“Elections tourism” MEDIA



The Indian Elections Are Becoming a Big Tourist Draw

April 30, 2014

BJP leader Narendra Modi shows his inked finger to supporters as he leaves a polling station after voting on April 30, 2014 in Ahmedabad, India.

Hundreds of visitors from as far away as the U.S., France and Australia are curious to see the world's largest ballot, with 814 million eligible voters, in action and have signed up for election-themed tours that include visits to rallies and meetings with party officials

If festivals like Diwali, Holi or the spectacular KumbhMela draw tourists to India, why shouldn’t its vast, sprawling legislative election? With 814 million eligible voters, it’s the biggest democratic show on earth — and with that in mind, tourists from as far afield as the U.S., the U.K., France and Australia have signed up for package tours that include visiting public rallies and meeting party officials.


Among the visitors are curious tourists of Indian ethnicity, like Beijing-based businessman Ratan Singh Chowdhury. He got an Indian tour operator to come up with a tailor-made election-tourism package for him and four of his friends, and together they have been crisscrossing the country since the beginning of April. Their travel plans include meetings with more than 70 people from local communities in the states they have chosen to visit. For his Chinese travel companions — hailing from a country where citizens can only vote in low-level elections that are usually stage-managed — the experience is fascinating.


“India is the largest democracy in the world and our next-door neighbor,” says Pan Liu, 25, a technical manager in a solar company in Guangzhou, in an email to TIME. “Our interest in India is natural.”
Liu is not the only one who has been bitten by the Indian poll bug this year. While there are no hard numbers yet, tour operators say hundreds if not thousands of long-haul visitors will witness the polls firsthand. Some are there because of a professional interest.


“It’s a huge achievement that, for the last six decades, India has been conducting these elections in a free and fair manner, and so there’s a lot of academic interest in the process,” says Subhash Goyal, founder-chairman of the travel company that customized the election package for Chowdhury and his friends. “This is a new segment of tourism that has emerged and we are very happy about it, but we were not prepared for this kind of demand.”


At the same time, there are visitors who just want to soak up the carnival-like atmosphere that generally accompanies the polls.
“Even in the small villages there are decorations, rallies and celebrations [of a kind] seen nowhere else in the world,” says Manish Sharma, chairman of a tourism-development body in the western state of Gujarat and the director of a travel agency.


Sharma tested the waters by offering tours of the Gujarat state polls in 2012, inspired by similar packages in Mexico. His company now offers a weeklong, $1,200 tour of several cities in various stages of India’s general elections. About 800 tourists have already signed up, and he is expecting to sell as many as 2,000 more tours. “It feels like a festival,” says Nirav Shah, one of Sharma’s customers and a 27-year-old IT professional based in the U.S. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen this type of craze for Indian elections.”


The hype is also spurring foreign operators to get in on the act. Companies like U.K.-based Political Tours plan to start election tours of India during the next round of voting.


“India is the largest democracy in the world, and there is huge interest internationally in seeing it in operation,” says Nicholas Wood, the firm’s director.


Chowdhury’s Chinese friend Pan Liu agrees. “We are very excited to see so many people doing nothing but politics,” she says.

 

Election tourism thrives as India votes

Braving the scorching heat, foreign tourists are visiting the world’s largest democracy to get a taste of its election.

12 Apr 2014

Voting in India's fourth phase of elections will take place on April 12 [Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

When Jennifer from the UK packed her bags recently and decided to come to India despite the scorching summer heat, it was the lure of a spectacle that made her take the physical discomfort in her stride.

India is in the midst of a general election that is both noisy and colourful. Following weeks of hectic campaigning, millions are voting in a nine-phase poll spread over April and May.
As political tensions rise and tempers often fray, the mood of the nation is electric, tinged with both expectations and apprehensions.


It is these sights and sounds of the elections in the world’s largest democracy that foreign tourists like Jennifer are hoping to soak in during their visit.


“I have never seen such a sign anywhere in the world. Whichever place that I am visiting during this trip of mine, I am seeing huge hoardings, banners, posters and mega rallies to attract voters. Both the public and the leaders seem to be in a frenzy and that’s incredible,” an ecstatic Jennifer said during her visit to the western city of Jaipur.

To get an insider’s glimpse of the electoral process, she even met a few political workers

Tailor-made tourism


Like Jennifer, an Italian couple Cristiano and SofeiGianolla, have travelled to India and are now making the rounds of its cities in a bid to experience the election fever sweeping the nation of more than a billion people.

Italian couple Cristiano and SofeiGianolla at AAP, Jaipur office.
[Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

A particular attraction for them is the meteoric rise of the anti-corruption AamAadmi Party or Common Man’s Party (AAP) – a party that after a spectacular debut in provincial elections in New Delhi last December is contesting the parliamentary elections in a big way.


Soon after arriving in India, Cristiano and Sofei made their way to the AAP office to understand its ideology and modus operandi.


An Italian party with striking parallels to AAP has further fed their interest. “Italy too had witnessed a similar kind of an anti-corruption movement which led to the formation of the Five Star party that came into power. AAP’s journey has been similar,” Cristiano points out.


Be it the general ruckus associated with the massive election or the emergence of an upstart party like the AAP, the charm of the polls is attracting foreigners to its shores and India is witnessing what could be best described as “election tourism”.


The brainchild of Manish Sharma, who is the chairman of the Tourism Development Board, more and more foreign tourists are said to be visiting India with the sole purpose of witnessing the elections.
“Besides, England, Italy, Germany, Singapore, the people of Middle East, where there is no democracy, are taking a keen interest in witnessing how election takes place in the largest democracy on earth,” says Sharma.


Tailor-made packages for election-tourists are giving them a taste of electoral democracy. Once they arrive in the capital New Delhi, several options are available to hit the roads and experience the elections: tourists can either visit Agra, Lucknow, or even Varanasi. Other places they can choose to visit are Mumbai, Goa, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh.

Tourists at polling booth in Jaipur during the assembly polls
[Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

Nestled on the banks of the River Ganges and dotted with temples, the ancient Hindu city of Varanasi in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has emerged as a major destination. It is from here that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is seeking election to the parliament and is locked in a contest with AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal.


The contest promises fireworks and officials say tourists are making a beeline for Varanasi for an adrenaline rush.


“Among all the cities, Varanasi has become the most sought after. Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are specially expressing more interest in visiting Varanasi during this particular time,” Sharma pointed out.
Election tours include visits to a campaign rally and office of political parties. Most of the high-profile leaders are campaigning across the country and have little or no time for tourists. But second-rung leaders do speak to the tourists and share their thoughts about the process.


