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Blasts (& brawl) batter brand
30% fall in foreign tourist footfall

Patna, July 24: The number of foreign tourists to the state has dropped sharply, further denting the image of Brand Bihar that is already suffering because of the dearth of industry.

According to a report titled “Impact of Naxalism on Tourism”, released by Union tourism minister Shripad Yesso Naik in the Lok Sabha last week, the inflow of foreign guests to Bihar fell by 30 per cent in 2013 in comparison to 2012.

One reason for the drop could be the Bodhgaya blasts of July 7, 2013, the first terrorist strike in the state, followed by the serial explosions at Narendra Modi’s rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on October 27.

The report says the plunge in foreign tourist footfall in Bihar is the highest among nine states hardest hit by Left wing extremism in the country. In terms of actual figures, Bihar received 10,96,933 foreign tourists in 2012, the number dropping to 7,65,835 last year.

The numbers are a blow to the state, which is already struggling to attract industry, primarily because of the lack of land and infrastructure.

The government had patted itself on the back after the foreign tourist numbers crossed the 10-lakh mark for the first time in 2012. The “achievement”, however, could not be sustained for even a year as the figures fell by over 3 lakh in 2013. In fact, last year’s numbers are even lower than what was clocked in 2011.

Even the number of domestic tourists, who account for a much larger chunk, has seen a paltry rise of 0.7 per cent from 2012 to 2013 — 2.14 crore in 2014 and 2.15 crore in 2013. (See Chart)

Experts attributed the dwindling foreign tourist figures to security concerns. The serial blasts at the World Heritage Mahabodhi Mahavihara in July last year is widely perceived to be the biggest blow to tourism in the state — travellers from countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia who go around the Buddhist circuit of Bodhgaya-Rajgir-Nalanda-Vaishali shunned the state. These tourists make up for the highest percentage of the foreign guests to Bihar.

“The most important reason for the foreign tourist footfall crossing the 10-lakh mark in 2012 was the 11-day Kalchakra Puja held at Bodhgaya from December 2011 to January 2012. The global Buddhist congregation was attended by around five lakh devotees, most of them foreigners. However, 2013 was not a good year for tourism in Bihar due to the serial blasts at Bodhgaya, after which large numbers of foreign tourists cancelled their tours,” said Ravi Prakash, tourism expert and manager in the state tourism department in Patna.

Travel and tour operators at New Delhi said they started getting cancellation requests from foreign tourists from August last year itself. “The peak season in Bihar starts with the arrival of Sri Lankan tourists in August and September. However, the blasts at Bodhgaya in July last year reduced their footfall by 70 to 80 per cent. The footfall from October to March mostly comprises tourists from the Asean countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. However, the inflow of foreign tourists from this region was also reduced due to the political unrest in Bangkok,” said Anuj Kumar, managing director, Magadh Travels and Tours Private Ltd, New Delhi.

The hotel association in Bodhgaya made similar claims. “The footfall of foreign tourists in hotels in the last fiscal declined by around 40 per cent as compared to the previous years. The inflow in December and January was the worst, and cancellations continued in January,” said Arun Kumar Ojha, vice-president, Hotel Association, Bodhgaya.

The reduced footfall has financial implications as well. The economy of Bodhgaya is dependent on funds that flow from the tourism sector. Recent estimates suggest the average spending of both domestic and foreign tourists visiting the Buddhist circuit in Bihar is estimated to be nearly Rs 500 to 800 per day, which largely comprises food and lodging.