The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Destination India for virus-spooked tourists

Mumbai, May 21: There comes a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

In Shakespeare’s metaphor lies an Indian success story, scripted by war and disease.

Visa International, the world’s most preferred payment system, today reported a 45 per cent year-on-year growth in transactions made by overseas card-holders in India for the week ended May 11. Behind the number is the tale of how India’s tourism flourished even as an endemic stalked the east and guns boomed in the west.

Visa, also the largest payment brand in this country, said tourist and domestic transactions were up 45 per cent in mid-May. The number increased from 46,000 in the week to May 11, 2002, to 67,000 same time this year.

So, what’s behind the Pilgrim’s Progress' Several things. The mystery virus in the Asia Pacific region, one of the hottest holiday spots in the past, prompted travellers around the world to take a closer look at India, a country that was away from the theatre of war and was free of the killer virus ravaging other countries.

“India is the only country that has registered such a strong double-digit increase in tourist transactions in Asia-Pacific, as the impact of SARS and, to a lesser extent, the Iraq war, hurt consumer confidence,” Visa said. Unlike in China, tourists here faced no travel curbs.

Visa card spending accounts for a big chunk of global tourism revenues and is critical to its growth in several countries. “In 2001, 15 per cent of the money in tourism came from Visa cards,” Visa International deputy country manager (South Asia) Uttam Nayak said.

Even as foreigners troop in, travel agencies are tapping into the immense potential of domestic tourism as well. Says Zubin Karkaria, chief operating officer of Kuoni India: “Although domestic tourism is the fastest growing sector within the travel industry, it remains a virtually untapped and unregulated market.

To tap this opportunity, Kuoni India, through Sita Holidays, has announced recently a new scheme with 1001 varied holiday options for domestic travellers.”

As India’s bright spot came into sharper focus, so did the blight in Asia-Pacific: Visa card transactions in the region slumped 21 per cent year-on-year in the week ended May 11, 2003 as SARS continued to keep visitors away.

“This is the steepest decline recorded since the SARS outbreak began and the sixth straight week of negative growth, reversing a rise of 13 per cent in early February, before the war and SARS hit cross-border spending,” Visa added.

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