Indian destinations, Agra and Sikkim have bagged positions top travel destinations list

Agra and Sikkim now feature in the ‘52 Places to go to in 2017’ list by New York Times Tourism in India might have greater chances of inbound traffic now, with Agra and Sikkim featuring in New York Times’ list of ‘52 Places to go to in 2017’. While Agra has ranked third in the list, Sikkim has bagged the 17th position among the top travel destinations for this year. Interestingly, these tourist destinations in the country have left behind popular tourist hubs like Australia, France, Thailand and others.

12 new coastal spots in Maharashtra funded by United Nations and the Centre

If tourism in Maharashtra has been progressive, this new development will mark another milestone in boosting the industry. The state now has 12 new coastal tourist locations, identified through a project funded by United Nations and the Centre. These new tourists sites have been identified along the 121 km coast of Sindhudurg, as part of the efforts to reduce excessive tourist traffic in the region. So far, majority of the tourist activities were concentrated in the Malvan area of the district which in turn were impacting marine life adversely. The new locations,within 10 kms from the coast, were scouted with fundings from United Nations Development Programme and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and an interim report submitted to the state on October 30, 2016. While this new move echoes the world-wide thrust on Responsible Tourism, the state is also banking on the clear waters and marine life as the USP to attract more number of arrivals to the region. “The water there is the clearest along the coast and there is a diverse range of corals. Near Vengurla, there is a very high diversity in fish, which includes rare predator fish,” Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) N Vasudevanwas quoted saying by The Indian Express. Besides, these new sites will also offer various sea water activities like scuba diving and snorkelling to further divert tourist pressure from Malvan. Local residents too will be having their fair share of impact of this strategy. A report prepared on these lines anticipate employment generation for close to 3000 people in various capacities. The first batch of people in Sindhudurg, who were affiliated with the state, were reportedly earning at least Rs 40,000. Sindhudurg recorded around 13 lakh tourist arrivals last year owing to the affordability and variety of water sports that the region offers.

New high-speed train that can operate on the existing Delhi-Mumbai railway tracks

The Indian government is accelerating its plan to speed up the key Delhi-Mumbai railway line, by ordering a new high-speed train that can operate on the existing tracks. The Economic Times reports that India is planning to acquire two trains from Spanish company Talgo, which will be able to cover the 1,384km journey in less than 12 hours. This would be up to four hours faster than the semi-high-speed Rajdhani Express trains that had been earmarked for the line. “In principle, we want to get two rakes (sets of trains and carriages) on immediate basis,” the newspaper reported a ‘top’ railway official as saying, on condition of anonymity. The Talgo trains would be more expensive than the Rajdhani Express, but they would have an average speed almost 35kph faster. This will help the Indian government’s long-term goal of accelerating the country’s overall network.

The shares of the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) have started being traded on the India’s largest stock exchange

The public sector body, which is controlled by India’s Ministry of Tourism, started listing its shares on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) on 30 December 2016, with an opening price of INR229 (approx. US$3.35). On the same day, the stock touched a high of INR234 before later settling at INR211 per share. In terms of volume, a total of 122,798 shares were traded on the NSE. “It’s a matter of great pride for us to be listed in India’s largest stock exchange and world’s third largest stock exchange in terms of transactions,” said Pradip Kumar Das, director of finance at ITDC. “At ITDC, we are moving with positive momentum and are sure that we are going to make some remarkable performances in the coming years.” IDTC had already traded shares on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

Travellers from the UK and US accounted for the largest share
of e-tourist visas

Travellers from the UK and US accounted for the largest share of e-tourist visas issued by India in November 2016. According to the latest data from the country’s Ministry of Tourism, a total of 136,876 international tourists visited India on e-visas in November, up 63.9% year-on-year. UK nationals accounted for 22.3% of this monthly total, followed by the US (12.9%), Russia (8.7%), France (6.3%) and China (6.1%). Germany (4.6%), Australia (4.1%), Canada (3.6%), Netherlands (1.8%) and Ukraine (1.8%) completed the top 10. Almost half the e-visas were issued at Delhi Airport (45.0%), followed by Mumbai (18.5%), Goa (14.2%), Chennai (5.3%) and Bengaluru (5.2%) airports. For the first 11 months of 2016, India has now issued a total of 917,446 e-tourist visas.

