rate in the world for any tourism destination ahead of Turkey, which is at second place, according to Mr E K Bharat Bhushan, Principal Secretary, Tourism Department.

"The recent Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), which was attended by record number of 1,300 buyers and sellers, will fuel this growth further," said a beaming Mr Jose Dominic, President of KTM.

The success of the biennial mart has encouraged Kerala to target tourism earnings of Rs 10,000 crore for an investment of Rs l,000 crore. In 2005, the State received Rs.7793 crore as revenue from tourism. Of this, Rs.1500 crore came as foreign exchange.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) had, a year ago, chosen Kerala along with Greece and Mexico as tourism destinations, which held a lot of potential. It had forecast that Kerala will record 11.6 per cent annual growth in tourism during the coming decade.

Mr B Suman, Director, Kerala Tourism said the all-time record increase in arrival of tourists was due to the promotion of monsoon tourism. Thus, there was no lean period during the first half of the year.
The Union Tourism and Culture Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, who was in Kochi to inaugurate the KTM 2006, without hesitation said Kerala is "the No. 1 destination in the country". She showed her interest in examining "a blueprint on the evolution of Kerala tourism" so that she could "replicate the Kerala model of tourism in other states".

Till 2000, Rajasthan and Goa were our prime tourist destinations. That year as a public-private partnership the KTM was set up as the first, and is still the only, State to have a permanent organization to hold the Kerala-centric mart to highlight its tourism potential to the travel industry world-wide.

Speaking at the inaugural function, the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr V S Achuthanandan, called upon the industry to promote rural tourism while promoting tourism in urban areas. He said "we want tourism to develop further without harming the social and cultural values of our people."

The Chief Minister also called upon the tourism industry to help create 50,000 more jobs. The renowned hotelier and KTM President, Mr Jose Dominic, assured him that the industry would do so. The sector already provides employment to 10 lakh people in the State.

To meet the severe shortage of nearly 1,000 rooms in Kerala, Mr E M Najeeb, Chairman and Managing Director, GITC and Chairman of the organizing committee, said the KTM saw promotion of new products like Farm stays, Home stays and Boat stays. There are about 200 approved and classified hotels in Kerala and the number of rooms in this category are 4000.

The people have come forward to renovate and upgrade the traditional houses with all facilities and rent two to three rooms. There are at least 350 Home stays in the state and 650 House boats and they are increasing at the rate of 20 per cent per year.

The mart also saw new innovative products like Medical and Dental Tourism, Plantation Tourism and Wedding and Honeymoon Tourism. The houseboats riding majestically on the backwaters behind the venue were a definite crowd puller.

At the Mart, Kerala Tourism signed a MoU with SriLankan Airlines, under which passengers bound for Kerala would be given discounts and incentives by the airline and establishments across the State. This includes offers on hotels, shopping and therapeutic packages.

To sum up the grand success of the Kerala Tourism Mart, whose secretariat is managed by only three persons including its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mathew Phillip, Mr Jose Dominic humbly said "it is the creation of ordinary people using ordinary means to create something extraordinary." The success of Kerala's tourism, clearly, lies within.

Kerala signs MoU with Sri Lankan Airlines

By Sushma Arora

KOCHI, Sept 29: The Kerala Government has entered into a partnership with SriLankan Airlines to promote tourism into the South Indian State in recognition of the airline's success in generating passenger traffic to the region.

The Kerala Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding to this effect with the Sri Lankan Airlines to jointly promote the State as a shopping destination.

The MoU was signed by Tourism Director B Suman and Sri Lankan Airlines Head of World Wide Passenger Sales Manoj Gunawardena at the Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) here.

Mr Suman said that some best business establishments in Kerala, including Jewellery, Handicrafts, fine dining, shopping and Ayurveda, have been asked to give discounts of 10 to 15 per cent, which they have agreed. The govenment has prepared a booklet listing the establishments, their products and the discounts they were offering.

A Sri Lankan Airlines passenger to Kerala, who purchases his ticket from anywhere in the world, would be given the booklet, which would provide him an insight into the products available, their costs and the discounts, Mr Suman said.

