First, some statistics. The number of foreign tourist arriving in India stands at around 5 million every year. Though it is growing at around 15 odd percent every year, India's share in world tourist arrivals stands at a lowly 0.7 %. In fact, the stated objective of the government is to increase this figure marginally to around 1% by 2016. Both these figures are dismal for a country like India which has umpteen tourist spots (apart from the usual suspects like Goa, the Taj and Kashmir, there are still plenty of sights on offer in a nation as vast and diverse as ours). And what is even worse, there are many reports that suggest that Indians prefer to travel abroad (with the Gulf, South-East Asia becoming cheap destinations) rather than spend time and money on seeing what their own land has to offer ! On a recent trip up North, I came across two instances (on the same day no less !!) that offered a glimpse on why we are so bad at attracting tourists.
On Saturday the 27th October, I visited the Taj Mahal. When I reached there around 11.30 am, it was a choc-a-bloc with people (I was told that the long weekend and Bakri Id were the cause). Whatever the reason, it was packed with tourists (see the huge numbers in the attached snap) and we had to stand in the queue no less than 3 times (purchasing tickets, entering the main compound and then entering the actual Taj structure). Now I have no issues in respecting the queue, but many of the people around seemed oblivous to people spending time in standing in a queue. Touts and guides were freely injecting their customers in the queue, and nobody seemed to mind. As is to be expected, there was no security around to mind the crowds and that made things even worse. It was especially bad at the entrance to the main Taj structure, where I, with my temper running high, almost had a physical altercation with people who were jumping the queue ! Off the two-odd hours that I spent there, nearly 1.5 hours was spent in queues and arguing with people. Thankfully, it was my second visit to the Taj. Had it been my first, I would have been gutted to see the experience of visiting a beautiful monument spoilt by people who do not have the civic sense of queing up (The next day, I was at the Lotus Temple in Delhi, and the same scene played out there as well !).
From the Taj, we drove on to Fatehpur Sikri around 40km to the west. About 4km short of the monument, as we pulled away from the highway onto the service road, our cab was stopped by a couple of people claiming to be guides. They pointed to a spot about 200m away and said that outside cars were permitted to go only till that point. Thereafter, there was a cab shuttle to take visitors to Fatehpur Sikri (a couple of hundred bucks to cover around 3-4 kms !). To add to it were their guide fees of around Rs 100. Their USP was, of course, to give us a discount of Rs 50 !! With our mood already fouled by the events at the Taj, we simply ignored them and moved on. And found that our cab could go freely till almost the end (with only the last 0.5 km being covered in a government shuttle bus that cost a princely sum of Rs 5 each !). It was then I discovered the meaning of the word highway robbery. God alone knows how many people have fallen to this fraud ! (We were again stopped - with people almost jumping in front of our moving cab - about a kilometer from the monument, but this time we knew better). Another example of the experience of visting a beautiful place like the Fatehpur Sikri being spoilt.
As long as instances like this happen, there is no reason why we should spent our time and money getting ripped off by anti-social elements out to make a quick buck in the name of tourism. It is something that the government needs to address quickly. They need to look at what is happening around the tourist places, not just inside. Till that happens, and visiting tourist spots is made a comfortable experience (I am not even getting into the state of the infrastructure at many of the places), we will continue to lag at the bottom of the heap when it comes to attracting tourists. Dear Mr. Chiranjeevi (who was recently appointed MoS with independent charge of tourism), I hope you use your learnings from your various movie shoots abroad and implement them so that we learn how to take care of our tourists.