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Tourist Arrivals in India Rise 14% in 2006; The US and UK
 Remain India's Largest Inward Markets
The Economic Times, IndiaMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 10, 2007 - NEW DELHI -- Tourist arrivals to India crossed 4.47 million in the calendar year 2006, a growth of 14.3 percent over January-December '05. December '06 had the highest ever number of tourist arrivals to India in the past three years, 5.47 lakh, up 18 percent over December '05, and is nearly twice the numbers that arrived in India in December '02.

These arrivals show up in the forex earnings in 2006, which were Rs 29,000 crore for January-December '06 , up 15.6 percent over January-December '05. December '06 grossed the highest forex- Rs 3,369 crore, up 13 percent over December '05 -- in the past three years.

2006 has been a good year for Indian tourism, with double-digit growth rates in every month, even during lean months of summer and monsoons. Part of this is business travel, which has been rising all through out 2006 as a result of greater industrial activity and trade. Another key driver is the higher number of airline seats into India, with all the major airlines having increased flights to various destinations in India.

In fact, in 2006, it was the airlines of the neighbouring countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE, Qatar and Sri Lanka that raised their seats to cities like Hyderabad, Cochin, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, opening up new destinations in India for tourists. This coupled with greater awareness of India as a destination, courtesy the 'Incredible India' campaign airing on the networks of several countries, drove growth in numbers. The US and UK still remain India's largest inward markets, but tourists from near-by countries are also growing.

The rising tourist numbers also reflect in hotel parameters. Average room realizations (ARR) have remained higher than ever in the past three years, averaging over Rs 14,000 in cities like Bangalore even through 'lean' seasons, where a rise in business travel made up for a drop in leisure travel during the months of June-September. Occupancies in major cities have averaged over 75 percent, and the 1-lakh odd rooms that India has in the registered category are already falling way short of demand. The hotel stocks reflected this strong demand-supply situation as well. Share prices of all major hotel scrips traded on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) were up between 13 percent to 32 percent over the year.

These are good numbers for India, but still lag far behind smaller Asian rivals. Singapore, a city-state the size of Mumbai, got 8.8 million visitors in January-November '06, up 9 percent and 0.8 million in November '06 alone. Hong Kong hosted 22.8 million visitors, up 8 percent. Even accounting for 10 million Chinese mainland visitors, Hong Kong received over 12 million overseas visitors, and nearly 1 million in November '06, against India's 0.5 million in the same month.

By Sachin Baxi & Joseph Pereira


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