The Kerala government was also keen to sign similar MoUs with other airlines, he said.

Mr Gunawardena said "this is further recognition for SriLankan Airlines which has already won may accolades for outstanding service and contribution to inbound and outbound tourism in India. This partnership will certainly be mutually beneficial to both of us."

Senaka Fernando, regional manager of Indian subcontinent and the Maldives, said the airline was operating 32 flights weekly from Kerala - 12 from Thiruvananthapuram, 11 from Kochi and nine from Kozhikode.

Efforts were on to promote north Kerala as a major destination of tourism, said Asha Subramanian, sales manager of the airline based in Thiruvananthapuram. Goa would become the 10th destination of the airline on October 30 with the launch of twice-weekly services.

The airline officials said they were working in close liaison with the Tourism Department officials. Medical tourism was another emerging sector, where the advantages of cost, quality of service and the infrastructure available here were proving to be a big draw for Sri Lankan tourists. A number of medical students were also going to countries such as China, of late.

Answering a question, he said the airline is thinking of operating wide-bodied aircraft from Kozhikode so that there would be an additional 450 seats available weekly from the State. The flights from Thiruvananthapuram to West Asia were carrying a lot of perishables and 15 per cent of the revenue was accounted for by cargo alone.

A.B. Ranjit De Silva, manager, marketing services of the airline, said it had achieved a strong financial performance in last two years.

Shyana Wijayratne, sales and marketing manager (in-bound) of SriLankan Holidays, said SriLankan Air Taxi services recently launched had proved to be popular. The airline was in partnership with select tour operators in many countries to provide tailor-made holiday packages for tourists. The island nation was a popular destination for business events in the South Asian region. The airline had a separate department for meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE) tourism.

Record number of buyers to attend Kerala Travel Mart

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 22: The events like Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) and Incredible India campaigns have put India on the world travel map. Thanks to the tireless efforts over the years, overseas holidayers and travellers now put India in the big league, ranking it as the fourth most attractive and satisfying holiday destination in the world. It stands ahead of several developed and traditional hot spots like US, France, Singapore, Thailand and South Africa.

According to the 2006 Conde Nast Readers' Travel Awards, East was the flavour of the season among overseas holidayers, accounting for three of the top five slots.

The KTM aggressive marketing has this year attracted over 500 international buyers from almost 50 countries and over 680 from other States in India have reconfirmed their participation, according to Mr Jose Dominic, President of the Mart.

"Around 160 buyers have registered from the UK, Germany and France alone. Argentina, Brazil Iran and Italy are being represented at KTM for the first time," he added.

"They will get the opportunity to experience the secrets of Kerala in its potential glory," said Mr Dominic.

To quote Mary-Anne Denison-Pender from London: "KTM is an excellent show as one is able to discover everything about Kerala in just one place - new hotels, new packages and new ideas of travel. Since people from all aspects of the Kerala tourism industry participate, one gains a full picture of the State's tourism infrastructure."

For buyers, KTM 2006 provides unprecedented access to Kerala's innovative and diverse tourism products. "What is perhaps more important is the opportunity you'll get to interact face to face and do business with an unmatched range of sellers and the entrepreneurs behind them."

The fourth edition of the four-day Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) 2006 will be held from September 27 at Kochi. Kerala Travel Mart Society, the organisers, is a permanent Institution constituted and registered in 2000 as a Society under the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Act of 1995.

Membership is open to any tourism service provider in Kerala which is approved by the Managing Committee. The Society has 285 members with profiles varying from airlines, ayurveda centres, farmstay, homestay, hotel, speciality hospital, resort, travel agents to tour operators specialised in adventure, backwater, heritage, monsoon, plantation, wedding and honeymoon packages.

Mr Jose Dominic said the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr C Achuthanandan, would inaugurate the Mart on September 27 evening at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium. While the Union Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, would be chief guest, the Kerala Minister for Home, Vigilance and Tourism, Mr. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan would preside over the function.