Private tours

Sensing the potential, private tour operators have followed suit and are offering foreigners a slice of the elections.

“We had done it during state assembly election in December 2013 and besides making them visit rallies and meeting people, we had also arranged visits by several tourists to polling booths,” says Sanjay Kausik, a Jaipur-based tour operator.


Cristiano believes witnessing the elections will be a huge learning experience. Having read Mahatma Gandhi, he hopes to find out how the AAP plans to enforce self-rule for the people on the lines of Mahatma’s Swaraj.


For all its failings like poverty and inequality, India’s electoral democracy has stood the test of time and now, even the United Nations is looking to learn from it.


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has signed an agreement with the Election Commission of India, allowing officials from 17 countries to visit India during the elections.


“The ultimate purpose is to learn how the election commission conducts free and fair polls using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs),” said a UN official, requesting anonymity.


So, officials from Kenya, Uganda, Malaysia and several other countries will be touring India during the course of the elections.

They will have the company of many foreign tourists, equally keen to watch the spectacle and draw their own lessons.

Source:
Al Jazeera

 

Poll Tourism: Now foreigners can go for election tourism packages for $1200

March 12, 2014

Being the largest democracy in the world can have its share of benefits. Tour operators feel that thousands around the globe would actually be interested in watching the ritual of democracy, when the country goes into polls in over a months time from now to choose their leaders.


What’s more, to make the most of the occasion, Ahmedabad-based Akshar Travels has come up with special packages designed for foreign tourists who can experience the ‘dance of democracy’ in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls 2014. Manish Sharma, owner of Akshar Travels and chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society (GTDS) has forged an alliance with close to 60 tour operators across the country as well as overseas partners in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Beijing, Tokyo among others to attract foreigners into what he calls ‘poll tourism’.


“We first spoke about our poll tourism packages at the ITB, Berlin last week, one of the leading travel and tourism conferences in the world that is attended by tour operators, hoteliers, and people from the hospitality industry from over 100 countries. We have already received around 800 enquiries for the election tourism package, with maximum enquiries from places like London, Ukraine, Beijing, Singapore and even parts of France,” Sharma claimed.


A typical poll tourism package, priced between $1200-1,800 per person for an average six nights-seven days trip including food, stay, transportation and activities, would combine visiting some of the major tourist attractions in India together with attending political rallies, interacting with political leaders, and on the whole soaking in the election fever that would grip the country in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014. Lets take for example, a Delhi-Agra-Jaipur package.


While in Delhi, the traveller would take a trip around the city in the morning, typically attend a political rally, or even visit a poll booth (during the elections) and spend the evening interacting with a political party representative. “We have spoken to all major political parties in the country, and they are very supportive of the initiative. While major political leaders would be busy with the election preparations, the tourists would interact with the second wrung of political leadership in these parties,” Sharma said.


The tour operators’ team has also approached the Election Commission of India to seek permission for foreign tourists to visit polling booths, however, the same has not been granted so far.In fact, Sharma’s team had tried their hands at something similar during the state assembly elections in Gujarat in 2012.


“We had organised the election tourism packages in a very short time, but had managed to attend to around 90 foreign tourists. This time around, with a pan-India scope, we are hoping to have over 2,000 visitors opting for our poll-tourism packages, especially from countries like Egypt and the Gulf, where many are not familiar with a democratic process of electing their leaders,” he explained adding that “Witnessing huge turnouts at political rallies, banners, hoardings, huge cut-outs of political leaders down South; the entire experience of an Indian election is once in a lifetime for many foreigners.”
Lav Sharma, the project head for the election tourism package remembered how a local member of the legislative assembly had hosted a dinner for tourists from Ukraine at his village, and later taken them around to show the village and its surroundings. Akshar Travels partners in other cities seemed upbeat about the concept.


“We have not done anything like this before, and this indeed would be an interesting offering for foreign tourists visiting India at this time,” said P K Mondal of Ideal Leisure Holiday which conducts trips for the eastern and north-eastern parts of India. Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) said, “This is an interesting concept. India is the largest democracy in the world, and there would be a lot of interest in witnessing the election campaigning process in a colourful country like this. It could also boost foreign tourist arrivals during the season to some extent.”


He, however, added that such packages were designed by tour operators on an individual level and not from the ministry etc. Akshar Travels is working out the itinerary keeping in mind the schedule of political parties, so that the visits of the tourists could be timed when the campaigning would be in full fervour. So far, most enquiries are for the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit.


The circuits decided upon include popular tourist destinations like Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, Delhi-Bikaner-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur, Ahmedabad-Rajkot-Gondal,Dwarka-Porbandar-Sasan-Gir, Lucknow-Ayodhya-Varanasi, Delhi-Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, Mathura-Agra-Haridwar-Hrishikesh-Delhi, Cochin-Munnar-Thekkady, Guwahati-Kaziranga-Shillong, Gangtok-Lachen-Peling among others.

 

Election tourism thrives as India votes

When Jennifer from the Uk packed her luggage a short while ago and decided to arrive to India even with the scorching summer time heat, it was the entice of a spectacle that created her get the bodily distress in her stride.   India is in the midst of...

When Jennifer from the Uk packed her luggage a short while ago and decided to arrive to India even with the scorching summer time heat, it was the entice of a spectacle that created her get the bodily distress in her stride.
 
India is in the midst of a normal election that is equally noisy and vibrant. Pursuing months of hectic campaigning, tens of millions are voting in a 9-section poll distribute around April and May possibly.
As political tensions increase and tempers frequently fray, the mood of the nation is electric powered, tinged with both expectations and apprehensions.


It is these sights and seems of the elections in the world&rsquos greatest democracy that overseas vacationers like Jennifer are hoping to soak in all through their take a look at.
&ldquoI have never observed these kinds of a indicator any place in the globe. Whichever area that I am visiting for the duration of this trip of mine, I am observing substantial hoardings, banners, posters and mega rallies to bring in voters. Both of those the general public and the leaders seem to be to be in a frenzy and that&rsquos outstanding,&rdquo an ecstatic Jennifer explained through her visit to the western metropolis of Jaipur.


To get an insider&rsquos glimpse of the electoral system, she even fulfilled a number of political staff.

Tailor-made tourism


Like Jennifer, an Italian couple Cristiano and SofeiGianolla, have travelled to India and are now earning the rounds of its metropolitan areas in a bid to encounter the election fever sweeping the country of extra than a billion people.


Italian couple Cristiano and SofeiGianolla at AAP, Jaipur office. [Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]


A distinct attraction for them is the meteoric rise of the anti-corruption AamAadmi Social gathering or Widespread Man&rsquos Celebration (AAP) &ndash a get together that just after a spectacular debut in provincial elections in New Delhi past December is contesting the parliamentary elections in a massive way.


