India as a country affects your senses in so many ways. It has so much to see, so much to explore. It’s a beautiful mix of nature, history and cultural diversity. No one in a single lifetime can claim to have seen the whole of India and understood it completely. Every time one visits India, it has something new to offer. It has the highest mountains, the picturesque beaches, the serene backwaters, rich historical sites and large belts of wildlife. It practically has something for everyone. But then, what is the reason we have so few tourists, compared to other parts of the world? In 2013, India had 6.97mn tourists compared to the top ranking country, France which had 84.7mn. What is that we lack? Why are tourists not attracted to India?
I have done some reading on the Internet, spoken to people who have visited India while my stay in the UK and have figured out that there are a few basic problems. I was indeed hurt and ashamed to hear some of the reasons. We are a beautiful nation with beautiful people, why can’t we do the right things? Let me throw some light on some of the reasons foreigners tend to avoid India. If our Governments are seriously interested in projecting India as a traveller’s paradise they need to work on these urgently. We simply cannot be shrugged off as another third world country.
1. Concern over the Safety of Women
The biggest concern that foreigners have is of safety. They have a notion that India isn’t a safe destination for women tourists and more so for women who plan to travel alone. The world media’s projection of India as an unsafe place doesn’t help either. If women are not ‘adequately covered’ they are considered approachable and men try to get close. This is one of the prime reasons why foreigners especially women avoid travelling to India. The Government needs to act on this very sternly and make people aware of cultural differences. Safety cannot be taken lightly.
2. Touts trying to dupe by means of Scams
This starts right from the airport. The taxis cheat travellers by charging a bomb. They then take them to a hotel where they have commission. The hotel charges more fee to pay off the commission and this goes in a cycle. People are always trying to sell something in order to make money. You visit a historical site; you are hounded by guides who won’t leave you unless you have taken their services. It’s extremely annoying for foreigners who start doubting people who genuinely try to help. It ruins their entire perception of Indians.
3. Difficulty in travelling to Distant places
Rail reservations are almost impossible to get unless one has planned way ahead. It gets extremely difficult for a person to go from one part of the country to another. Foreigners on budget tours cannot afford flights always and it is very difficult for them to travel in unreserved crowded coaches. This is a big negative for the tourist scene of India. Tourist friendly countries have extremely nice transportation facilities to aid tourists.
4. Litter Everywhere
It is no secret that our cities are filled with dust and smoke and littered with garbage. We do not care to dump our litter in the bins. This is a big turn off for any foreign tourist who swears by clean roads and parks. Our rivers instead of being scenic are eye sores. For this, it’s only us to blame. We are responsible for all this. With the PM now stressing on ‘Swacch Bharat’, let us not let this opportunity go in vain. Let us promise to keep our cities clean. It is not too difficult and can be easily achieved. And yes, it is not just the lower strata of people who dirty our cities. All of us, at some time or the other have done it or seen our friends throw that plastic bag on the streets without stopping them. This is the time to stand up against it.
5. Unimaginably noisy traffic compared to the West
When I heard this, I was quite taken aback. Apparently foreigners cannot seem to tolerate such high decibels at all times. In UK, I saw people honk only when someone in front had done some gross mistake on the roads. People hardly ever press their horns. In India, there can be no way a driver can drive without honking. This causes immense sound pollution and is very unnerving for someone who is not used to it. When I think about this, I actually start asking myself whether we actually need to honk for the 5 second delay of a car starting up in a signal. The answer is no. We do it out of habit. If we all start being a little more patient, indeed the decibel levels will fall. Even if we don’t care about foreigners, let us do it for our elders.
6. Lack of Sanitation and proper hygiene
It is not within our control to make foreigners believe that not using tissue papers is unhygienic but it is definitely in our control to stop urinating everywhere. Or maybe rise up to stop someone who does it. It is shameful that India is considered the land of diarrhoea and typhoid. Food and water is more often than not adulterated and can cause severe bouts of stomach infection. People in the West, used to clean drinking water, are paranoid about visiting India due to this reason. And, yes we can do something about it. We can stop polluting our rivers which are our source of life. We can demand better quality of food from people who tend to adulterate. We can change this.
7. Lack of proper Information for Tourists.
There is no proper information about hotels, taxis, tours and every tourist office tries to sell their own products and services. There is no way a tourist can get unbiased information. The original Incredible India offices are hard to come by as most travel companies have a stamp of Incredible India and claim to be the authorised people. It’s all very murky. This gives out an idea that most Indians are cheats. The Government needs to set up proper kiosks and information centre for tourists.
8. Quality of Service is poor
Everything in India takes ages. An immigration process is so cumbersome in some places that it drains the excitement out of any tourist visiting India. The officers instead of being proactive and helpful are extremely slow and inefficient. That is the first impression a tourist has. There are not enough people to help out in these places. The police and government officials do not care and are not easily approachable to seek help. This needs a complete mind-set overhaul. We need to make our tourists feel welcome in our country
There are a lot of people who are indeed helpful and want the tourists to take back great memories of the country, but the ones trying to make money from them are overwhelmingly large. People stare at foreigners which makes them really uneasy. They take photographs of foreign tourists without their permission. All these make them really unsettled. We need to understand that no matter how wonderful their trip is, one small untoward incident can completely ruin their impression about our country. We all love our country and like to hear nice things about it. It filled my heart with pride when some travellers went on about the magic that India had cast on them. They loved the scenery, the different cultures, the food and most importantly the people. They cannot stop raving about the helpful nature of many people. Why can’t we be the same? We are proud to be Indians. Let us make India truly Incredible! Jai Hind!