KTM, in partnership with the Kerala Government, is the only tourism event in the sub-continent that brings together the business fraternity and entrepreneurs behind the tourism products and services of Kerala. Today, its the largest gathering designed, planned and scheduled to facilitate meetings involving buyers, sellers, media, government agencies and others. Its strength is reflected in the increasing participation of sellers and buyers.

At KTM 2006, there will be 230 stalls occupied by 200 sellers, including 16 houseboats. "This is about 50 per cent more than at the previous Mart," says Mr George Dominic, spokesman of the Mart.

Mr George Dominic said the new entrants include Homestays, Farmstays, Speciality Hospitals and Tour Operators specialized in Wedding and Honeymoon packages.

"The Tourism Departments of Lakshadweep as well as of our neighboring states namely, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondichery and Andhra Pradesh are also participating as sellers," he added.

After the inaugural on Sept 27 evening, the next three days are pure buyer seller meet, says Mr George Dominic. The CGH will be hosting the evening of 28th at Marari for all the Buyers and Sellers and would show case the Culinery skill of Kerala.

KTM 2000, followed by the tremendous success of KTM 2002 and KTM 2004 has made KTM to be held regularly once in two years during the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday of September.

IATO to build 50 hotels; adopts village in Rajasthan

By Deepak Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 7: In a landmark historic decision, IATO, the largest body of tour operators, has decided to build 50 hotels across the country to meet the shortage of hotel rooms which was proving as a stumbling block in boosting foreign arrivals.

At its three-day annual convention at Jaipur, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has called upon the Government to either modify the service tax to charge it on the 10 per cent earnings of the travel agents and tour operators or face the challenge in a court of law.

"A cooperative or a company would be floated by IATO for this purpose with its members as shareholders. We are going to create millions of jobs and eradicate poverty from India as these hotels will revolutionise the tourism sector," announced Mr Subhash Goyal, IATO President, while presiding the IATO convention inaugurated by the Rajasthan Governor, Mrs Pratibha Patil.

The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments have already promised to identify suitable lands that they will offer on cheaper cost in order to promote public-private partnership in the tourism industry.

As a gesture of goodwill to the state of Rajasthan where at least 300 persons have died and lakhs have become uprooted from their hearths and homes due to flash floods in some districts, IATO donated a sum of Rs. 1.11 lakh for relief and rehabilitation work.

A cheque for this amount was presented to the Rajasthan Governor, Mrs Pratibha Patil, who was the chief guest at the inaugural function. Such humanistic gestures are not new to IATO which had also been helping the earthquake and flood affected victims in different parts of the country. IATO also offered to adopt one of the affected villages for rehabilitation.

With India emerging as the fourth preferred destination of foreign tourists after Italy, New Zealand and Australia, the Indian tourism industry is on the verge of taking off. The tour operators, however, say they have been suffering due to shrinking commission being given to them by the hotel and aviation sectors, lack of hotel rooms and inability of hotels to honour their commitments leading to cancellations.

Increasing interest among foreign tourists to explore India has led to a significant surge in the overall numbers of inbound tourists to the tune of 29.2 per cent over the past two years. The serial blasts in western metropolis Mumbai and looming terrorist threats notwithstanding, India managed to attract 630,438 foreign tourists in July and August this year as compared to 563,124 of the same period last year.

So far 2,785,328 foreign tourists have come to India in the first eight months of the current calendar year as against 2,120,492 in 2004 and 2,454,352 last year. This has resulted into a considerable increase in foreign exchange earnings that have gone up to USD 4,016.50 million up to the end of August this year as against USD 3,566.57 and 2,917.67 millions respectively in the first eight months of 2005 and 2004 respectively.

The most preferred season for foreign tourists is between October and March. A total of 1,280,524 foreign tourists arrived in India in the first three months of 2006, spending USD 1,774.77 million. The tourism industry is expecting more bookings when the actual tourism season starts next month.

Appropriately, the IATO has given them of 'new opportunities and challenges ahead' to their convention being attended by a record 1,546 delegates.

