India Lags in Tourism Promotion

India’s tourism sector ranked 65th out of 124 countries in the World Economic Forum’s first Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2007, well behind regional competitors such as Malaysia (31) and Thailand (43), but ahead of China (71).

The study is “not a beauty contest”, but rather it seeks to “measure the factors that make it attractive to develop the travel and tourism industry of individual countries”, said Jennifer Blanke, a senior economist at the Forum in a statement.

While India’s tourism industry was commended for its large number of World Heritage Sites, ranking No. 7, and low costs, ranking No. 6, as well as efforts to promote the country abroad through trade shows, ranking No. 4 in terms of tourism fair attendance, it received surprisingly poor marks for its marketing and branding, ranking 59th internationally.

That ranking is a surprise because the tourism ministry’s ‘Incredible India’ branding campaign has received awards from the European advertising community and the Pacific Asia Travel Association, among others.

The ministry spent Rs165 crore on its overseas publicity campaign in the last fiscal year and the fiscal 2008 Budget allocated the same amount.

The ministry received a 23% increase in the recent Budget, up to Rs520 crore, to improve tourist infrastructure, which most industry professionals identify as the major bottleneck in increasing India’s foreign and domestic tourism.

Among the projects approved are increased funding for budget hotels and the creation of a land bank controlled by the ministry to help ease costs for hotel construction.

Speaking of the rankings, Himmat Anand of Kuoni Travel Group (India) said: “It doesn’t surprise me. From a realistic assessment where we stand on infrastructure, we are very very low.” He added that the government needed to devote more money to promotion. “With other countries going all out and promoting, the actions fall far short” of fully tapping India’s tourism potential, Anand said.

Annual foreign tourist arrivals to India in 2006 totalled a record 4.4 million. In contrast, nearby Malaysia received 17.5 million visitors, though 55% of the visitors were from neighbouring Singapore. However, India enjoyed stronger annual growth, at 13%, compared to Malaysia’s 6.8%.

Switzerland takes the No. 1 slot in overall rankings, followed by Austria, Germany, Iceland and the US. Within Asia, Hong Kong is the highest ranked at No. 6, closely followed by Singapore at No. 8.