BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, September 29, 2023: India welcomed over 6 million foreign tourists in 2022, with the travel and tourism sector contributing 15.7 trillion to its economy. In 2023, the same sector is poised to contribute $200 billion (Rs16.5 trillion), just 3.5 percent below 2019 (pre-covid), according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Highlighting India’s status as a burgeoning tourism powerhouse and the country’s immense potential in the global tourism landscape, the office of Consul General of India, Atlanta hosted the Incredible India Tourism event on September 15, 2023 at the Sandy Springs City Hall, ten days shy of World Tourism Day celebrated on September 27 every year across the globe. The occasion was supported by Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, Tours Limited, Gwinnett Chamber and Riya Travels.
The event featured several dignitaries including senators, state representatives, city council members, and diplomats. Among those attending were Georgia State Senators Sheikh Rahman and Shawn Still and Georgia State Representative Carter Barrett, City council members Dilip Tunki and Larry Dibiase.
With focus on the southern state of Kerala, the event featured a variety of posters showcasing Indian destinations, with local women in traditional Kerala attire. One lucky winner took home two roundtrip tickets to Disney, sponsored by Tours Limited. The spread of delicacies for dinner also matched the focal coastal state.
Dignitaries underlined the contributions of the diaspora to the state, as Barrett recollected his memories of previous’ years’ festivities that encouraged him to do more for the community. The moments were bittersweet as everyone bid adieu to the outgoing CGI, Atlanta, Dr. Swati Kulkarni, even as they commended her work. “We look forward to having you here for fifty more years,” Barrett said.
Along with cultural performances from acclaimed dance academies in Atlanta, a unique demonstration of Kalaripayattu, an Indian martial art that originated in Kerala and is one of the oldest surviving martial arts in world. This martial art is designed for the ancient battlefield with weapons and combative techniques that are unique to Kerala. Practitioners of Kalaripayattu possess intricate knowledge of pressure points on the human body and healing techniques that incorporate the knowledge of Ayurveda and Yoga. The art also bases medical treatments upon concepts found in the ancient Indian medical text, the Ayurveda.
In her keynote, Dr. Kulkarni highlighted India’s charm, underscoring various options for the well-heeled traveler. “You have a palace on wheels; you can be a maharaja,” she said, referring to Palace on Wheels, a luxury train tour that wends its way across India’s vast rail network to regal destinations. But the medical doctor-turned-diplomat was eager to stress upon India’s promise as a medical tourism hub — with international trained doctors performing complex procedures at a fraction of what they would cost in the West. Dr. Kulkarni drew attention to the popular Heritage, Cultural, Medical, Business, Sports, And Coastal tourism. She also highlighted the growth drivers, including Spiritual tourism, Medical & wellness, tourism, Adventure & sports tourism, Business travelers & MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions).
With an investment worth US$1.5 trillion, the number of airports in India will increase to 220 by 2025, vastly expanding its travel mobility.
Highlighting initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Tourism to boost the tourism sector and to increase India’s competitiveness as a tourism destination, Dr. Kulkarni spoke about the various visas and the sub-categories i.e. e-Tourist visa, e-Business visa, e-Medical visa, e-Medical Attendant visa and e-Conference visa for nationals of 166 countries.
Ministry of Tourism, Government of India has declared “Incredible India! Visit India Year 2023”, with an aim to enhance visitor arrival. In February 2023, the government introduced the ‘Best Tourism Village Competition Portal’ and ‘Rural Tourism Portal’ for promoting tourism in the country.
Incredible India (stylized as Incredıble!ndia) is the name of an international tourism campaign launched by the government of India in 2002 to promote tourism in India. India has come along way since then. In terms of overall travel and tourism development, India is ranked 54th according to the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Development Index of 2022. This index takes into account different factors such as business environment, safety and security, infrastructure, cultural resources, natural resources, and others to assess the development and competitiveness of the travel and tourism sector in different countries.
Under India’s G-20 Presidency, over 200 meetings were planned at over 60 exotic destinations including Kashmir, Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, Kumarakom in Kerala, Goa among others. The G20 meetings held at top tourist hotspots across the country have brought India on the global tourist map.