Tuesday, 25 April 2017

INDIA: Link Uttar Pradesh Tourist And Pilgrim Spots By Helicopter Service

To promote religious tourism in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath government intends to link the places of tourist and pilgrim interest in the state with helicopter service.

This was conveyed by the chief minister during a presentation of Toursim Department when he asked the officials concerned to link major tourist centres including Lucknow, Mathura, Vrindavan, Ayodhya, Prayag (Allahabad), Vindhyachal, Naimisharanya, Chitrakoot, Kushinagar and Varanasi and other places of tourist importance with helicopter service, an official spokesman said here today.

The chief minister instructed during the presentation late last night that the civil aviation department should link these places with the help of public-private participation.

He instructed that the Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi and Lucknow- Allahabad-Gorakhpur sectors be included under the regional connectivity scheme of the central government for providing low cost air service.

Stressing on boosting health tourism with focus on yoga, he suggested preparing a work plan at the earliest for conducting programmes in Gorakhpur and Varanasi.

Instructing officials to make special efforts for boosting investment in tourism sector, he mooted a proposal of appointing 500 tourist police for providing better facilities and cooperation to tourists coming to the state.

Proposing organising an international literary festival of Hindi and Sanskrit in Varanasi, he said it could be used for showcasing Indian culture.

The chief minister suggested organising a road show and food festival in Mumbai in July, besides setting up a one-stop travel solutions portal in eight foreign languages and a detailed plan for developing the state as a medical and wellness tourism destination, the spokesman added.

India has jumped 12 places to 40th rank globally in travel and tourism competitiveness list by World Economic Forum.

India is one of the countries that improved the most as it gained 12 places in Asia, but lagged behind its other Asian peers like Japan and China which were ranked way ahead at 4th and 13th place, respectively. Spain is ranked at the top in the list.

"India continues to enrich its cultural resources, protecting more cultural sites and intangible expressions through UNESCO World Heritage lists, and via a greater digital presence," WEF said in its Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017.

Some of the factors that helped India climb up the ladder include international openness through strong policies such as implementing visa on arrival and e-visas, and improvements in the country's ground transport infrastructure which benefited the travel and tourism sector in the country, it added.

India has seen continued growth in international arrivals over the past 15 years, reaching the eight million mark in 2015, WEF said, adding the country's vast cultural and natural resources, and its price competitiveness advantage also attracted international tourists.

The report, however, noted that though health conditions are improving, they remain "inadequate". Similarly, ICT readiness, security concerns and human resources are improving, but remain "weak".

"While further improvements are needed across these dimensions, India is taking small but important steps in the right direction," WEF said, adding that the Indian travel and tourism sector presents significant opportunities that are yet to be reaped, especially in the provision of tourist service infrastructure, and in terms of additional accommodation capacity and entertainment facilities.

In the global ranking Spain, France and Germany were ranked at the top three positions, making them the most tourism friendly economies.

Traditional strong travel and tourism destinations, including Japan (4th), the United Kingdom (5th), the United States (6th), Australia (7th), Italy (8th), Canada (9th) and Switzerland (10th), have also made it to the top 10.

While advanced economies still hold the top slots, 12 of the top 15 most improved countries are emerging markets.

"The rise of Asia's giants shows that the Asian Tourism Century is becoming a reality. To reach their potential, the majority of countries still have more to do, from enhancing security, promoting their cultural heritage, building their infrastructure and creating stronger visa policies," WEF Community Lead of the Aviation, Travel and Tourism Industries Tiffany Misrahi said.

These results are of significant importance as tourism helps economic growth and job creation - up to 1/10th of global GDP and jobs are tourism-related, WEF noted.

The report ranks 136 countries across 14 dimensions, revealing how well countries could deliver sustainable economic and societal benefits through their travel and tourism sector.

Medical tourist arrivals in India up 25%

The country is witnessing 22-25 per cent growth in medical tourism and healthcare providers expect the industry will double to $6 billion by 2018 from $3 billion now.

The ministries of health, external affairs, tourism and culture are working to increase the number of medical tourists. The government provides online visas, multiple entries, extensions of stay, and accreditation to more hospitals. Several other measures are under way, according to the Indian Medical Association (IMA). “The government has improved the visa policy to make it patient friendly. There is no waiting time for foreign patients at hospitals,” said Radhey Mohan, vice president, international business development, at Apollo Hospitals. The chain received 170,000 foreign patients from 87 countries during 2016-17.