Singapore focuses on ecotourism with two new wildlife parks

Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) has initiated work on its new ‘Mandai rejuvenation project’. This will see existing Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari expanded and supplemented with a brand new Bird Park and Rainforest Park as well. The project will use ‘impacted land’ for redevelopment since 2008, as well as space currently used by Mandai’s three nature parks. The project passed an Environmental Impact Assessment in October 2016. “Reviews and discussions on Mandai’s rejuvenation have been going on for several years with various stakeholders. With the necessary government approvals now obtained, we are delighted to mark this milestone with our partners today,” said S Dhanabalan, Chairman of MPH. The new Bird Park will feature a range of species, including many which are threatened in the wild, housed inlarge walk-through aviaries, themed after different regions of the world. MPH stated that it will adopt breeding, conservation, educational programmes, acting as a sanctuary where birds will be preserved, studied and reproduced. The Rainforest Park will replicate a Southeast Asian jungle, with boardwalks elevating visitors into the multiple tiers, from ground level to the canopy. Aside the new parks, the project will create new entranceways to all of MPH’s parks, a new basement transport hub, event spaces and new walkways. The project will be completed in phases, with the Bird Park and Rainforest Park scheduled to open by 2020 and 2021 respectively.

UN declares 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’ recalling the potential of tourism to advance the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute effectively to the SDGs. “This is a unique opportunity to build a more responsible and committed tourism sector that can capitalise its immense potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. The International Year will promote tourism’s role in the following five key areas:
(1) Inclusive and sustainable economic growth;
(2) Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction;
(3) Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change;
(4) Cultural values, diversity and heritage; and
(5) Mutual understanding, peace and security

J&K to get an eco-park for tourism boost

The park being developed on Koteranka area will be a one stop destination for eco-tourism, children excursions, study tours, home-stays, amusement and different other activities
The Jammu and Kashmir government is planning to set up a first-of-its-kind ecological park along a riverbed in the foothills of Pir Panjal ranges in Rajouri district with an aim to boost tourism in the area. The park being developed on Koteranka area will be a one stop destination for eco-tourism, children excursions, study tours, home-stays, amusement and different other activities. Special components are being designed for educational values particularly about local flora and fauna, they said.
Rajouri District Development commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said the work is in full swing at the park to be set up at a cost of INR 5.88 crore. “Work in full swing at region’s first eco-park. It will be a great destination for conservation education, recreation and nature trails,” he said in a series of tweets. “Park planned along Ans riverbed in the foothills of Pir Panjal ranges near Koteranka aimed at tapping tourism potential of this region,” he added.
The park will also have a herbal garden, a cactus garden, besides a children amusement park. The district administration has also co-ordinated with the WWF-India, the country’s leading conservation organisation, for development of environment conservation study area, nature trail, wildlife exhibitions and a number of initiatives, assistant development commissioner Noor Alam said.
The WWF has already provided 10 camping tents and a solar power plan is working on an educational model, he said, adding that the work on the chain link fencing on 276 kanal (13.8 hectares) of land, construction of approach road, service road, tracks, water bodies and other assets has been started.
The district administration is planning to train a group of at least eight local youths to organise and host different activities, Choudhary said. He said he had asked for mapping of hamlets around the park for the development to showcase local culture and to promote the home-stay concept to reflect the culture and traditions of the region.

Delhi to Amritsar by bullet train in just 2 hours

Travelling at a speed of 300 km/h, reducing a six-hour-long train journey to two hours — that’s what Indian Railways’ new bullet train from Delhi to Amritsar via Chandigarh can do.
This train will complete the 458-km-long journey in two hours and three minutes. At present, the Delhi–Amritsar Shatabdi Express takes six hours. The train will make stops at Panipat, Ambala, Chandigarh, and Ludhiana.
France’s Systra has conducted the feasibility study for the corridor. While speaking with the Financial Express, a senior Railways official said,
The feasibility study report of the high-speed rail corridor between Delhi–Chandigarh–Amritsar has been submitted to the Ministry of Railways in 2016. The report has been accepted by the Ministry of Railways and is currently under consideration.
According to The Times of India, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said,
We have already tested the train to run at the speed of 180 km/h which was successful and after watching its results, Amritsar will be linked with a high-speed train.
As per the 2015 price level, it has been recommended to have a base fare of Rs 4.5 per km. This indicates that one will have to spend a minimum of Rs 2,061 while travelling from Delhi to Amritsar. The 258-km journey between Delhi and Chandigarh will take one hour and 12 minutes and will cost a minimum of Rs 1,161. Presently, the minimum fares for Delhi–Amritsar and Delhi–Chandigarh are Rs 890 and Rs 650 respectively.
The project is expected to be completed in between six and eight years and will cost Rs 61,412 crore, as per the 2015 price level. The bullet train is expected to start functioning by 2025. However, the final call for the project’s implementation will be taken by the railway ministry once the study for other high-speed rail corridors is completed.

