India kicked off a tourism road show in Riyadh Monday night with a major announcement that New Delhi is working on a proposal to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia to boost cooperation in tourism sector. It was also revealed that New Delhi will consider at a later stage to set up a tourism representative office in Saudi Arabia, a key Arab nation which sent about 23,000 tourists to India last year.
“An increase of 43 percent in the number of Saudi tourists to India was reported last year compared to the year before,” said Indian Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao, while addressing a huge contingent of ministry of tourism officials, Saudi tour operators and hospitality industry executives at the Sheraton Hotel Monday night. R. H. Khwaja, secretary at India’s Ministry of Tourism and leader of India’s tourism delegation, was also present.
The event aimed to draw Saudi tourists to the many attractions in India, ranging from the majestic Himalayas to the golden beaches of Goa, and also to project the country as a world-class wellness and medical tourism destination. In his remarks, Ambassador Rao called on the Saudi tourists to visit India, which will eventually help “to broaden cross-cultural understanding.” The event was aimed at introducing a variety of tourism packages to Saudis with a view to attracting tourists from all walks of life.
The medical tourism component of the event highlighted the growing and advanced medical treatment facilities and wellness centers available in India. The event was attended by top executives and officials of India Tourist Office in Dubai, and a large contingent of tour operators from Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), Air India, Jet Airways, Taj Group of Hotels and representatives of medical and wellness facilities of India.
Prominent among those present on the occasion were Nasir Aslam Wani, minister of state of Jammu & Kashmir government; Nawang Rigzin, minister of tourism and culture of Jammu & Kashmir government; Devesh Chaturvedi, additional director general at the Indian Ministry of Tourism; Vikas Rustagi, regional tourism director for West Asia and Africa of the Ministry of Tourism; and Atal Dulloo, commissioner secretary to Jammu & Kashmir government.
Referring to the growing tourism traffic to India, Ambassador Rao said that “India, which endeavors to maintain a steady growth in terms of the influx of tourists, received about 5.8 million tourists in 2010.”
“India has fascinated the rest of the world and has been a store house of rich cultural heritage blended with natural beauty, a treasure-house of magnificent historical monuments, arts and crafts, dance and music alongside cuisine rich in colors and aromas,” he said.
In his speech, the Indian envoy pointed out that the trade and cultural links between Arabia and ancient India date back to the 3rd millennium BC. He said that the “influence of Arab-Islamic culture” was a rare tourism component to be experienced by Saudi and Arab tourists in particular. “India is one of the largest repositories of Arabicmanuscripts and a number of Arabic calligraphy styles originated in India,” he added.
This is in addition to internationally-renowned monuments like Taj Mahal, said the envoy, adding that one of the oldest mosques of the world built in 629 AD is at Kodungaloor in Kerala. India, he said, was now emerging as one of the most favorite tourist destinations in the world as “there are different reasons for different people to visit India.”