Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

India in spiritual tourist drive

Camel trader in Rajasthan
India is being promoted as a year-round tourist destination

The Indian tourism ministry has come up with some innovative marketing to encourage people to visit the country despite worldwide economic turmoil.

It says that people worried about job losses, home loans and other forms of indebtedness should come to India to find "inner peace".

Tourism Minister Ambika Soni says that in times of crisis, people turn to God.

India has a reputation for being one of the most spiritual and spiritually diverse countries in the world.

'Pilgrimage tourism'

"When things look down... in financial crisis, people turn to God," Ms Soni told a conference of economic editors in Delhi on Tuesday.

We have several plans in place to make us overcome the market slowdown
Indian Tourism Minister Ambika Soni

She said that her country had an abundance of spiritual destinations for those bogged down by money woes and global economic uncertainty.

Destinations including world famous temples, mosques and churches combined with yoga and ancient healing practices would bring "inner peace", Ms Soni said, leaving them "physically healed, spiritually enriched and mentally rejuvenated".

Just over five million foreign tourists visited India in 2007, a rise of 14.2% from 2006.

But Ms Soni said that maintaining this growth would not be easy.

"It is a challenge but we see no reason to revise our target of 10 million tourists by 2010," she said.

The tourism ministry says that the worldwide economic downturn has meant fewer visitors from the US and the UK - so it is now concentrating its efforts on attracting more tourists from Asia.

Tourists in Rajasthan
Tourists will be enouraged to visit India and forget about their financial woes

"We have vibrant tourism services - from health tourism to rural tourism, pilgrimage tourism to adventure tourism. We have several plans in place to make us overcome the market slowdown and maintain our growth," Ms Soni said.

The ministry says that in 2007, tourism contributed 6.23% to India's gross domestic product and 8.78% of total employment in the country, creating thousands of jobs.

Ms Soni said that India was a "round-the-year" tourist destination which would appeal to everyone, despite what analysts say will be the world's worst financial crisis for 80 years.

A recent UN report said that despite India's vast size, diversity and array of historical monuments, it still ranks at number 42 in the world's holiday destinations - below much smaller countries such as Belgium and Hungary.

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