Ballots ring in cash for Indian tourism (Election Tourism)

New Delhi, April 9: Election in the world’s largest democracy is ringing in cash for India’s tourism trade as tour operators and hoteliers are promoting the new theme-based holiday package.

Advertised as the ‘Kumbh Mela’ of elections, tour operators, online sales agents, speciality and niche guide-touring firms are also cashing in on the five-week-long election polling exercise.

“Election tourism is new a phenomenon which is fast gaining popularity. It is being marketed as an additional attraction to those who are already planning a trip or made their bookings for holidays in India,” Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra.com, told IANS.

“As it is a major world event and international attention is focussed on it, tourists have shown interest in extending their stay by adding major election battleground states and cities like Varanasi in their itinerary.”

According to Dhall, the addition of a few extra days’ stay can be managed within Rs.10,000-Rs.20,000 with high end facilities, and for as low as a couple of thousand rupees, to experience election season in places like Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi.

“Though election tourism is at a very initial stage it might generate an additional revenue of two-five percentage points in revenue in this elections.”

Ahmedabad-based firm Election Tourism India, which started to sell niche packages during Gujarat assembly polls in 2012, is expecting to attract around 2,000 foreigners to come for the 2014 general elections.

The package which is spread across seven days and six nights with a cost of $1,200 (Rs.75,000) without airfare, will take tourists to political rallies and show them local attractions at the same time.

“Nearly around 800 foreigners have confirmed their participation to come to India so far. They belong to Germany, France, the UK, Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt and China,” Manish Sharma of Election Tourism India told IANS from Ahmedabad.

“We will be taking these tourists to political rallies, showing them how five-six lakh (500,000-600,000) people congregate in these places and how rallies are taken out in cities,” Sharma said adding that his company has tied up with the BJP to showcase its rallies in Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi and Jaipur.

London-based firm Political Tours’ director Nicholas Wood told IANS about increasing numbers of inquiries related to Indian elections and people’s interests in travelling to India for this purpose.

“We’d love to cover the run up to the elections. We have covered the US elections; so this could definitely be an option in future. Like all our tours we try to provide a very real approach to people’s everyday problems as well as high level political analysis,” said Wood, whose company promotes theme tours like ‘London and the financial crisis tours’, ‘Libya tour – after the revolution’ and ‘China tours: growth and change’.

Other tour operators also claim to have observed a trend which indicates higher enquiries for ticket bookings and accommodation in major cities around their respective polling dates.

“With two of the biggest political personalities contesting from Varanasi, supporters of both the parties are thronging to Varanasi to boost their candidates. We tracked year-on-year growth of around 12 percent in hotel bookings for the city,” Mohit Gupta, chief business officer- holidays, MakeMyTrip, told IANS

Gupta’s views were corroborated by Pradeep Singh, a New Delhi-based guide who operates tours with international tourists from various nationalities from the national capital to Agra. “Tourists would earlier ask various questions on how to bargain in markets, or how to avoid beggers, cows and congested lanes. Now they seem to be more interested in knowing about election details, which shows that they are aware of the magnitude of things happening here,” he said.

“Posters, bill boards, advertisements in newspapers seem to have grabbed tourist attention. They even want to collect election campaigning caps as souvenirs,” said another who was accompanying a troupe of Korean tourists to Agra.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)

IANS