Shortly right after arriving in India, Cristiano and Sofei made their way to the AAP workplace to recognize its ideology and modus operandi.


An Italian bash with hanging parallels to AAP has more fed their fascination. &ldquoItaly also experienced witnessed a comparable form of an anti-corruption movement which led to the formation of the Five Star get together that arrived into power. AAP&rsquos journey has been comparable,&rdquo Cristiano factors out.


Be it the basic ruckus associated with the large election or the emergence of an upstart bash like the AAP, the appeal of the polls is attracting foreigners to its shores and India is witnessing what could be best explained as &ldquoelectiontourism&rdquo.


The brainchild of Manish Sharma, who is the chairman of the Tourism Advancement Board, far more and a lot more foreign tourists are claimed to be traveling to India with the sole function of witnessing the elections.


&ldquoBesides, England, Italy, Germany, Singapore, the men and women of Center East, the place there is no democracy, are taking a eager interest in witnessing how election will take location in the biggest democracy on earth,&rdquo claims Sharma.


Tailor-designed packages for election-holidaymakers are providing them a flavor of electoral democracy. The moment they get there in the funds New Delhi, a number of options are readily available to hit the streets and practical experience the elections: holidaymakers can both visit Agra, Lucknow, or even Varanasi. Other places they can opt for to go to are Mumbai, Goa, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh.


Tourists at polling booth in Jaipur for the duration of the assembly polls
[Shahnawaz Akhtar/Al Jazeera]


Nestled on the financial institutions of the River Ganges and dotted with temples, the ancient Hindu city of Varanasi in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has emerged as a important desired destination. It is from listed here that the BJP&rsquos key ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is trying to find election to the parliament and is locked in a contest with AAP&rsquos Arvind Kejriwal.
The contest claims fireworks and officials say travellers are generating a beeline for Varanasi for an adrenaline hurry.


&ldquoAmong all the towns, Varanasi has come to be the most sought just after. Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are specially expressing extra desire in going to Varanasi in the course of this individual time,&rdquo Sharma pointed out.


Election excursions involve visits to a marketing campaign rally and business of political events. Most of the high-profile leaders are campaigning throughout the nation and have small or no time for visitors. But next-rung leaders do discuss to the tourists and share their feelings about the system.

Private tours


Sensing the probable, non-public tour operators have followed go well with and are providing foreigners a slice of the elections.


&ldquoWe had done it during condition assembly election in December 2013 and aside from generating them visit rallies and meeting persons, we had also arranged visits by various visitors to polling booths,&rdquo suggests Sanjay Kausik, a Jaipur-dependent tour operator.


Cristiano believes witnessing the elections will be a huge finding out encounter. Having browse Mahatma Gandhi, he hopes to come across out how the AAP programs to implement self-rule for the people today on the traces of Mahatma&rsquos Swaraj.


For all its failings like poverty and inequality, India&rsquos electoral democracy has stood the test of time and now, even the United Nations is seeking to study from it.


The United Nations Growth Programme (UNDP) has signed an agreement with the Election Commission of India, allowing officials from seventeen nations around the world to visit India throughout the elections.


&ldquoThe greatest objective is to master how the election fee conducts totally free and honest polls applying Digital Voting Equipment (EVMs),&rdquo explained a UN formal, requesting anonymity.


So, officials from Kenya, Uganda, Malaysia and a number of other countries will be touring India through the study course of the elections.


They will have the organization of numerous overseas visitors, equally eager to watch the spectacle and attract their personal classes.

 

Operators in Gujarat turn poll campaign into tourist attraction

AHMEDABAD AFTER desert festivals and safari, the campaign for assembly polls seems to have come as a boost to tourism in West Indian state Gujarat.

Tour operators and agents in the state are mooting the concept of ‘election tourism’ in which foreigners visiting the poll-bound Gujarat this December will be provided opportunities to have a reallife experience of elections in India, the world’s largest democracy.

“The concept of ‘election tourism’ was introduced at the World Tourism Mart held in London recently, and it has clicked,” said Manish Sharma, Chairman of Gujarat Tourism Development Society (GTDS), which represents 10 private tour operators in the state.

Elections will be held in Gujarat in two phases on December 13 and 17.

The politically crucial state has been ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Narendra Modi as chief minister for over a decade from now.

Modi, a controversial figure, is trying return to power for the third consecutive time and the opinion polls say his prospects are bright.

As part of ‘poll tourism’, arrangements would be made for foreign tourists to meet prominent BJP and opposition Congress leaders here, interact with them and develop better understanding of how public representatives get elected in India, he said.

According to GTDS, the heritage, religious and adventure tourist circuits in the state have been clubbed with assembly constituencies to cater to tourists.

The concept would be replicated in the 2014 general elections after examining the success of the programme, he said.

“Election tourism has evoked response from youngsters who are interested in research on democracy, Sharma said, adding this would help us promote interstate tourism too. GTDS has also sought permission from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take these international travellers to polling stations and show them how people in India exercise their franchise.

Gujarat has always been a delight for tourists, both Indian and foreign.

The state has a number of places of tourist interest and attracts a large number of tourists every year.

 

With poll fever on rise, Modi's Gujarat cashes in on election tourism

April 1, 2014

When it comes to spotting an out-of-the-box business proposition in a bad market, few can beat a Gujarati renowned as a veritable dyed-in-the-wool money making machine. Meet Manish Sharmna of Ahmedabad-based Akshar Travels.


Hailing from north Gujarat's Mehsana town, Sharma has roped in three foreign groups from London, Atlanta and Dubai comprising nearly 100 tourists for the 'election tourism'. He also claimed that talks are on with as many as 800 tourists from different countries.


"We are also teaming up with several travel agencies across the country, especially in Varanasi, Goa and Kerala, for the purpose. We are the only company not only in India, but in the world to try out this experiment," Sharma said.


Sharma, who is in the travel business for last 16 years, told Mail Today that under the various tour packages, tourists would not only be taken around the popular places but also at election rallies of political leaders.


"If on a certain day a national political leader is addressing a rally, the tourists would be given an opportunity to interact with them and ask about their campaign styles and poll issues," he said, adding that efforts would be made to provide the front rows to the foreign tourists during the political rallies. Tour packages range anywhere from $1,200 to $1,600, the latter being for five-star accommodations, he said.


In Gujarat, the tour circuits identified are Rajkot, Patan, Porbandar and Somnath. In other parts of the country, Sharma said, there are two packages as of now. Covering the Delhi-Jaipur-Agra circuit, 'Democratic Triangle' will be a five-night and six-day tour.