The Union Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, who could not make it to the inaugural session, however, promised her ministry's full cooperation in meeting the growing demands in her message. She emphasised the need for a greater government-private sector partnership and taking up the demand of tour operators of tax parity across the country with the finance ministry.

The Indian tour operators are demanding visa on arrival and introduction of e-visas being practiced by many countries. This will cut down on the time factor that they say works as a dampener for many foreign tourists keen on visiting India.

Mrs Pratibha Patil said that the success story of Rajasthan tourism should be adopted by the other States. She also emphasized on developing medical tourism in the country. "We have some of the best heart surgeons in the world and a heart surgery here costs much less," she added.

The Governor said Rajasthan was the first state to have come out with a State Hotel Policy which she hoped would contribute significantly to tourism growth in the State.

Others who spoke at the inaugural session included Rajasthan Tourism Minister, Mrs Usha Punia, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Minister Yashodhara Raje, Union Tourism Secretary, Mr A K Misra, Rajasthan Tourism Secretary, Mr Vindo Zutshi and Rajasthan Commissioner Tourism, Mr A K Singh.

Mrs Usha Punia, said that there was a 36 per cent increase in the tourist inflow to her State, Rajasthan, between January to July this year. She said, road and air connectivity between different parts of the state and the country was being expanded and the construction of new hotels would increase through selling of land to hotel entrepreneurs at half the commercial price.

In her passionate key note address, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mrs Yashodhara Raje, dwelt in length on the beauty and grandeur of the places of tourist interest like Orchha, Chanderi, Sanchi, Pachmarhi and Omkareshwar in her State.

Describing her state as "the very heart of India", Mrs Raje extended a warm welcome to the delegates to come and see it for themselves. She also outlined the measures being taken by her government to boost tourism in her state.

The Chairman of the Convention, Mr Pranob Sarkar, said as many as 1,546 delegates are attending the convention. "This is the largest number of delegates attending a convention in IATO's history," he said to a loud applause.

The IATO Vice President, Mr Vijay Thakur, read a very optimistic message from the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

The Convention Co-Chairman, Mr Rajesh Mudgil, proposed a vote of thanks.

The Governor also released a copy of the IATO Tour Operators' Manual 2006 and gave away the Hall of Fame award to Mr Bhim Singh, Managing Director, Rajasthan Tours Pvt. Ltd, for his life time achievement and contribution to the Indian tourism industry.

Besides Hall of Fame, other awards presented by IATO were: Vinod Banbah Award for excellence in service to Mr R.K. Yadav, TGS Tours; Badri Nath Bajaj Scholarship Award to Ms Sudha Deval of I.I.T.M., Jaipur; Pradeep Sanghla Award to Mr Satyendra K. Tiwari; L.K. Bakshi award for excellence in Journalism to Mr S. Suresh, UNI; and the Connaught Award for excellence in Journalism to Ms Preeti Mathur.

Later the delegates enjoyed a colorful, fun-filled evening at the City Palace. It was sponsored by Intercontinental Hotels group.

New Airport at Ajmer

By Sushma Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 7: A virtual boom awaits Muslim tourists intending to visit the holy Ajmer Sharif dargah. The Rajasthan government has announced construction of a new airport at Ajmer, which is 131 kms east of the state capital Jaipur.

At present foreign tourists intending to visit Ajmer have to travel by road either form Jaipur or from the national capital Delhi.

While it may take a while before Ajmer is connected by regular service flights, construction of a new airport would enable them reach the holy town in a chartered flight after reaching India.

Tralliance and UNWTO Unveil Africa Virtual Heritage Management Project

GENEVA, Sept 11: Tralliance Corporation, the .travel Registry, working with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) today announced the establishment of the Africa Virtual Heritage Management Project (VHMP) before an audience of travel industry leadership at the Tourism Africa 2006 Conference.

The inaugural conference is taking place under the patronage of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and its president Jean-Claude Baumgarten, which also was the first travel trade association to support the global .travel initiative.

The progressive initiative will ensure the registration of each country's place names including cities, towns, heritage and sacred sites, and national parks and reserves for all African nations are rightfully secured within the growing .travel Internet space. In line with the UNWTO's ongoing commitment to develop tourism in Africa, the project will ensure that each African country will be able to market its tourism assets through the .travel brand equally with the rest of the world now and in the future.

