India and China share age-old cultural and civilization ties. The time-honoured history of friendship and exchanges between the two ancient civilizations has provided a strong foundation for people of the two countries to visit each other's countries from ancient times to today.
Both countries are abundant with rich cultural heritage and pristine natural beauty which not only attract domestic tourists but also foreign tourists. In recent years, India-China tourism relations have developed with frequent exchanges between leaders of the two countries and the mutual political trust between them. The tourism industries of both countries are contributing significantly to their national economies, while contributing to global tourism. While China's tourism industry accounted for 11 percent of its GDP, the sector accounts for 9.6 percent of India’s GDP.
To vigorously promote tourism between India and China, both sides organized tourism promotion projects like the "Festival of India” in China and "Festival of China” in India in 2010 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations. President Xi Jinping’s India visit in September 2014 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reciprocal visit in May 2015 have helped widen contacts between the two countries. The year 2015 was observed as the “Visit India Year” in China and 2016 was designated as “Visit China Year” for Indian tourists. Both events set a model for cross-cultural communication, expanding cultural and people-to-people ties.
The diversity of Indian culture and its cultural sites and its majestic monuments and colourful festivals have always attracted travellers from around the world including China, despite negative news about sexual assaults or rape of foreign tourists, slums, sewage, heat and dust of India.
During his visit to China in May 15, 2015, while delivering a speech at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, Modi extended e-visa facility to Chinese tourists. According to the report of the Indian Bureau of Immigration, China has emerged as the fifth largest user of India's e-visa facility, well ahead of advanced nations like Germany, Australia and Canada.
Figures released by India's Ministry of Tourism show that foreign tourist arrivals for 2017 crossed the 10 million mark, showing an impressive increase of 15.6 percent over 2016. China, which was at 13th on the list of inbound tourists in 2014, moved to 8th position in three years, with increasing numbers of Chinese tourists exploring India’s historical, diverse cultural heritage, traditions, monuments, food and handicrafts. The number of Chinese visitors has clocked a fourfold increase from 62,300 in 2006 to 251,313 for 2016. However, this growth saw a slight dip to 250,000 last year.
In 2014, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest outbound-travel market, both in terms of the number of tourists and also total travel expenditure. Quoting a report released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, China.org.cn reported on August 30 that Chinese tourists are collectively the world's biggest spenders on international tourism, forking out US$258 billion last year, almost a fifth of the world's total tourism spending. As per 2017 figures, China sends out 144 million tourists in a year. Xinhua reported on August 22 that in the first six months of 2018, Chinese tourists also made more than 71.3 million overseas trips, an increase of 15% compared to same period in 2017.
With its size and range of destinations, India is bound to receive its share in this growing number of China's outbound tourists. To bring at least 10 percent of 144 million Chinese tourists in the next five years, Indian Tourism Minister K.J Alphons, accompanied by about 20 Indian tour operators, flew to China in August to promote India as a good destination for visitors from China. The Indian government held “Incredible India” roadshows, showcasing India's tourism potential in Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Shanghai.
The timing of Alphons’ China visit, just one month before of the 69th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, is significant since China’s National Day is celebrated with a week-long holiday. The seven-day break is an opportunity for Chinese citizens to travel around the country and also abroad. Xinhua stated that last year Chinese overseas travel increased 56% during Golden Week. And Chinese holidaymakers’ per capita spending on high-quality overseas tour packages also reached a new high, surpassing US$759. This year, some 6.5 million people made trips overseas during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.
If India wants to become a foreign traveller’s paradise, it needs to improve its tourist infrastructure, taking lessons from China. To become the top tourist destination for Chinese tourists, improved air connectivity, low cost airlines, improved road infrastructure, affordable star-rated hotels as well as mid-range hotels, Chinese-language facilities at tourist spots, facility of Chinese mobile payment system, Chinese food facility in highway restaurants, safety measures for female travellers are vital to attain the targeted number of in-bound Chinese tourists. If these concerns remain unaddressed, the high decibel “Incredible India” tourism campaign will remain an “incredibly inconvenient and expensive” India, not only for foreign travellers but also for the locals.
(The author is training to be a teacher and is keenly interested in India-China relations. She can be contacted at email@example.com)