Bangalore: Foreign tourist arrivals in India grew 21 percent in December over the corresponding month in 2008 though it fell three percent for the year due to the meltdown, H1N1 scare and safety concerns following the Mumbai terror attacks.
"It is heartening to note that foreign tourist arrival is showing a growth trend after a 3.3 percent dip in a recession-hit 2009. We expect the buoyancy to return in 2010," said Tourism Minister Kumari Selja here on Saturday.
Addressing an inter-state regional conference of tourism ministers of the southern states, Selja said the "Visa on Arrival" scheme introduced recently for Finland, Japan, Luxemburg, New Zealand and Singapore would boost inbound tourism.
According to Tourism Secretary Sujit Banerjee, foreign tourist arrivals in 2009 declined 17.6 percent during the first 11 months in 2009 but revived sharply in December to register 21 percent growth over the year-ago period.
Selja said the inflow of foreign tourists could be ensured in a safe and secured environment.
"We have formulated guidelines for raising a Tourist Security Organisation comprising ex-servicemen. Though several states have deployed tourist police at important tourist destinations, there is a need for a specialised agency," she said.
The minister urged the states to take steps for protecting tourists against crime and disaster situations.
Referring to south India`s tourism potential, the minister said the region had been known for its "wellness tourism", which was becoming a unique selling proposition for India.
"We attach great importance to the development and promotion of wellness tourism. India is traditionally considered a cultural destination and is emerging as an important destination for wellness holidays," she said.
Noting that the World Tourism Organisation had declared that India`s tourism sector was the fastest growing at eight percent annually, Selja said the central government was providing assistance to states to augment tourism infrastructure.
"Solid waste management is one of the major challenges faced by our cities and tourism centres," Selja said.
In this context, she said her ministry had instituted an award for "Best Civic Management of a Tourist Destination in India", with a view to involve local bodies in ensuring eco-friendly, hygienic and attractive surroundings.
Banerjee said southern states could be developed as a tourist hub of Asia, adding: "For this, we need to bring in uniform luxury tax and remove barriers in the way of tourism development."
The conference was convened to discuss rationalisation of luxury tax, ways to facilitate seamless travel in inter-state circuits, tourist security and safety, broadbasing of hospitality education and skill training in the sector.