India taps into rich diversity

Kanjilal ... aggressive promotions.

India is tapping its diverse range of tourism destinations and products and its strong affinity with the Middle East to attract visitors from the region.

The country's rich tourism appeal will be on show at its colourful pavilion at the ATM this month.

"Middle East is one of our growing tourism markets and this has shown an upward growth since 1998," said Gour Kanjilal, regional director of the Government of India's Regional Tourist Office based in Dubai.

Official Indian figures show that Arab tourist traffic increased by 2.13 per cent last year to 110,631, despite an overall drop in tourist arrivals following the September 11 attacks in the US.

Kanjilal said the Indian presence at the ATM, which has continued since the launch of the show, will be bigger this year.

Besides the presence of India Tourism and national flag carrier, Air-India, the Indian pavilion will showcase products and packages from a number of tour operators and hotels in the country.

State tourism organisations from Kerala, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh will have their stands near the main Indian stand to promote their attractions.

"More than 30 Indian tour operators, hoteliers etc will be available at India and state tourism stands and several business deals are expected," said Kanjilal.

The pavilion is designed as a Rajasthan palace and has become an attraction by itself at the show over the years. Participants will offer the diverse options available in India including nature tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism, spa holidays, Ayurvedic rejuvenation, medical packages, hill and beach resorts among others, said Kanjilal.

He said the growing air connections between the Middle East and various Indian destinations combined with aggressive promotions by states like Kerala, Goa and Andhra Pradesh has helped increase awareness of the country as a tourist destination and fuel growth in inbound tourism from the region.

"More and more Arabs are seeking information about various holiday options in India," said Kanjilal.

He said India will be promoting health tourism aggressively at the ATM, emphasising its image as an eco-friendly holiday destination.

"Choose India for health tourism - get away from the stress of modern day living and rejuvenate yourself, will be the message India will be driving home at the ATM," said Kanjilal.

The growing popularity of spa packages offering the traditional Ayurvedic way to wellness at resorts in Kerala as well as Bangalore, Goa, Hyderabad and Chennai (Madras) underscore the appeal of India as a health holiday destination.

Besides the traditional wellness packages, India also offers world-class hospitals, state-of-the-art technology, professional management and some of the finest doctors and other healthcare professionals - a combination which holds appeal for Arab visitors.

Along with health facilities and a rich ancient culture, India offers tourists a wide and varied experience - shopping, festivals, architectural heritage, adventure/sports activities, houseboat stays in the backwaters and a treasure trove of cuisine.

Kanjilal said the regional tourism office had stepped up its marketing efforts, targeting not only the travel trade as in the past, but also focusing more directly on the consumers through direct campaigns, shopping mall promotions, radio talk shows, special Arabic booklets, sponsoring popular events as well as website promotions.

A new e-mail newsletter has also been launched giving regular updates on travel and tourism options and services available in India.

"To get more Arab travellers, we have also launched our Arabic language website, which has a variety of information about tourist attractions, accommodation, travel tips, festivals, shopping, rail travel, adventure tourism options, hill stations etc," he said.

"We want to help out the Arab holidaymaker in their holiday planning.

"We need to do focused promotions as India is a very big country - one will need repeat visits. Over 40 per cent are our repeat visitors. At ATM we meet many of such travellers who had been to India and would like to go back and they are our real promoters at the stand."

Kanjilal said India was also likely to benefit this year from a slowdown in leisure traffic to the US and Europe as many holidaymakers from the Middle East, including Indian expatriates, were considering Asian destinations including India for the summer holidays.

"By summer, India will be back in regular tourism business. We hope to do well," he said.