Specttrum News: Being the largest democracy in the world can have its share of benefits. Tour operators feel that thousands around the globe would actually be interested in watching the ritual of democracy, when the country goes into polls in over a months time from now to choose their leaders.
What's more, to make the most of the occasion, Ahmedabad-based Akshar Travels has come up with special packages designed for foreign tourists who can experience the 'dance of democracy' in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls 2014. Manish Sharma, owner of Akshar Travels and chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society (GTDS) has forged an alliance with close to 60 tour operators across the country as well as overseas partners in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Beijing, Tokyo among others to attract foreigners into what he calls 'poll tourism'.
"We first spoke about our poll tourism packages at the ITB, Berlin last week, one of the leading travel and tourism conferences in the world that is attended by tour operators, hoteliers, and people from the hospitality industry from over 100 countries. We have already received around 800 enquiries for the election tourism package, with maximum enquiries from places like London, Ukraine, Beijing, Singapore and even parts of France," Sharma claimed.
A typical poll tourism package, priced between $1200-1,800 per person for an average six nights-seven days trip including food, stay, transportation and activities, would combine visiting some of the major tourist attractions in India together with attending political rallies, interacting with political leaders, and on the whole soaking in the election fever that would grip the country in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014. Lets take for example, a Delhi-Agra-Jaipur package.
While in Delhi, the traveller would take a trip around the city in the morning, typically attend a political rally, or even visit a poll booth (during the elections) and spend the evening interacting with a political party representative. "We have spoken to all major political parties in the country, and they are very supportive of the initiative. While major political leaders would be busy with the election preparations, the tourists would interact with the second wrung of political leadership in these parties," Sharma said.
The tour operators' team has also approached the Election Commission of India to seek permission for foreign tourists to visit polling booths, however, the same has not been granted so far.In fact, Sharma's team had tried their hands at something similar during the state assembly elections in Gujarat in 2012.
"We had organised the election tourism packages in a very short time, but had managed to attend to around 90 foreign tourists. This time around, with a pan-India scope, we are hoping to have over 2,000 visitors opting for our poll-tourism packages, especially from countries like Egypt and the Gulf, where many are not familiar with a democratic process of electing their leaders," he explained adding that "Witnessing huge turnouts at political rallies, banners, hoardings, huge cut-outs of political leaders down South; the entire experience of an Indian election is once in a lifetime for many foreigners."
Lav Sharma, the project head for the election tourism package remembered how a local member of the legislative assembly had hosted a dinner for tourists from Ukraine at his village, and later taken them around to show the village and its surroundings. Akshar Travels partners in other cities seemed upbeat about the concept.
"We have not done anything like this before, and this indeed would be an interesting offering for foreign tourists visiting India at this time," said P K Mondal of Ideal Leisure Holiday which conducts trips for the eastern and north-eastern parts of India. Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) said, "This is an interesting concept. India is the largest democracy in the world, and there would be a lot of interest in witnessing the election campaigning process in a colourful country like this. It could also boost foreign tourist arrivals during the season to some extent."
He, however, added that such packages were designed by tour operators on an individual level and not from the ministry etc. Akshar Travels is working out the itinerary keeping in mind the schedule of political parties, so that the visits of the tourists could be timed when the campaigning would be in full fervour. So far, most enquiries are for the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit.
The circuits decided upon include popular tourist destinations like Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, Delhi-Bikaner-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur, Ahmedabad-Rajkot-Gondal,Dwarka-Porbandar-Sasan-Gir, Lucknow-Ayodhya-Varanasi, Delhi-Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, Mathura-Agra-Haridwar-Hrishikesh-Delhi, Cochin-Munnar-Thekkady, Guwahati-Kaziranga-Shillong, Gangtok-Lachen-Peling among others.