The other is 'Political Rajasthan Royals' encompassing seven nights and eight days. This circuit covers Delhi, Jaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Mount Abu and Udaipur.
Asked how he hit upon this idea, Sharma said, "It all struck me when I went to Mexico in 2005 where this was being talked about. I thought of experimenting it in Gujarat during the 2012 Assembly elections and received good response. When the proposition was moved at the World Travel Market in London where some 100 tour operators and tourism boards participated, the response was good."


MahendraVakharai of the western chapter of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India agreed that his colleague's idea to package election tours appealed to the foreign tourists. "Everything is being encashed in the name of Modi and Indian elections. Be it Gujarat or Varanasi, foreign tourists are being sold these packages to give a glimpse into Indian politics and many are clubbing it with other famous Lok Sabha seats like Lucknow, which is also a big hit among the global tourists,'' he said. "One or two agents are trying to promote this idea. But we are yet to assess the traffic volume… which will only be after the polls,'' Vakharai added.

 

Election Tourism: Is it a serious Tourism Opportunity?

March 31, 2014

The election period is by and large considered to be a lean season for tourism in India. However, some innovative minds from Gujarat have got together to form a platform to promote General Elections 2014 as a tourism product and turn the tables. While the initiative is a first-of-its-kind in the world, the tourism industry is yet to jump into the bandwagon. TravelBiz Monitor looks at the potential and challenges of Election Tourism

As the world’s largest democracy, where around 75 crore people participate directly in the decision-making process, India’s elections are the most watched spectacle and followed by common people and statesmen alike around the globe. The political heat and dust that rises and the festivities around it – the campaigns, rallies, etc., are hallmarks of Indian elections.

While the process is unquestionably keenly observed by people around the world, there is no doubt an interest in experiencing the mammoth process from close quarters. These people generally shy away because there is lack of support system to make that possible. This is an opportunity for the tourism industry which is always exploring a niche to cash in on.

Birth of Election Tourism

Elections as a Niche Tourism product have its origin in India. The novel concept was first experimented in the Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2012. The concept had a fair number of takers and this bolstered the resolve of its designers to take it to the next level, in a bigger way, as the country is on the altar of another election ‘festival’ – the General Elections of 2014. The conceivers of Electiontourismindia.com are quite optimistic this time, as had been able to embark on their mission. The last Gujarat Assembly Elections were held in December and therefore, being a peak travel season, they couldn’t offer affordable packages to their potential customers, rues Manish Sharma, Chairman, Akshar Group of Companies, who is in the forefront of Election Tourism in Gujarat. On the other hand, they have started the preparations quite early this time around, and therefore, are quite hopeful of receiving more tourists during elections. While Gujarat takes pride in pioneering Election Tourism, Gujarat Tourism Department wanted to distance itself from the product saying that it was purely a private industry initiative. But Sharma has been categorical while saying that they have all the support from Gujarat Tourism Board for the project.  


Taking political leadership into confidence

A genuine question arises as to how matured our political leadership is to understand and support this activity. A project of this sort would not succeed without taking the political leadership into confidence. Here also, Electiontourismindia, which is a registered company today, is not leaving any stone unturned to gather support.  “We have sought the support of all political parties and chief ministers for this initiative. We will be meeting chief ministers of Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh soon to seek their support,” Sharma said.

Mixing election with usual packages

The design of the package is quite simple. Tourists follow their usual itinerary of visits to monuments and other attractions during the day, and in the evenings they are taken to street meetings of political parties to showcase the campaign style during elections, and also given a chance to interact with leaders.  


Not too many takers

The concept is yet to seep to be fully comprehended by tourism stakeholders like tour operators and travel agents outside Gujarat. No State Tourism Board, except Gujarat, has come out openly to promote this novel concept. The lack of interest and knowledge about the concept is palpable in the industry. “Safety and security are paramount for international travellers. Who will guarantee the safety and security when you expose tourists to political rallies and other events?,” asked Gaur Kanjilal, Executive Director, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). International tourists do not feel comfortable travelling to destinations during elections, he feels. Expressing similar sentiments, Rajesh Mudgill, Managing Director, Planet India Tours, said the general perception is that elections in India are violent. This image deters people from travelling to India during this period. Every city and town in India witnesses show of strength by political parties during elections, which leads to traffic snarls. “Even domestic tourists try to avoid leisure travel during elections in India,” he stated.

However, people behind the Electiontourismindia initiative are undeterred by these criticisms. “Tourists always look for something new. We have been getting very encouraging enquiries from across the globe, especially from countries where democratic elections are non-existent. They want to come and see the festivities around elections. Moreover, elections are not violent everywhere. There are states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and Kerala where elections are held peacefully,” Sharma added.

In recent years, Indian democratic election processes have undergone drastic changes in conduct and organisation. The strict monitoring of elections at all levels by the Election Commission of India has helped weed out unethical practices. The recent elections have seen unprecedented use of technology in electioneering by political parties. The changing face of Indian elections can be showcased to the world.

 



Varanasi becoming tourist destination as the town assumes political significance

Mar 24, 2014

VARANASI: With Varanasi assuming political significance as one of the seats that Narendra Modi will contest, the town is becoming even more of a tourist destination. Among the many visitors expected will be 32 British women, who will be arriving in Varanasi on 19 April to witness what has been touted as the Festival of Democracy.

 



India Offers ‘Poll Tourism’ Packages for Overseas Visitors

To benefit from upcoming Lok Sabha elections, tour operators are presenting special ‘poll tourism’ packages for overseas visitors for overseas visitors.

Poll tourism packages ranges between $1,200 and $1,800 per person for a six-night-seven-day trip (including food, stay, transportation and a few activities) including visit to key tourist attractions in India with attending political rallies, interacting with representatives of political parties.

Owner of Akshar Travels and chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society, Manish Sharma, have signed a contract with about 60 tour operators across the country, and some in Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Beijing, Tokyo, etc, to promote “poll tourism”.

Sharma said that the ‘poll tourism’ packages were promoted at ITB Berlin (InternationaleTourismus-Börse Berlin), and they already received about 800 enquiries for the election tourism package, of which London, Ukraine, Beijing, Singapore and parts of France accounted for most of these enquiries. They have also spoken to all major political parties in the country and the parties express their support of the initiative. The tour operators’ team has also approached the Election Commission of India to ask for approval for foreign tourists to visit poll booths. Yet, it hasn’t got an approval so far.

