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Tourist arrivals sustain growth trend in first half

Tunia Cherian George

Mumbai , Aug. 8

THE healthy growth in tourist arrivals that began towards the second-half of last year has been maintained in the first-half of the current year as well.

Foreign tourist arrivals in the country have increased by 24.3 per cent to 15.6 lakh in the six months to June 2004. According to the tourism department, tourist arrivals during the same period in 2003, which were affected by the SARS epidemic, stood at 12.55 lakh.

However, an official with an infrastructure lending institution, points out that while these numbers looked good and were part of a general upswing that began in September 2003, they should be seen in relation to the performance of competing destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

The former crossed the 10-million mark at the year's halfway stage. According to figures with the Hong Kong Tourism Board, this was 68.3 per cent more than that for the same period in 2003 when the industry was hit by SARS, and a more modest 33.4 per cent growth over the figure for 2002.

For the six-month period, Singapore drew 3.87 million visitors, which represented a 5 per cent growth over the same period in 2002. (The comparison has been made using 2002 as the base year so as to get a feel of the "true growth", since 2003 was marred by the impact of SARS.)

According to data available with the Singapore Tourist Board, the visitor arrivals figure represents more than half of its target of 7.6 million visitor arrivals for 2004.

Further, data available with India Tourism, shows that foreign exchange earnings from tourist arrivals during the six-month period also increased by 31.8 per cent at Rs 9,985.99 crore as against Rs 7,576 crore in the corresponding previous period.

According to the Head of Leisure Travel at Thomas Cook (I) Ltd, Mr Sunil Gupta, after the September 11 terror attacks, the second-half of 2003 and the summer of 2004 have passed off without any untoward incidents. This, he said, had helped boost traffic in the tourism industry.

The `Incredible India' campaign launched by the Tourism Ministry in the Western markets had also promoted travel to India.

The State Governments, realising the revenue and employment generation potential of the industry, were also pushing the sector aggressively.

According to the official with the lending institution, the surge in arrivals has been accompanied by the resurrection of hotel projects, both luxury and two and three-star properties.

The development of the Golden Quadrilateral project, the upgrades suggested for the metro airports, besides improved air connectivity with domestic carriers being allowed to fly abroad, had aided the growth of the industry.

The Secretary-General, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India, Mr Shyam Suri, adds that average occupancy in hotels stood at between 60 and 65 per cent during the summer months, which is the lean period for the sector.

Many hotels, he said, were in the process of upgrading and renovating their rooms, in anticipation of a busy winter season.

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