While Chinese tourist numbers have been booming in a diverse range countries across the world—including Mauritius, Sri Lanka, and the UK, just to name a few—one country that shares a border with China has faced challenges in cashing in on Chinese tourist growth: India. In order to make up for lost revenue, India’s embassy is currently on a major tourism promotion blitz in China in hopes of seeing some of the double- and even triple-digit tourism growth rates that have benefited locales much farther away.
Dressed in finery, Indian classical dance repertory Kalakshetra performed a traditional dance drama in front of over 800 people at one of China’s largest venues, the Poly Theater in Beijing on May 11 to kick off the “Glimpses of India” festival that is being held in cities across China. The program aims to promote increased trade, tourism, and greater cultural understanding between the two countries after India’s lackluster Chinese tourism numbers last year.
Following last year’s visit to India by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May and a subsequent China visit by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in October of the same year, the Indian Embassy in China announced that 2014 has been designated as the “India-China Year of Friendly Exchanges.” A “Glimpses of India” festival, jointly organized by the Indian Embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, will spread Indian cultural awareness across 12 cities. The first rounds began in April in Beijing, Chengdu, and Hong Kong. It will eventually reach Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Dali, Kunming, Shanghai, Urumqi, Lhasa, and Qingdao.
In addition to traditional Indian dance displays, the festival will celebrate India’s art, photography, food, and more. A Bollywood film festival, the first of its kind in China, will also be held, along with business and tourism promotional fairs.
“The effort will be India’s biggest ever attempt to reach out directly to the Chinese public,” said India’s Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha to Indian news outlet The Hindu. “What we are going to do is reach out to a much larger audience and to a newer set of people in China, especially the youth.”
The Hindu reports that officials said the initiative’s advertisements on Chinese social media were well-received—India’s tourism office had around 43,000 followers on Sina Weibo at the time of interview. According to the article,
Mr. Kantha acknowledged that so far, Chinese interest in traveling to India, despite the Buddhism connection, had remained low. More than 97 million Chinese traveled overseas in 2013—more travelers than from any country but only around 160,000 Chinese travel to India annually—less than 0.2 percent of the total traffic. This has meant lost revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars—Chinese travelers are expected to spend $130 billion this year.
The article also reports that India has been unpopular with Chinese travelers due to visa difficulties, a lack of robust promotion by India, a shortage of Chinese-speaking tour guides, and safety concerns. Kantha commented that visa issues such as an overly complicated process and long waiting times have been resolved.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) forecasts above-average growth for India’s tourism sector in 2014, following slow performance last year. WTTC’s president and CEO David Scowsill said that if India wishes to capitalize on the rise of outbound tourists from Asia, the government should move toward e-visa applications and employ “intelligent rather than punitive taxation policies” to further encourage Chinese visitors.