Until now, most enquiries relate to the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur trip. The tour decided upon include Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, Delhi-Bikaner-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur, Ahmedabad-Rajkot-Gondal, Dwarka-Porbandar-Sasan-Gir, Lucknow-Ayodhya-Varanasi, Delhi-Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, Mathura-Agra-Haridwar-Rishikesh-Delhi, Cochin-Munnar-Thekkady, Guwahati-Kaziranga-Shillong and Gangtok-Lachen-Peling.

Sharma’s team had tried the similar during the 2012 state Assembly elections too in a very short time and managed to draw about 90 foreign tourists. This time about 2,000 visitors are expected, especially from areas like Egypt and the Gulf, where people are not familiar with aemocratic process of electingleaders.




Minority report | Rolling out the elections

Global tourists are for the first time being offered a ringside view of general election in the world’s largest democracy

Election tourism lies somewhere in between the global curiosity to vacation in ‘Incredible India’, and the increasing tentativeness about holidaying in a country that has won notoriety for being a destination that’s unsafe for women. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint


Election tourism is a concept that lies somewhere in between global curiosity to vacation in “Incredible India”, which we are familiar with, and the now increasing tentativeness on the part of tourists about holidaying in a country that has won notoriety for being a destination that’s unsafe for women.


My first response to this idea of tourist packages for foreigners to get a view of the 2014 general election was a mixed one. The top slide on the home page of www.electiontourismindia.com, with a smiling Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party alongside a thoughtful Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—representing the two largest political parties—against art work derived from the Indian tricolour, looks slightly gimmicky.


The website contains an almost juvenile presentation—notes on the “importance of democracy”; India’s electoral process; why tourism matters, details of political parties with images of their leaders besides snatches of their political relevance and history.


The English used on the website urgently needs a language editor. There are some videos, too—of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing people as well as those of Rahul Gandhi and BahujanSamaj Party’s (BSP’s) Mayawati. Stay a moment longer and it is easy to figure out that Modi is clearly the website’s favourite; the Gujarat chief minister dominates the information scenario.


Regardless of the website’s limitations, election tourism, if it is mounted properly, is a unique concept. A fresh way to bring business and attention to our noisy and controversy-riddled elections, it aims to attract tourists to explore India for reasons beyond the country’s cultural heritage and Ayurveda. By creating a touristy trip out of the polls, there is an attempt to sell the spectacle of democracy’s visible wheels—an idea that could be entertaining and educative. “Ours is the largest democracy in the world and our general election is like a festival with the entire country participating,” says Manish Sharma, director of Ahmedabad-based Akshar Travels Pvt. Ltd, the travel company which has floated this idea.


Sharma, who mentioned Modi a couple of times in a phone conversation, emphasized that his travel agency had tied up with more than 50 tour operators globally to make these travel packages accessible.


“From watching rallies to meeting election candidates of different political parties in various constituencies, the packages consist of six night-seven day itineraries which could be tailor-made to the particular tourist or group’s requirements,” says Sharma.


Depending on your budget and whether you want to stay in a moderately priced hotel or a five-star one, the tours will be open for bookings from 1 March and will cost between $1,000 and $2,200. This will include transport, three meals a day, and you can choose itineraries anywhere in India.


Details of visits to rural areas—the real centres of heat and dust during elections—will be included in the trip once you make an initial choice of the region you want to visit. Sharma’s emphasis that 2014 is a good time to see “real” India as these packages also include usual tourism hot spots that India is known for seems promising if optimistic. The optimism perhaps stems from the agency’s experience with the Gujarat assembly elections in 2012 during which they claim they got a very positive response from tourists.


This time, they have already begun dialogues with several political parties, state governments and the ministry of tourism so that tourist visits to state assemblies and meetings with electoral candidates can be organized for vacationers and researchers.


If it is properly marketed worldwide—which Sharma insists they are currently doing—election tourism could rake in good money for the Indian tourism industry, currently sulking because of recessionary pulls and the country’s law and order situation.


Yet, it hardly sounds as simple as holidaying in Goa, Puducherry or Kanyakumari or shopping in Delhi after a quick visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra or to Amritsar’s Golden Temple. These tours may need considerable logistic planning and safeguards to protect tourists from the law and order dangers that emanate in situations peculiar to Indian elections. “Chatting with candidates” is a good proposition as long as such conversations are prevented from becoming PR-mandated and controlled interview sessions handed out only to those who promise publicity and praise.


For now, Akshar Travels urgently needs to hire a digital media team with a good knowledge of English and political vocabulary to save the website from reading like a high school student’s activity book. It may also be pragmatic to offer election tourism as an open spectrum of travel possibilities, not just another way to lure the world’s attention to what Modi says about India in his campaign speeches.

 

 

Lok Sabha Polls 2014: Foreign tourists line up to witness festival of democracy

7 Apr, 2014

The NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between BJP's Narendra Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.
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AHMEDABAD: As the poll juggernaut rolls on, tourists from countries like the US, France, Nigeria and UAE have decided to witness the rough-and-tumble of polls in the world's largest democracy, especially the keen contest in the holy city of Varanasi.

Notwithstanding the scorching Indian summer, many foreigners have registered for a US $1200 six-night, seven-day election tourism package offered by a private tour operator which includes visit to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting party leaders and Election Commission officers.

However, the NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between BJP's Prime Minister nomineeNarendra Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.

"Inspite of summer, more people have committed to visit India during polls under 'Election Tourism' initiative," said Election Tourism India's city-based chairman Manish Sharma.

The concept was launched before the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections and initially only 125 international tourists visited the state.

But this time 800 tourists have so far committed to watch the election process unfolding in the largest democracy of the world, he claimed.

"The idea of election tourism which was first conceived by us is going to deliver another influx of tourists in upcoming elections," Sharma said, adding that besides the 800 confirmed entries more than 2000 entries are expected.

He said inquiries from NRIs and specially NRGs (non-resident Gujaratis) increased after BJP declared it was fielding Modi from Varanasi.

"Most of the tourists want to visit the holy city of Varanasi to see its ancient value and to witness the fight between Modi and Kejriwal," he said, adding that tourists often inquire about Modi and AamAdmi Party.

When asked what is the major draw for foreign tourists, he said the "thrill" associated with elections here is unique.

"Elections in India are different from any other part of the world...Here is thrill, energy, enthusiasm amongst the parties and the masses," Sharma told PTI.

When asked how he hit upon the idea of 'election tourism', Sharma said, "In Mexico, I had found that tourists were taking interests in polls of 2007. I decided that election tourism can be introduced in India too".

"People have visited pilgrimage spots, sea beaches, mountain ranges...everything, but they need something new and this is the new and unique initiative for them," Sharma said.