The project is designed to ensure that once registered through the VHMP, approximately 4,000 primary Africa place names, from all 55 African nations, will be held in trust by the UNWTO for an initial period of up to five years. At any time, each African nation will be able to request the transfer of respective place names to the rightful authorities within their country in accordance with .travel policies.

The VHMP comes as the .travel Place Name Priority Right deadline is drawing near. The December 31, 2006 deadline is looming large for all nations in the world. After this time, all place names left unclaimed by any country will be open to commercial travel entities. Any businesses that may share a place name will have the legal right to register the name.

With the support of the UNWTO and key African travel and tourism organizations, including the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and Egyptian Tourist Authority, Tralliance is coordinating the four-month project to ensure that all African place names are registered by the December 31, 2006 deadline. Dr. Tanya Abrahamse, Tralliance's Managing Director, Africa, will be at the helm of the Africa VHMP.

"The Virtual Heritage Management Project will greatly benefit the nations of our extraordinary continent," says Abrahamse. "Through assisting Africa's nations to claim their respective .travel place names, each country on the continent will be able to achieve a renewed, maximum return on their tourism assets for decades to come. The pioneering policies and approach of .travel will guarantee equitable access to global markets."

To ensure that the interim funding is in place while Tralliance identifies the appropriate African development institution, the VHMP initiative has received support from two key patrons and distinguished business leaders in South Africa and Egypt, Cyril Ramaphosa, prominent leader of the liberation movement and member of the South African Tourism Board, and Elhamy El Zayat, Chairman and CEO of Emeco Travel. These African businessmen, from the continent's south and north respectively, recognize the need to support the heritage of their African brothers and sisters and for future generations by committing to back this unprecedented project.

"Protecting all of Africa's iconic place names via the Virtual Heritage Management Project will become the cornerstone in preserving African patrimony over its rich and diverse tourism assets," shared Ramaphosa.

El Zayat notes, "It is imperative that Africa establishes its rightful place alongside the rest of the nations of the world. The use of the Internet is one of the fastest growing phenomena in the tourism industry; through .travel, Africa can take a collective leap forward by monetizing all of its tourism assets."

Egypt was the inspiration for the project and has set the example for African nations with the development of its official portal, created as part of a national objective to promote all of Egypt's place names through its .travel domain.

"We felt we had another chance to protect our country's key tourism assets, such as our famed pyramids, archaeological and historic sites, but also recognized the opportunity to strengthen Egypt's presence in the global market by establishing our very own space on the Internet," says Ahmed El-Khadem, Chairman of the Egyptian Tourist Authority. "By
utilizing .travel as a marketing tool, we are able to communicate to the global traveling consumer that this domain is the source of all Egypt-related online travel information, and are already seeing the benefits. Since its introduction in March 2006, has received nearly 2 million unique visitors, a significantly larger number than we have ever seen before."

"The success of Egypt was the catalyst for the AVHM project. We hope all African nations will be encouraged to protect, promote and maximize their tourism assets in the online global marketplace, as Egypt has done, as a result of this initiative," says Ron Andruff, President of Tralliance Corporation, the .travel Registry. ".travel, its attendant and, can empower an emerging Africa, rapidly bringing it into parity with more mature tourism destinations in other parts of the world to the benefit of everyone."

"Without visionaries like Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. El Zayat, and the commitment of the UNWTO to Africa and the Millennium Development Goals, this would not have been possible."

Daniela Wagner and Tanya Abrahamse Join Tralliance Corporation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Sept 5: Tralliance Corporation, the .travel Registry, announces the expansion of their global business presence in Europe, the Middle East, the Gulf States and Africa with the addition of high-profile industry leaders Daniela Wagner and Dr. Tanya Abrahamse to their executive team.

In her new position as Managing Director, Europe & Middle East, Wagner will be responsible for furthering the .travel initiative and managing the strategic expansion of the industry-exclusive top level domain throughout Europe and the Middle East region.

