Religious Tourism has proven resilience to the pressures of Global Recession: Kumari Selja



The Union Tourism and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja has said that it is an accepted fact that Religious Tourism has proven resilience to the pressures of Global Recession. Speaking at the inaugural session of the International Buddhist heritage Conference-2010, at Nalanda today she said, not being viewed as a luxury, but as travel with a purpose, its (religious tourism) elasticity and strength has withered the storm in the current economic scenario. She said, this has given the hope and courage and her Ministry strives to help millions of followers to achieve their life long desire to visit India and walk in the footsteps of the Great Buddha.

She said, Buddhism is a world religion today. We are proud that it arose in and around ancient Magadha (Modern Bihar). Buddhism and the numerous sites related to the life and enlightenment of Lord Buddha are spread all over India forming a set of destinations by themselves. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Ajanta & Ellora, the Sanchi monuments, the Mahabodhi Temple, along with equally stunning sites like the Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Sarnath, Bhagalpur, Udaigiri & Ratnagiri are great attractions for the Tourist.

Kumari Selja said, the Union Ministry of Tourism, with active involvement of concerned State Governments and Industry stakeholders, has taken up a number of initiatives to promote Tourism in these Buddhist sites steeped in culture and heritage. One of the promotional initiatives has been the launch of a special tourist train, ‘The Mahaparinirvana’ by the Indian Railways. The train, with an eight–day package, starts from Delhi and covers the important Buddhist sites of Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Varanasi, Kushinagar and Sravasti.

She said, her Ministry has till date identified 29 mega destinations and circuits including Bodh Gaya–Nalanda–Rajgir circuit. She said, the Ministry intends to channelise quality investment in all the Mega Destinations and Circuits. Kumari Selja said that the Ajanta Ellora Conservation and Tourism Development Project is in an advanced stage of implementation. This project covers various cities with Buddhist sites in Maharashtra. It was undertaken with assistance from Japan Bank of International Cooperation. In addition to this, projects related to development of Buddhist Circuits in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with active assistance from Japan Bank of International Cooperation, are also in formulation.

The Minister said, while the efforts to promote tourism are doubled, we must not lose sight of the impact of unorganised and uncontrolled growth of tourism on the environment and the ecology of the destinations. She said, the true potential of tourism lies in responsible practices, enabling an effective response to climate change. This is closely interlinked with inclusive growth through sustainable community participation. India, with its abundance of bio–diversity and natural locales, is an ideal destination for eco and rural tourism. She said, our endeavour has been to formulate such policy that encourages sustainable tourism while underlining creation of environmental, social, economic and climate responsiveness. Kumari Selja said, the Ministry has adopted the ‘sustainable’ tourism route in the innovative Rural Tourism Projects by strengthening the skilled rural communities in association with United Nations Development Programme. Another step in the direction of sustainable tourism would be adoption of ‘Green Mission Initiative’ as has been done in some States. She urged all the stakeholders in tourism sector to give a thought to emulating this novel idea in their respective domains.

The Minister said, the relationship between sustainable tourism and economic growth is very intimate and delicate and requires immediate attention. She said, safety and security of tourists is an area of primary concern. Any adverse perception about safety and security of tourists would seriously affect tourist arrivals in the country. She said, she is of the firm view that security and safety of tourists is of paramount importance for sustained growth of the sector. The tourist inflow could be ensured only in a safe and secure environment. Kumari Selja said, in the Ministry of Tourism, all out efforts are being made to address this issue. The Minister announced that the centre will soon launch an all India help line for tourists. She said, tourists in distress will also be able to use it.

The Minister said, while many destinations across the world reduced their marketing spends during recession, India continued with its promotional and marketing activities aggressively. The ‘Incredible India’ brand campaign and innovative programmes like “Visit India” campaign have contributed to revival of international tourism in the country. During December 2009, the foreign tourist arrivals in India saw a 21% increase over the same period in 2008. She said, the future looks bright and we expect buoyancy to return to the sector soon.

The Minister said, introduction of “Visa on Arrival” for tourists coming from potentially source market countries free from security concerns has come into force from 1st January 2010 and presently, the Scheme is applicable for tourists from five countries, viz., Singapore, Finland, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Japan on a pilot basis for a period of one year. She said, we expect that this move will send positive signals to source markets and give a tremendous boost to inbound tourism.

Kumari Selja said, tourism works in synergy. All components of the Sector have to work together harmoniously to deliver positive experiences to the travellers. She said, an integrated balanced growth of the Sector is essential to ensure India the pedestal that it deserves on the global tourism map.

The Deputy Chief Minister, Bihar Shri Sushil Kumar Modi asked the Union Tourism Ministry to provide more funds for tourism projects in the state. He assured that such funds will be utilized properly.

The two-day conference is being organized by ministry of tourism in collaboration with the state government of Bihar with an aim to promote Buddhist Circuits in India. The theme for the conference is “experience buddhism in the land of origin”

More than 110 eminent monks and erudite scholars, reputed academicians, tour operators as well as Media representatives (mainstream media and travel journalists) from the relevant markets overseas are participating in the Conference through the Indiatourism Offices Overseas. The delegates have come from 18 countries including China, Japan, Malayasia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea, France, USA and UK. Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh are also being represented at the conference.

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