"Americans are very eager to witness our elections. A group of 70 to 80 people has approached us to visit India during elections," he said.

The entrepreneur said he had also sought assistance from Gujarat government, leaders of the various political parties and the Election Commission of India. "They all have assured to extend their support," he claimed.

Meanwhile, state Tourism Minister Saurabh Patel has appreciated the initiative.

"If we have tourism of health, medical and in all other sectors, why cannot we promote election tourism which gives a chance to the world to witness the biggest festival of democracy," he said.

 

 

And now, packaged election tourism

Apr 9, 2014

NEW DELHI: Elections mean different things to different people. For some innovative travel firms, it means creating special packages to market the great Indian election tamasha. For a price, they are offering international tourists a first-hand guided tour of the 16th Lok Sabha polls - attending political rallies, tours of electorally exciting places such as Varanasi and Rae Bareilly. And the feedback has been positive, industry sources say.

Lav Sharma of Gujarat's Akshar Travels has already booked four groups of tourists - more than 90 individuals - from the UK, Dubai and Germany for late April. He had introduced "election tourism" packages during the Gujarat state elections in 2012. "International tourists want to see Indian democracy, and how political rallies take place in India. It is very different from what they would ever see at home," says Sharma. Interestingly, the Dubai lot is a group of 16 businessmen. The tours, typically for six days and seven nights, cost upwards of $1,200.

Sanjeev Chhajer, vice president of Cox and Kings says that though they don't have an election tourism package, they have received requests for arranging tours during poll time in cities like Rae Bareilly, Varanasi and Barmer. A repeat trend from the last general elections, he puts the jump in enquiries to about 25%. "Most of the clientele comprises party volunteers and government officials locally, and journalists and internationally. For Gujarat, the US and UK expat community has expressed a lot of interest," says Chhajer.

Dharmesh Sharma, a businessman from Missouri, US is planning a trip in late April to Ahmedabad and Varanasi. He usually visits India during Diwali. "People here would pay to see Indian elections - the autorickshaws, the loudspeakers and all of that. American elections are very different that way. I want to visit Varanasi because Narendra Modi is contesting from there. I also want to try and meet Arvind Kejriwal. I know it is difficult, but still," says Sharma, who was born and brought up in the US.

Travel portals have also registered an upswing in bookings at election "hotspots". Though the bookings have not come through a special pre-set "poll tourism" package, the trend is attributed to the general elections. "We tracked year-on-year growth of around 12% in hotel bookings for Varanasi. The numbers have grown exponentially for bigger cities - hotel bookings in Lucknow grew by 60% year-on-year while Ahmedabad has witnessed 35% growth in the same period. The general elections will fuel travel demand with increase in rail, bus and flight-bookings; and hotels and guest-houses will see an increase in demand as well," says Mohit Gupta, chief business officer for holidays at MakeMyTrip.com.

Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators estimates an influx of about 25,000-30,000 international tourists, including journalists, in April and May. "This is usually the lean season," says Gupta, when asked about the usual influx of international tourists in these months. His own agency, Stic Travel Group, has booked tours for from Singapore and Malaysia, political science students from the US, and other groups of tourists from the UK and the Middle-East who are specifically visiting to watch the elections unfold.

"The tour will consist of taking people for rallies in interior villages along with sightseeing. We also try and get them to meet local candidates from the area. We can't take them to polling stations since we don't have the permission for that," says Sharma, who says there is an increase in 25% in enquiries since the state elections for the election tourism packages, with a special interest in Varanasi, which has BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi contesting from the seat.

 

Election tourism

Dec 9, 2012

Trust Gujarat to come up with this one. Known for its enterprising skills, the state is now milking the coming elections. Tour operators will start 'poll tourism' for foreigners during the two phases of elections on December 13 and 17, something unheard of before.

But then Gujarat has always aggressively promoted itself, be it wildlife sanctuaries such as Gir Forest, monuments like Champaner Fort or religious places such as the Sun Temple in Somnath. And with this innovative move, tour operators are hoping to draw in more crowds. Last year alone, some 4.5 lakh foreigners and NRIs visited the state.

Manish Sharma, chairman of Gujarat Tourism Development Society, says, "This idea cropped up when I visited Mexico in 2005 where poll tourism was being discussed. I thought of trying it out in Gujarat. When this idea was mooted at the World Travel Market in London in November where some 100 tour operators " and tourism boards took part, the response was encouraging.

Some 32 tour operators in Gujarat, Delhi and Ahmedabad have joined hands to get these tourists to India. Already, 230 international tourists have confirmed participation. Many are curious about how polls are conducted in the world's largest democracy and especially Gujarat, where chief minister Narender Modi has evoked both international praise as well as censure.

"They will meet local politicians, see how they interact with the electorate, how elections are conducted peacefully and visit a booth from outside, if permitted. In December, more than 25,000 NRIs and 5,000 foreign tourists come to Gujarat. It's also the time for weddings. Elections are just as festive with shehnais, dandiyas, garlanded candidates going to temples, meet" ings going on till late in the night..., he says.

The operators have campaigned for two months, most of it online. "We have spread the message through Facebook, emails and websites to foreign tour operators and have got a good response from the UK, Ukraine, Indonesia, Thailand, Sin" gapore, Uganda, Kenya, France, Italy, Canada and Australia, says Suhag Modi, manager of Akshar Travels in Ahmedabad. "Poll tourism will also be combined with the Kutch RannUtsav " 2012 which continues till January 31, 2013, says Sharma.

The itinery for these tourists has been divided into North and South Gujarat and Saurashtra and includes places such as Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Surat, Patan, Mehsana , Rajkot, Junagadh, Somnath and Porbandar. If this strategy works, Sharma says it could well be emulated for the 2014 general elections.

Politicians are gung-ho about the whole exercise. Former agriculture minister BhupendrasinhChudasama, the BJP candidate from Dholka, says, "The world's eyes are on Gujarat as it's now identified with progress and development. Earlier, Gujarat was identified with communal riots but it has been peaceful for " the last 11 years. I will show the tourists how polls are conducted.

However, not all are enamored by this idea. Social scientist Shiv Visvananthan says that tourists will see the spectacle of polls but not its dynamism. "What is it that they will be shown — will it be Modi in 3D, will they be taken to Muslim areas, to tribal pockets...? This is a gimmicky idea like slum tourism, a trailer of a festival called democracy." But he admits that seeing vast hordes coming to vote may be educative to the West where polls are often marked by absentism.