Wagner's extensive tourism career spans more than 20 years. Most recently she served as Global Managing Director of, where she was responsible for key marketing and operations initiatives for the international online travel corporation. Before joining, Wagner held the position of Vice President of Corporate Affairs for the World Travel and Tourism Council where she played a vital role in turning the organization around financially and strategically.

Establishing her long and prominent career within the travel industry, Wagner also formerly served as the Executive Director of the European Tour Operators Association where she was instrumental in the growth and development of the organization and successfully lobbied the European Union on relevant tourism policy and legislation.

"The .travel initiative represents the future of our industry as we break free from the generic .com world and develop our own dedicated travel and tourism presence on the Internet," says Wagner. "I look forward to applying my experience in online commerce to this important initiative, which has gained a tremendous amount of traction since its introduction less than a year ago Both key global industry players and SMEs are now coming to understand that integration of .travel domain names into their strategic marketing plans is key to conducting business online."

Dr. Abrahamse, who joins Tralliance as Managing Director, Africa, will be responsible for the strategic expansion of the .travel initiative throughout the African continent.Abrahamse formerly held the position of executive director of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), where she was instrumental in establishing an array of public-private partnerships to grow tourism in the South African economy. Prior to joining the TBCSA, Abrahamse was Deputy Director General of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, where she oversaw the branch of Environmental Use and Development, which encompassed Marine and Coastal Management, Biodiversity Management and Tourism Development.

During her distinguished career, Abrahamse also served in Dr Nelson Mandela's administration and was most recently a candidate for the post of Secretary General.

Innovative insurance cover for tourists visiting Kashmir

AHMEDABAD, Sept 5: In a bid to reassure tourists who have kept away from Jammu and Kashmir following militant attacks on visitors, the state government is mulling a proposal to introduce a special insurance scheme for tourists.

"During the last few months, some unfortunate incidents adversely affected our tourism industry after some tourists lost their lives during visits to the state," said Farooq Shah, Kashmir's director of tourism.

"Our government is currently considering a proposal to introduce an innovative insurance scheme for all tourists visiting the state," said Shah, who was in Gujarat to woo tourists at the Travel and Tourism Fair in Ahmedabad.

"We are currently working out the proposal with insurance companies and a decision on this is expected within two months," he said.

This step comes after travellers from Gujarat and West Bengal - which send the largest number of domestic tourists to Kashmir were killed in grenade attacks, prompting an exodus of tourists from the Kashmir Valley.

"The unfortunate events stem from a deep-rooted conspiracy to destablize the economy of Kashmir," Shah said.

Insurance is not the only sop being dished out by Kashmir government to woo tourists. The tourism department has also increased security for tourists and is offering huge discounts.

"During the current year, about 4.25 lakh tourists visited the state, the maximum being from Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal," Shah said.

"In addition to this, about 3.5 lakh yatris visited the Amarnath shrine, while over 47 lakh pilgrims visited the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu," he said.

"To address the security concerns of tourists, we have increased the numbers of the tourist police force and all major tourist destinations are now fully patrolled by security forces," Shah said.

"For the promotion of tourism, we are organising various fairs and festivals, including the Ladakh festival (1-15 Sep), the Grand Gulmarg Festival (7-10 Sep) and the Historical Kashmir Festival (28-31 Oct)."

The state has also introduced Camel Safaris with double-humped camels found in Ladakh, while Gulmarg - with the world's highest golf course, gondolas and adventure tourism potential is being promoted as the best winter destination, he said.

The Historical Kashmir Festival is being organised for the first time at a place which was the former capital of an 8th century king, Shah said.

Apart from this, hoteliers are offering 50 per cent discounts while transporters and restuarants are giving 30 per cent discounts respectively for tourists, he said.

The tourism department has also launched a nation-wide campaign to promote pilgrimage tourism in Kashmir, he said.

Commodore Jena new MD HCI

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: Commodore D Jena has taken over as Managing Director of Hotel Corporation of India (HCI), a subsidiary of Air India, on Friday.

HCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India which was set up in the year 1971 with an authorized capital of Rs 41 crore and a paid up share capital, which is held by Air India, of Rs 40.60 crore.

Commodore D Jena is a highly decorated Naval Officer with 35 years of distinguished service in the Indian Navy. He has held various important assignments both at sea and afloat including two commands of naval warships.

He was previously the Principal Director at Naval Headquarters and Ministry of Defence prior to taking over as Managing Director, HCI.

Commodore Jena was awarded with Nausena Medal and Vishist Seva Medal for distinguished service.

Stop sealing of guest houses: IATO

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has sought the intervention of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Chief Minister, Mrs Shiela Dixit, to find a workable solution to the demolition problem which, it says, is going to have a very negative impact on tourism besides inconveniencing tourists.

Expressing concern over the sealing of guest houses, holiday Homes and tourist rest houses in Delhi, IATO, in separate letters to them, has pointed out that there is a shortage of about 20,000 rooms in Delhi in different categories. As over a lakh tourists are expected to turn up in the capital for the 2010 Common Wealth Games, there is a critical need to have at least 6,000 rooms in the budget category alone.

On the one hand, IATO said, the Central Government is spending millions of dollars on "Incredible India" campaign, and on the other, Delhi Government is continuing with demolitions and sealing of Guest Houses which are needed to provide affordable accommodation facility to tourists who otherwise find Delhi very cost prohibitive.

The concerned authorities must take practical view of the situation and put a stop to this operation in the greater national interest, it pointed out.

175 m use Abras to cross picturesque Dubai Creek

By Sushma Arora

MUMBAI, Aug 30: A record 175 million passengers have used the Abras, motorized wooden boats with canopy, to cross the picturesque Dubai Creek shores in the past decade.

According to Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), as many as 175,522,186 passengers have been reported to have crossed the creek using the traditional water taxis from 1995 until early this year. The total number of Abra trips made was 8,758,081. This phenomenal performance has been achieved with 149 Abras operated by 300 people, mostly from the Subcontinent.

Over the past five years there has been an increase of around 7 per cent in the number of people using Abras. The numbers had increased from 13,500,000 in the year 1995 to 20,980,921 passengers in the year 2005. Up to 10,620,924 passengers were registered in the first half of this year. The numbers are expected to reach to 21,250,000 passengers.

The number of trips had increased from 675,000 trips in 1995 to 1,031,018 in 2005. The first half of 2006 recorded 531,046 trips and the numbers are expected to hike to 1,062,500.

There are a total of 149 Abras, all owned by the UAE citizens with low-income backgrounds but are operated by 300 operators in two shifts in the morning and evening. All Abras operate from 5.30 am till 11.30 pm and 10 Abras work round-the-clock.

RTA has given a three year contract to a private advertising company for all advertising space on Abras.

Dubai's DTCM wins the Best International Marketing Team Award

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 19: The Dubai Department of Tourism Commerce and Marketing (DTCM) has bagged the award for the Best International Marketing Team Award at the Hospitality India Awards - 2006 held here.

The Union Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, who was the chief guest for the ceremony, and Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was the Special Guest of Honour, endorsed the award.

Mr Carl Vaz, Director, Dubai's Department of Tourism Commerce and Marketing, received the award from the Chattisgarh Tourism Minister, Mr Brij Mohan Agarwal, and Uttaranchal Tourism Minister, Lt. General T.P.S. Rawat.

Friends of Dubai portal launched

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 18: The Government of Dubai, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), India office, has announced the launch of a unique destination promotion and educational initiative via the internet branded - "".

The portal's primary objective is to encourage a wider level of understanding of Dubai's dynamic tourism product offerings and to foster a closer level of interaction with the Indian Travel Trade and Media community.

Commenting on this unique initiative, Mr. Carl Vaz, Director - India, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing said, " features an inbuilt destination training module that has been specifically designed to be a fun and intriguing tool using edutainment to capture the attention of its target audience by encapsulating elements of an adventure game and contest!"

