Anne Majumdar

A turbulent period for Indian tourism appears to have drawn to a close, with a range of initiatives now in place to promote the destination as safe for travellers.

A spate of violent crimes against women, including the 2008 rape and murder of British teenager Scarlett Keeling on Goa’s Anjuna Beach, saw the destination tumble in the popularity stakes as tourists reeled in shock.

But it seems to have gained ground.  Tourist arrivals rose by more than 100% in August and September, according to recent e-visa stats. India’s Bureau of Immigration also revealed that 263,101 Aussies entered the country in 2015, up from 239,762 the previous year – an increase of 9.7%.

“We’re getting a good response from the Australian people,” Indian Tourism Sydney Assistant Director Kanchan Kukreja told KarryOn.

“There is strong interest for Indian destinations whether it be wildlife, culture, it’s even growing as a wedding destination also.”

Image credit: www.marriott.com

Image credit: www.marriott.com

It seems travellers are now less concerned about safety when planning their Indian discoveries.

So what about that time the Indian tourism minister Mahesh Sharma told media that women shouldn’t wear skirts in the destination?

Kukreja insists that was a “distortion of his comment” and instead drew attention to the range of security measures now in place to make tourists feel at ease.

“The government has initiated so many things for the security and safety of women, and we’re already really promoting these things,” she said.

These include a welcome kit including safety advice aimed at female travellers which was introduced last year.

In addition, there is a 24/7 helpline number available in 12 international languages, and the establishment of a tourist police available in various states with specific responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of travellers.

There is also a “Paryatak Mitra” task force made up of students which was launched in March this year, especially to help tourists navigate the often confusing destination.

The launch of the ‘Paryatak Mitra training program on January 12, 2016. Image credit: www.sarkarimirror.com

The launch of the ‘Paryatak Mitra training program on January 12, 2016.
Image credit: www.sarkarimirror.com

But that’s not the only reason India is so hot right now.

According to Kukreja, it’s largely down to the evolution of the country as a whole.

“India has always been best known as a cultural destination, but now it is showing the confluence of the ancient as well as the modern,” she said.

“So people who don’t want to see those ancient things, they can easily enjoy the amenities and modern facilities.”

The tourism department has also ramped up its marketing efforts Down Under.

Incredible India messaging is appearing through print and digital channels, as well as on the sides of buses. Then there is Confluence – the festival of India in Australia which kicked off in August and is running through to November with events incorporating music, theatre, art and even street magic.

Jadoo street magic - part of the Confluence program. Image credit: www.confluencefoi.com

Jadoo street magic – part of the Confluence program.
Image credit: www.confluencefoi.com

Katrina Barry, the managing director of Contiki which recently announced its return to the destination after more than 40 years, agreed that India is being seen in a different light.

Traditionally, it was seen as a “journey” destination, with travellers setting aside three or more months to explore and “find themselves”, according to Barry.

“Now, particularly out of Australia, people are saying ‘Oh, we’ll go there for a couple of weeks’,” she told KarryOn back in July.

Barry also cited the growing popularity of Goa as a beach destination, and Air India’s direct flights from Sydney to Delhi as among the factors driving demand.

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