India ranks 12th in wellness tourism

Wellness tourism is growing at a fast pace and likely to become a key driver of the tourism economy. As per the Global Wellness Economy Monitor, wellness is the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles which lead to a state of holistic health.
In 2015, India was among the top 20 spa markets accounting for 4,734 spas and provided employment to 55,862, earning revenue of $1.46 billion, bagging 14th position. The country was ranked 14th then.
Presently, India is ranked 12 among the top 20 wellness tourism markets as per the latest findings.
Globally, wellness sector represents a $3.7 trillion economy and from 2013-15, it grew by 10.6%.
Wellness tourism is usually practised by domestic tourists, driven by short-haul and weekend trips. The market is dominated by large countries, such as the U.S., Germany, China, Japan, India and France, which have large internal and domestic tourism markets in general. Domestic wellness tourism represented 83% of all wellness trips and 67% of expenditures in 2015.
Nevertheless, from 2013-2015 international wellness tourism has been growing at a much faster rate than domestic wellness tourism, with 22% growth in trips and 20% growth in expenditures for international, as compared to 17% and 11% for domestic, as per stated by Global Wellness Institute.
While a comprehensive data on the wellness tourism in India is yet to be made available, sources in the industry say this genre is expected to grow faster than the medical tourism.
In India, the wellness market had a turnover of $13 billion in 2015, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 12% to reach $23 billion by 2020.

MTDC pushes for Agri-Tourism

On the occasion of the tenth World Agri Tourism Day, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) organised a conference on National Agri-Tourism in Mumbai.
The event was aimed at creating employment opportunities and boosting investment in the agriculture sector that would encourage tourism. Jaykumar Rawal, Minister of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra, was present at the conference and spoke about how farmers and other stakeholders can develop their skills and farms to attract more tourists looking for a rural, farm-stay experience.
The conference also touched upon MTDC’s ‘Mahabhraman Scheme’ which showcases farmer’s lifestyle and experiencing different activities like planting trees, plucking fruits and vegetables, bullock cart rides, etc.
Rawal revealed, “The Department of Tourism also intends to set up a government interface to cater to the needs of the agri-tour operators. This interface will co-ordinate and provide a link with regional and local government bodies to boost employment opportunities and sustainability in the agricultural sector.”

Patnitop Hill Station Falls Silent as Tourists take Tunnel Road Shortcut

After the new Chenani-Nashri tunnel bypassed Patnitop, tourists stopped coming to the hill station. Locals who made money from tourism are out of business now.
Once a buzzing hill station in Jammu and Kashmir, Patnitop in Udhampur district has fallen silent in peak tourist season. People stopped coming to the hill station, which lies on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in April this year.
The 9.2-kilometre-long surface tunnel, the longest in India, reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by three hours and bypassed the tourist hotspot at Patnitop. Tourist footfall is said to have declined 80 per cent since the tunnel was opened.
Locals — hotel owners, shopkeepers, pony handlers, drivers — who did brisk business suddenly found their source of income has dried up.
Naseer Ahmad, a pony handler, said he has not earned anything in the last fortnight. Hundred others who used to ferry tourists on their ponies are out of work now, he said.
Hundreds of tourists going toward Kashmir valley and the Vaishno Devi shrine used to stop at Patnitop before the tunnel opened.
“This year there is no work. Look around, all the places are empty. All the ponywallahs are jobless. When we can’t earn for ourselves, how will we take care of our ponies? Naseer Ahmad said.
There are some 60 hotels and guesthouses at Patnitop, and over 2,000 people are engaged in the tourism business. According to them, the government must take innovative steps such as building a cable car similar to the Gulmarg Gondola to attract tourists.
“We are facing a lot of problems. This is happening for the first time in Patnitop. We never thought we would ever come to such a situation,” Vishal Sharma, a hotelier at Patnitop, said. “It is getting difficult to find customers for guesthouses. You can see there is not a single tourist here,” Mr Sharma said.
Another hotel owner at the hill station, Satbir Singh, said Patnitop needs a new feature to attract tourists. “There should be development. The only option to bring tourists here is by having a cable car on the pattern of the Gulmarg Gondola,” Mr Singh said.
Courtesy NDTV