Tour operators abroad, meanwhile, see this as a new opportunity. Katerina Lishchuk, director of Kiev4u, a travel agency in Ukraine, tells Sunday Times that from October to February 75% of Ukrainians travel abroad, especially to warm countries such as India and Peru. "This year, for the first time, we decided to make Gujarat a new destination because within a 200 km radius, one can find forests, mountains, beaches and deserts." She will send 25 Ukrainians for these elections. "Ukraine, too, had polls this year. So this will be an educative trip for many as Ukraine is only 21 years old after breaking away from the Soviet Union. We even had Gujarati Day here on October 26."

In London, Anju Patel, a tour operator, will be sending about 200 foreign tourists to Gujarat. "Indian polls are so different from those in the UK where it's quieter. Many want to combine poll tourism with the temple circuit and will be in Gujarat for 2-3 weeks. It'll cost them around 1,000 pounds, excluding air fare." Let the show begin.

 

Tour operators join election bandwagon

Apr 10, 2014

NEW DELHI: Elections mean different things to different people. For some innovative travel firms, it means creating special packages to market the great Indian election tamasha. For a price, they are offering international tourists a first-hand guided tour of the 16th Lok Sabha polls — attending political rallies, tours of electorally exciting places such as Varanasi and Rae Bareilly. And the feedback has been positive, industry sources say.

Lav Sharma of Gujarat's Akshar Travels has already booked four groups of tourists —more than 90 individuals — from UK, Dubai and Germany for late April. He had introduced "election tourism" packages during the Gujarat state elections in 2012. "International tourists want to see Indian democracy, and how political rallies take place in India. It is very different from what they would ever see at home," says Sharma. Interestingly, the Dubai lot is a group of 16 businessmen. The tours, typically for six days and seven nights, cost upwards of 1,200 dollars.

Sanjeev Chhajer, vice-president of Cox and Kings says that though they don't have an election tourism package, they have received requests for arranging tours during poll time in cities like Rae Bareilly, Varanasi and Barmer. A repeat trend from the last general elections, he puts the jump in enquiries to about 25%. "Most of the clientele comprises party volunteers and government officials locally, and journalists and internationally. For Gujarat, the US and UK expat community has expressed a lot of interest," says Chhajer.

Dharmesh Sharma, a businessman from Missouri, US is planning a trip in late April to Ahmedabad and Varanasi. He usually visits India during Diwali. "People here would pay to see Indian elections — the autorickshaws, the loudspeakers and all of that. American elections are very different that way. I want to visit Varanasi because Narendra Modi is contesting from there. I also want to try and meet Arvind Kejriwal. I know it is difficult, but still," says Sharma, who was born and brought up in the US.

Travel portals have also registered an upswing in bookings at election "hotspots". Though the bookings have not come through a special pre-set "poll tourism" package, the trend is attributed to the general elections. "We tracked year-on-year growth of around 12% in hotel bookings for Varanasi. The numbers have grown exponentially for bigger cities — hotel bookings in Lucknow grew by 60% year-on-year while Ahmedabad has witnessed 35% growth in the same period. The general elections will fuel travel demand with increase in rail, bus and flight-bookings; and hotels and guest-houses will see an increase in demand as well," says Mohit Gupta, chief business officer for holidays at MakeMyTrip.com.

Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators estimates an influx of about 25,000-30,000 international tourists, including journalists, in April and May. "This is usually the lean season," says Gupta, when asked about the usual influx of international tourists in these months. His own agency, Stic Travel Group, has booked tours for from Singapore and Malaysia, political science students from the US, and other groups of tourists from the UK and the Middle-East who are specifically visiting to watch the elections unfold.

"The tour will consist of taking people for rallies in interior villages along with sightseeing. We also try and get them to meet local candidates from the area. We can't take them to polling stations since we don't have the permission for that," says Sharma, who says there is an increase in 25% in enquiries since the state elections for the election tourism packages, with a special interest in Varanasi, which has BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi contesting from the seat.

 

Foreign tourists line up to witness festival of democracy

April 7, 2014

NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.
This time 800 tourists have so far committed to watch the election process unfolding in the largest democracy of the world. (Reuters)
As the poll juggernaut rolls on, tourists from countries like the US, France, Nigeria and UAE have decided to witness the rough-and-tumble of polls in the world’s largest democracy, especially the keen contest in the holy city of Varanasi.


Notwithstanding the scorching Indian summer, many foreigners have registered for a USD 1200 six-night, seven-day election tourism package offered by a private tour operator which includes visit to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting party leaders and Election Commission officers.


However, the NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.
“Inspite of summer, more people have committed to visit India during polls under ‘Election Tourism’ initiative,” said ‘Election Tourism India’s city-based chairman Manish Sharma.
The concept was launched before the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections and initially only 125 international tourists visited the state.


But this time 800 tourists have so far committed to watch the election process unfolding in the largest democracy of the world, he claimed.
“The idea of election tourism which was first conceived by us is going to deliver another influx of tourists in upcoming elections,” Sharma said, adding that besides the 800 confirmed entries more than 2000 entries are expected.


He said inquiries from NRIs and specially NRGs (non-resident Gujaratis) increased after BJP declared it was fielding Modi from Varanasi.
“Most of the tourists want to visit the holy city of Varanasi to see its ancient value and to witness the fight between Modi and Kejriwal,” he said, adding that tourists often inquire about Modi and AamAdmi Party.


When asked what is the major draw for foreign tourists, he said the “thrill” associated with elections here is unique.
“Elections in India are different from any other part of the world…Here is thrill, energy, enthusiasm amongst the parties and the masses,” Sharma told PTI.
“A large number of entries have been coming from Germany, France, America, United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Singapore,” he claimed.

 

Tamil Nadu in ‘election tourism’ circuit

The concept is interesting, but are tourists really welcome, asks a tour operator

Come April and it may not be just casual holidayers who will be making their way to the city. Apart from beaches, temples and museums, the city has something extra on offer — a chance to view an election, up close and personal.


Taking advantage of the election fever that has gripped the country, an Ahmedabad-based travel agency is offering ‘election tours’ — guided trips to various parts of the country, to take in the “colour, noise, controversies and drama” — its website says — inherent in a vibrant democracy.


And cities in Tamil Nadu, including Udhagamandalam, Coimbatore and Chennai may make it to the list. “We began in 2012 with the Gujarat Assembly elections when we realised that many foreign tourists, especially researchers and students, were interested in getting a first-hand experience of elections in India. This time around, we got a lot of enquiries about south India, and decided to offer Tamil Nadu in our packages,” said Lav Sharma, marketing manager, Akshar Tours.