Medical tourists to India typically seek joint replacement surgeries, heart, liver and bone marrow transplants, spine and brain surgeries, cancer and kidney treatments, and in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Patients from Africa and the Middle East access private healthcare in India due to lack of facilities and doctors back home. Medical tourists from Europe and the US come here for cosmetic surgeries that are not covered by insurance. “We do bariatric surgery at $6,000-8,000, while it costs around $15,000 in the US. Almost 15-20 per cent of our surgical patients are from other countries,” said Dr Sukhvinder Singh Saggu, practising laproscopic surgeon at Apollo Spectra New Delhi.

Non-resident Indians, persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and overseas citizens of India (OCIs) prefer to come here for IVF and gynaecology treatments. “They spend only 30 per cent of what it costs in the US or UK. Moreover, they have family support here,” said Dr Kamini Rao, medical director at Milann — The Fertility Centre.

AV Guruva Reddy, managing director of the Hyderabad-based Sunshine Hospitals, said the general standard of hygiene and technology in Indian medical facilities had improved. The number of foreign tourists coming to the country for medical purposes increased 50 per cent to 200,000 in 2016 from 130,000 in 2015. This number is expected to double in 2017 with several new initiatives like easier visas for medical tourists.

Modi's birthplace soon to become a museum, be thrown open to public

Soon, those interested will be able to visit a museum in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthplace, Vadnagar, if things go according to plan. A trip along the narrow bylanes of Vadnagar, the ancient capital of the Gujarat kingdom that the Puranas describe as a flourishing city, is set to become more interesting as tour operators work to create a “Modi landmarks” tour around the city.

The state tourism department, too, is also in the process to develop Vadnagar-Modhera-Patan as a heritage tourist circuit that involves a Rs 7.9 crore redevelopment of Vadnagar railway station (where once Modi sold tea as a boy). Union tourism ministry has sanctioned Rs 99.81 crore for the circuit under the Swadesh Darshan Circuit, and Gujarat Tourism is the nodal agency for executing the same. While this involves creating tourism infrastructure and preservation of these heritage sites together with promoting it for tourists, local travel operators are banking on the Modi connection to sell the package.

The Gujarat Tourism Development Society (GTDS) that comprises several key tour operators in the state is planning to convert the erstwhile house of Modi’s family into a museum. Modi’s family had sold their modest house in Vadnagar where the PM had spent most part of his childhood when they moved to Gandhinagar, the state capital.

Manish Sharma, owner of Akshar Travels and also the chairman of GTDS, says that they are in talks with the current owners and in case they are willing to sell the property, it could be converted into a museum that would showcase the journey of Modi from this small town in north Gujarat to 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. “As it is, many inquisitive tourists descend on Vadnagar and everyone who comes to this town makes it a point to visit Modiji’s house. The house is always thronged by many tourists and the current owners might just want to sell it off,” says an optimistic Sharma who has already made an offer to buy the property.

His agency has been conducting a guided tour called “A Rise from Modi’s Village” since January 2015 and so far around 25,000 people have already taken the tour, including yoga-guru-turned-entrepreneur Baba Ramdev and Union Minister for Tourism, Mahesh Sharma.

The 7.00 am to 7.00 pm tour which costs Rs 700 per person starts from Vadnagar and covers Patan (famous for its 11th century step-well Rani Ki Vav, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Modhera (famous for its 11th century Sun Temple located on the Tropic of Cancer).

Sharma claims that they had recently showcased the “Rise from Modi’s Village” tour at ITB-Berlin, a leading international travel and tourism fair, in March this year, and received phenomenal response from tourists from Africa and West Asia.

“We already have several hundred queries and expect around 50,000 tourists may visit the place in a year,” he claims.

Vadnagar surely has an old world charm and has catapulted to the national fame post Modi’s ascent to Delhi.

S J Haider, principal secretary tourism, Gujarat government, who is the nodal officer for executing the tourism ministry’s plan, says that there are plans to develop Modhera as a solar town keeping true to the site’s century old connection with the Sun Temple, an architectural marvel built by the Chalukya rulers.

As for Vadnagar, the tourism department is planning to develop the several lakes in the region, the most famous being the Sharmishtha lake (where a young Modi had once swam with crocodiles). “There is a plan to develop a theme park, boating jetty at Sharmishtha lake. This apart, there are plans to develop public utilities, pathways, landscaping of the area around the famous torans or gates at Vadnagar that have huge heritage value.”

At Tana-Riri close to Vadnagar, which is famous for its annual musical conference, plans are afoot to build an amphitheatre. The Vadnagar railway station, too, is in for a makeover as the tourism department would be developing a new façade apart from close circuit television and modern amenities.

As such the Western Railways is already converting the Mehsana-Tarange Hill metre gauge section into broad gauge, of which Vadnagar station is a part.

As for Patan, it already is famous for the step-well and its Patola sarees. Tourism department would be working on developing tourism infrastructure in the area and create tourist amenities.
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