In Kerala, GST to make Budget Hotels Cheaper but Eating Out Costlier

Eating out is likely to be costlier after implementation of GST on account of 12 per cent tax on non-AC restaurants with annual turnaround of more than Rs. 50 lakh.
In Kerala, tourists looking for budget hotels are likely to enjoy the monsoon even more from Aug-Sept 1, 2017, as tariffs will be down after the implementation of GST or goods and services tax.
“We fall into the range of Rs. 1,000-Rs. 2,500 room rent…which means that we now pay a tax of 19 per cent but with GST coming in, we will pay only 12 per cent. Some rooms are of Rs. 3,000-Rs. 4,000 range. That will be at 18 per cent after GST. It’s still 1per cent less,” says Hari Harasudhan, general manager, The Capital. A room in ‘The Capital’, in Thiruvananthapuram, which now costs Rs. 2,142 for a night will be slightly cheaper at Rs. 2,016.
But for luxury rooms above Rs. 7,500, you’ll have to shell out at least Rs. 1,500 more for a night after GST is implemented, as there will be a 9 per cent increase in tax, in comparison to the current tax rate of around 19 per cent.
While GST is expected to improve the efficiency of how business is done in India, many hoteliers are nervous about adapting to a new online filing system of returns.
“We’ve been attending specially organised classes. But even there is no clarity. That’s why we have been given time till September to file the Aug-Sept returns. But not many know this,” Biju P, in charge of accounts at the Sea Face Hotel by the famous Kovalam beach says.
Meanwhile, eating out is also likely to be costlier. Till now Hotels in Kerala paid just a meagre 0.5 per cent tax for their non AC restaurants but after GST, a Rs. 150 burger at the city’s popular outdoor cafe 1976 would cost you at least Rs. 30 more, because of the 12 per cent GST on non-AC restaurants with annual turnaround of more than Rs. 50 lakh.
“We are left with no choice but it’s the customer who will have to bear the brunt of this increase. Moreover, GST is more complex, with more paper work”, said Vijay Kumar of the Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association.
Courtesy NDTV

Goa’s Dudhsagar Waterfall might get better Rail connectivity soon

Although it has become inaccessible due to restrictions imposed by Indian Railways, Goa’s tourism department has appealed for better rail connectivity to the spot.
The Dudhsagar Falls, located at the Goa-Karnataka border, has always been one of the most popular landmarks for tourists visiting the region. Most of us have seen it in photos and movies, and have immediately desired to visit the place at least once. After all, to see the waterfalls from the window of a train would be an experience a traveller would want to remember forever.
But unfortunately, the Falls have become inaccessible owing to restrictions imposed at the nearby railway station by Indian Railways. In order to enable tourists to get a glimpse of this glorious waterfall, the tourism department of Goa has urged the Railway Ministry to improve connectivity to the spot.
Goa Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar has requested Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to intervene and request Indian Railways to operate trains from Vasco to Dudhsagar on a daily basis without “unreasonable restrictions.”
Parulekar has also given word on the fact that the Goa Tourism Department will coordinate and cooperate with the local district administration so that enough safety measures are in place for the tourists.
“It may be recalled that Dudhsagar waterfall was well connected by the South Central Railway. However, last year, the railway authorities banned passengers from alighting at Dudhsagar falls citing safety reasons,” the minister said.
Parulekar has pointed out that with the onset of the monsoons, tourists have been expressing disappointment at not being able to visit and view the waterfall.
“Goa is promoting monsoon tourism in a big way and tourists opting for monsoon holidays in Goa wish to add Dudhsagar waterfall to the itinerary,” he said.
Parulekar also revealed that the Goa Tourism Development Corporation might also get into a partnership with the South Central Railway to charter a bogie for tourists at a reasonable cost.

Lahaul-Spiti is now going to be the hottest new tourism destination

The government aims to develop Lahaul-Spiti as part of the Buddhist tourism circuit. A hilly terrain with trekking trails, monasteries, diverse flora and fauna, and a rich Tibet-influenced culture–the twin districts of Lahaul and Spiti boast of a wide variety of attractions to woo tourists.
To tap its tourism potential, these destinations in Himachal Pradesh have now been identified to be developed as new tourist spots.
Union Minister of State for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mahesh Sharma assured that the Centre has approved Rs 250 crore to develop the much-talked-about Buddhist tourism circuit in parts of India, including Lahaul-Spiti. The minister said this while visiting the district on the occasion of Chandra-Bhaga Sangam Parv.
The trans-national Buddhist circuit from India to Nepal has been one of the most important tourism projects envisioned by the government. With Buddhism having originated in India, the government is looking at bringing more of Buddhist pilgrims to India.
Mahesh Sharma also added that the Tandi Sangam, where Chandra and Bhaga rivers meet, would be developed for tourism purposes, as per the demand of people, as there was no dearth of funds to execute the project, reported The Tribune.