This unique destination educational program branded -'The Sa'adah Adventure', provides contestants with an opportunity to learn more about the destination through dynamic interactive modules that use 'Flash' and 'HTML' based programming developed by India's leading game development organization

The training module and game is played atop a traditional courtyard wind towered house based on Dubai's traditional Bastakiya area. Through this unique training and game based module, DTCM India aims to educate frontline and mid-level staff members of the industry in a fun and attention grapping method.

Mr. Vaz, also further added "The portal also highlights various recent initiatives and projects undertaken by DTCM India and provides an update on upcoming new events and promotions. A winner's corner featured on the site was developed to demonstrate transparency and announce winners from various events."

This online module and interactive game was co-developed with contests2win, who will execute, host and manage this game online on behalf of DTCM India.

Mr. Alok Kejriwal, CEO, contests2win, said, "It is a privilege to ally with the Government of Dubai, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. C2W has ideated upon and executed an online advergame, titled The Sa'adah Adventure about Destination Dubai for travel agents and media. It is an innovation of sorts by C2W for a tourism board and reinforces the concept of interactive marketing that was pioneered by us."

Mr. Carl Vaz further commented "To represent the entire concept and build a sense of warmth, we have created a mascot called Sa'adah, meaning Happiness in Arabic. In the educational adventure based game, Sa'adah will guide contestants through the entire process offering clues and riddles that help solve questions!"

The DTCM has had a representative office in India for over eight years which has been functioning as an initial contact point and query-processing centre for the Indian travel trade interested in doing business in Dubai.

The India office aims at promoting commerce and tourism, through the organization of marketing activities such as presentations, road shows, advertising, brochure distribution, direct sales meetings and media education programmes, which include familiarization visits for business and travel journalists to Dubai.

The DTCM expects to play an important role in boosting bilateral ties by promoting a widespread awareness of the opportunities Dubai has to offer in both business and tourism. The presence in Mumbai brings to 15 the total number of offices in the DTCM's international network.

Letter threatens to blow up Taj Mahal

LUCKNOW, Aug 18: Police in northern India have heightened security around the Taj Mahal after receiving a letter threatening to blow up the monument, officials said Friday.

Sandbag bunkers have been set up outside the towering entrance gates leading to the 17th century monument and soldiers belonging to an anti-terrorist squad have been posted on 24-hour duty, said Ashok Kumar, a senior government official in Uttar Pradesh state where the Taj Mahal is located.

Police were investigating a handwritten letter purportedly sent by an al-Qaida supporter, saying the terrorist group planned to carry out blasts at the Taj Mahal. Police were skeptical about the letter, but had begun investigations, Kumar said.

"Police are verifying the source of the letter," he said. "The letter could be false but we cannot afford to be complacent. We are not taking any chances and have enhanced security at the Taj."

"The letter, signed by someone calling himself Mohammed Mirza and claiming to be associated with the al-Qaida, was received at the office of the superintendent of police in Agra on Thursday," Kumar said.

"The letter said the al-Qaida had plans to carry out blasts at the Taj Mahal and around busy markets of Agra," he said.

Meanwhile, as part of the new security drill, tourists have been warned not to carry any liquids, including bottles of mineral water, to the fabled white marble structure, located in the city of Agra, 130 milesfrom the Indian capital, New Delhi.

At least 100 additional paramilitary soldiers armed with automatic weapons have been posted at strategic points on the outer periphery of the Taj Mahal complex, said a top police officer.

Police have also begun work on a dossier of residents living within 500 meters (yards) radius of the monument, said Dipesh Juneja, superintendent of police in Agra. "This will help the police spot any new entrants or visitors to the area," Juneja said over telephone.

As part of special security arrangements for the monument, the state government has asked the federal civil aviation authorities and India's air force to declare a no-fly zone over a four 2.5-mile radius around the Taj Mahal, said N. C. Bajpei, Uttar Pradesh's topmost official.

The majestic domed monument was built by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan between 1632 and 1654 for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It houses their graves and a mosque, as well as several other graves of lesser Mogul royalty.

Nearly 2.5 million tourists visited the Taj Mahal last year, according to official estimates.

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