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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
India targets domestic tourism
Tiger head
India has a wealth of diversity for any tourist
India's travel companies have agreed a plan to boost tourism by improving the image and quality of the country's hotels and transportation.

The industry aims to appeal to bigger spenders - including the huge number of Indians living abroad.

Currently only 2.6m people visit India a year - a large proportion of whom are budget travellers who don't contribute a great deal to the economy.

That compares with Switzerland which attracts 6m a year, and Spain which brings in 13m tourists.

Long haul

Part of the problem is that India is a long-haul destination for European and American travellers.

For that reason Ranjit Malkani, the managing director of Kuoni India, which specialises in high-quality tours, thinks India should concentrate first on encouraging its own citizens to take holidays within the country.

"When we are able to generate sufficient domestic demand, we will have the infrastructure to attract the foreigner," he told the BBC's World Business Report.

Mr Malkani explained that in Japan and the US, the two biggest tourist markets in the world, the backbone of infrastructure was built for the domestic tourist rather than the foreigner.

Travel discouraged

The industry has to made some fundamental changes however.

India has traditionally had a socialist government and tourism was considered a luxury product.

"People were not encouraged to travel except for religious reasons," Mr Malkani said.

The India tourist department doesn't think it is important to market India for the Indians.

Ranjit Malkani, Kuoni India
"It was more important politically and economically to attract foreign tourists who brought in US dollars," he said.

But now that India doesn't have a balance of payment problem, it is now politically and economically sensible to focus on domestic tourism.

"We believe a holiday should offer something different from your daily life, so people in Bombay should be told about the mountains," Mr Malkani added.

Meanwhile, as evidence of the impact the September 11 attacks has had on tourism from abroad, Air India has announced plans to close 20 of its overseas offices.

There will be cut-backs at 43 others and 142 jobs will be lost in the hope of saving 4.4m a year.

Ranjit Malkani, Kuoni India
"India is lots of things - lots of little countries put together."
See also:

27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Indian tourism takes a hit
20 May 01 | South Asia
India to issue visas on arrival
24 Oct 00 | South Asia
Row over Taj Mahal fees
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