You will be able to fly to Shirdi, from July onward

If you’ve been wanting to take your parents to Shirdi, things are about to get a lot easier. The Maharashtrian town of Shirdi receives a lot of religious tourist year after year. Now, this religious tourism is all set to get a bigger boost, because if all goes to plan, Shirdi might just have an operational airport before the month of July 2017 ends.
The airport is set to cut down travel time to Shirdi from Mumbai to just 40 minutes. Right now, the same distance 238 km is covered in about five hours by road. This airport project has partly been funded by the Saibaba Sansthan Trust, reports The Indian Express.
Airport officials have said that various airlines like Alliance Air, Trujet and Indigo have visited the airport site. “Expecting four flights a day in the beginning. Aircraft ranging from ATRs to an Airbus 320 could land here.
Based on a study, passenger traffic of 700-800 daily is expected. In addition to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad will be among the first cities connected.
The airport is being built at a cost of Rs 340 crore, and is expected to be inaugurated towards the end of July 2017.

Most preferred country for vegetarian food for Indian travelers

Do you too look for vegetarian food every time you go vacationing? Thanks to our culture and some predisposed ideas, one of the most difficult things for Indian travelers to encounter while travelling is finding good vegetarian food.
More often than not, vegetarian Indian travelers end up finding their food of preference only at Indian restaurants in whichever country they’re vacationing in. Needless to say, this Indian food at these Indian restaurants abroad is not half as good as the authentic Indian food back home.
But all of that changes when Indians are vacationing in Israel. That’s right-Israel has now emerged as one of the most preferred destinations for vegetarian food for Indian travelers vacationing abroad.
The survey was conducted by Cox & Kings with a sample size of 5000 with age groups ranging between 20 and 65-year-olds from January to March 2017.
In the survey, titled ‘Top vegetarian-friendly destinations and preferences of Indian vegetarian outbound travellers’, Israel has emerged among the top 10 in the list of destinations. Other destinations to have featured on the list are Dubai, United Kingdom and Singapore.
What’s working in Israel’s favour in this case is the increase in number of vegetarian restaurants opening up in the country, and the growing outbound travel to Israel.

The Iconic Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train to get Rs 3.5 crore

UNESCO and Indian Railways have joined hands to preserve every bit of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
The iconic Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as ‘Toy Train,’ is set to be preserved for posterity. UNESCO and the Indian Railways have embarked on developing a ‘Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan’ (CCMP) for the vintage British-era rail heritage.
A core and buffer zone will be fixed for the 78 km-long narrow gauge rail which runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Guidelines will be prepared for maintenance of its beautiful steam locomotives, machinery and historic stations like Kurseong. Even its intangible heritage like craftsmanship will be documented. An expert team has already visited the site twice. It’s a two-year-long project and a fund of over 5.33 lakh US dollars is involved.
A core and buffer zone will be fixed for the 78 km-long narrow gauge rail which runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Guidelines will be prepared for maintenance of its beautiful steam locomotives, machinery and historic stations like Kurseong. Even its intangible heritage like craftsmanship will be documented. An expert team has already visited the site twice. It’s a two-year-long project and a fund of over 5.33 lakh US dollars is involved.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, only the second railway after Austria’s Semmering (1998) to have this honour bestowed upon it. It was also Asia’s first ‘industrial heritage’ site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Universally, the first was Poland’s Weiliczka salt mine (1978). Designed and built by the British in 1880, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway quickly opened up north Bengal’s sleepy hill economy. Villages, tea estates and residential schools grew up around it.
Tourism blossomed. It also played a key role during World War II, transporting soldiers and supplies. In the 21st century though, natural calamities, rapid urbanisation and growth of road traffic along the rail took a toll. The Gorkhaland Movement also forced it close from 1988-89.
Two global NGOs–International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and The Industrial Committee for Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH)–are assisting UNESCO experts on the project.
Numerous landslides, flash floods and earthquakes have damaged the DHR railway line over years. Operations between Siliguri and Kurseong were temporarily suspended following the Pagla Jhora landslide in 2010.
Other than that, the picturesque views that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway offers has to be protected, hence the conservation plan will also have tight strictures on unauthorised slums and encroachments.
The Indian Railways is also planning the digitisation of its heritage inventory. All details regarding its 14 museums and 11 galleries, spread across the country, will be uploaded on a specially-designed website. This includes Delhi’s National Rail museum.