New Delhi, Dec. 28: If the number of foreign tourists is any yardstick, "incredible" India appears to have lost some of its allure.
Figures released by the Union tourism ministry show that 7.1 million foreigners visited the country till November this year, a growth of only 4.4 per cent over the corresponding period for 2014 - the lowest in the past three years.
The dip has been all the more worrying because of the contrast with last year, which saw a growth of 10.2 per cent.
"We have noted the downward slide in the number of foreigners visiting India and it's a worrying sign. We are trying to assess why this is happening when the government is trying everything to promote India as a top-notch tourist destination," a ministry official of the rank of joint secretary told this newspaper.
The government had set a target of 8.2 million global tourists for this year, up from the 7.68 million who visited India in 2014. The figure of 7.1 million till November means the number of footfalls is still way short of the target.
The country had received 6.97 million visitors in 2013, recording a growth of 6 per cent over the previous year. In 2012, the growth was around 7.3 per cent.
An official in the ministry's marketing and statistics division said one result of the decreased footfalls has been a fall in foreign exchange earnings - from $2,025 million in 2014 to $1,770 million in the first eleven months of this year.
The dip in interest is also reflected in the reduced duration of stay. In reply to a written question in the Lok Sabha recently, tourism minister Mahesh Sharma said foreign tourists stayed for an average of 20-22 days in India in 2011-12. That has now come down to 18-20 days.
"The Narendra Modi government may say big things about promoting India worldwide. In reality, the tourism industry is struggling," said Rajeev Kohli, vice-president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.
"Not only are the rising pollution levels and increasing crime rates, particularly those against women, putting off foreign tourists, the government does not seem to mean business either," Kohli said. "Most of the overseas tourism promotion offices, for instance, have been lying headless for long."
While more than three lakh cases of crimes against women were recorded in 2014, overseas tourism promotion offices are headless in 20 European and other countries.
Saeed Shervani, of the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India, said almost half the number of foreign travellers arriving in India were either NRIs or business travellers. "The number of people coming to the country for tourism is extremely disappointing," he said.
Subhash Goyal, chairman, STIC travel agency, pointed out that foreigners keeping away from India was affecting occupancy rates in hotels. "Though a formal study result is yet to come out, our own assessment is that the all India-hotel occupancy rate this year has been 20-25 per cent lower than last year," Goyal said.