The Union Ministry of Culture of India has recently announced that from now on tourists would be able to enter almost 200 monuments and museums without tickets. This facility would however not be applicable in Bihar. These benefits were announced as part of the ministry’s World Tourism Day celebrations on 11th September. According to Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State for Culture, the national government was taking a number of steps to make it better for tourists – in fact the centre was and still is highly committed to bringing in more tourists from around the world.
Which sites will be included?
In a press release the central government has said that the benefit of free entry would include in its fold 116 national monuments such as Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Qutub Minar, and Red Fort to name a few. 35 museum sites maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are also included in this list.
Growth in the number of international tourists
During July 2015 the ministry had said that compared to June in the same year there had been a growth of 1.8% in the number of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs). Majority of the tourists had in that period come from the US. Even in June 2015 when 5.13 lakh foreigners visited India, the number was better than in June 2014 when 5.05 lakh people came to India.
World Tourism Day and India
From 1980 onwards, 27th September has been recognized around the world as World Tourism Day. In 2015, the theme was ‘One billion tourists, one billion opportunities’ – it very well represented the impact that the tourism sector could have on growth of Indian economy by way of creating jobs and overall development. UN World Tourism Organization was of the same opinion as well.
One of the biggest problems that international tourists face in India is that of SIM cards, or rather their availability. Even though this is the simplest of issues and one that should not happen in a country like India that aspires to see itself at the very upper echelons of international circles it happens nonetheless. Indian Government has already provided its approval to a proposal whereby international tourists, visiting on e-tourist visas, would be given local SIM cards. It is expected that by the end of September 2016 this plan would reach fruition. According to Vinod Zutshi, Tourism Secretary, it could very well be launched on World Tourism Day itself.
What is the present scenario?
At present, international tourists visiting India have to follow a rather long process in order to get local SIM cards. They have to provide a whole range of documents such as proof of their identity, photocopied versions of their passport that also bears a proper visa stamp, proof of address alongwith reference of local address, and their photographs. All these are needed when they have to apply for a new connection. However, the ordeal does not end here. The concerned tourist would also need to undergo a verification process over the phone with the operator whose services are being sought. This can consume a couple of days. However, as soon as approval is granted things do become much smoother and a lot simpler.
Why is this step being taken?
The step is being taken because India is now serious about attracting more international tourists. In 2014, it was in thirty-eighth position in terms of being visited. In the same year, as per National Council for Applied Economic Research, it also generated 6.77% of the GDP. In the same year, IT-BPO industry, which is regarded as such an important part of national economy, only came up with 7.5% of the GDP.
Role of BSNL
It is likely that the SIM cards will be provided by BSNL, the biggest state-owned telecom operator in the country, as per officers in Tourism Ministry. The discussions, right now, are in their final stages. Apart from SIM cards tourists arriving on e-visas will also be given maps, emergency contact numbers, and booklets that will contain information on the destination that they are visiting. SIM cards are supposed to come with some free credit but the exact amount is yet to be determined.
It is very easy to get e-tourist visas in India. All one needs to do is apply four days before arrival. At present, citizens of 150 countries around the world can get e-tourist visas.
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