What the tours offer, he said, is a chance to participate in political rallies, public assemblies and potential meetings with candidates and other politicians — all depending on availability and permissions. The tour will also include a rural segment, to see how campaigning is different there. For Tamil Nadu, two sectors are proposed, said ShijiSreejith of Intersight Tours & Travels, Kochi, which is handling the south India sector for Akshar. “The first one will cover Bangalore, Mysore, Udhagamandalam, Kodaikanal and Coimbatore, while another covers Rameswaram, Kanyakumari, Chennai, Puducherry and Mamallapuram,” she said.


If permission is given, they would try and get tourists to follow politicians on their campaign trail, she said.


Costs of the tour start from U.S. $ 1,200 to 1,600 per person for seven days for any one sector. The cost includes, according to Akshar Tours, hotel accommodation, transport by air-conditioned vehicles, all meals and an English-speaking guide. So far, Akshar Tours has received 250-odd interested queries for south India from Germany, U.K., non-resident Indians in the U.S., Israel, Ukraine and a few from Africa, Mr. Sharma said. “While some are families, most are single travellers,” he said.


Dharmesh Patel, an NRI living in St. Louis, Missouri, who came for an ‘election tour’ to Gujarat in 2012, said the experience was incredible. Speaking to The Hindu from the U.S., he said, “It was like a festival. Autos had banners and everyone was involved. We also got to see the candidates in action. Here, you hardly know that elections are happening.”
But how far is it feasible? “While the concept is interesting, will tourists really be welcomed during the election process? And how much will they understand and enjoy,” asks Charanya Ramesh, CEO of city-based Shakti Tours and Travels.

 

$1,200 for a ringside view of polls

April 8, 2014


Visitors to Varanasi will have a change from the usual boatrides through the ‘election tourism’ package.— File photo: K.R. Deepak
As the poll juggernaut rolls on, tourists from countries like the U.S., France, Nigeria and the UAE have evinced interest in witnessing the rough and tumble of polls in the world’s largest democracy, especially in the holy city of Varanasi.


Notwithstanding the scorching summer, many foreigners have registered for a $1,200 (Rs 72,132) six-night, seven-day election tourism package offered by a private tour operator which includes visit to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting party leaders and Election Commission officers.


NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.
The concept was tried during the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections. Only 125 international tourists visited the State. But this time, 800 tourists have so far committed to watch the election process, said Election Tourism India’s city-based chairman Manish Sharma, adding that he expected 2000 bookings.


When asked how he hit upon the idea of ‘election tourism’, Sharma said, “In Mexico, I had found that tourists were taking interests in polls in 2007. I decided that election tourism can be introduced in India too.”


“People have visited pilgrimage spots, sea beaches, mountain ranges...everything, but they need something new and this is a new and unique initiative for them,” Sharma said.


“Americans are very eager to witness our elections. A group of 70 to 80 people has approached us to visit India during elections,” he said. — PTI

 

Polls drawing tourists to Varanasi this summer

March 22, 2014

Tour operators, hoteliers see rise in enquiries and bookings for lean months

Varanasi (or Benaras) is the centre of action this summer. With political heavyweights such as Narendra Modi contesting from the ancient city and AamAadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal likely to jump into the fray, battleground Varanasi seems to have caught the imagination of not just the locals but also foreign tourists, political observers and international media.

Sanjeev Chhajer, vice-president of travel company Cox & Kings Limited, said, “It is like a mahotsav (grand festival) in Varanasi, with the eyes of the international as well as local media, political analysts, political workers set on this city in Uttar Pradesh for the coming few days. Already, enquiries for hotel bookings have picked up, and we expect hotels in the region to do brisk business during the period.” Chhajer felt that like medical tourism and adventure tourism, political tourism too is evolving as a genre.

Even organised travel portals like makemytrip.com have seen a year-on-year surge in bookings. “With the biggest political personalities contesting from Varanasi, the political climate in the holy city is heating up. Supporters of both parties are thronging the city to give a boost to their candidates. We have witnessed a year-on-year surge of around 12 per cent in hotel bookings for the city. Overall general elections will fuel travel demand through rail, bus and air; and hotels and guest houses will see an increase in demand as well,” said Mohit Gupta, chief business officer, holidays, MakeMyTrip.

Manish Sharma, owner of Akshar Travels and chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society, who has tied up with 60 tour operators across the country and overseas to sell what he calls “poll tourism packages”, said Varanasi had clearly emerged as the favourite among travellers interested in poll tourism.

In the last two days, he has received more than 32 enquiries for Varanasi, including one from an all-women tourist group from London.

Varanasi is considered as the spiritual capital of India. The tourist season is mainly between October and March, when the weather is pleasant and the city celebrates several festivals. The summer months of April and May are lean periods. The elections, however, have given the hotel industry a reason to cheer.
“Just when we were bracing for the off-season period,  the hotel bookings were tapering down, the election announcement came. And there is a renewed interest in the city, not just among travellers but also political analysts and media,” said Garish Oberoi, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India. It would be the mid-range hotels that would see significant rise in business together with the small guest houses and dharamshalas spread across the city, headded.S C Gupta, chairman, Uttar Pradesh chapter of the Indian Association of Tour Operators echoed the same view. The focus on the city is on such a high that even residents do not want to miss the chance to soak in the humdrum of election campaigning, sabhas and rallies. Arvind Kejriwal is all set to address a rally in the city on March 25. Ronald Benjamin Nadar, who runs agency Travel Assistance at Varanasi, said, "The elections have been declared at a time when the school holidays for summer would also begin. But this time, the people of Varanasi do not want to go out much. They want to remain in the city to experience the activities around the elections. We are not getting many bookings of outbound tourists."

Tour operators and fleet owners are, however, happy with the surge in bookings for taxis. As Nadar pointed out, "There has been a 70-80% rise in bookings for sports utility vehicles compared to previous year." As hundreds of supporters, volunteers, political workers throng the city to campaign for their leaders, cab bookings are set to rise further.

 

Indian Elections: Tour Operators Offer Poll Packages

April 7, 2014

graffiti graffiti A man sits in front of a mural depicting Indian political figures in KolkataReuters
Tour operators are wading into India's general election arena offering foreign nationals an "election tour" to follow the entire process which is being touted as the largest-ever democratic exercise in global history.


Several nationals from the US, Europe, Africa and Middle Eastern countries are said to have registered with a private tour operator for the six- and seven-nights package, which costs about $1,200.
"Despite summer, more people have committed to visit India during polls under 'Election Tourism' initiative. The idea of election tourism which was first conceived by us is going to deliver another influx of tourists in upcoming elections," Manish Sharma, a senior official at the Election Tourism India, told the Press Trust of India.


As many as 800 people from across the continents have already enrolled themselves for the tour, and Sharma hopes nearly 2,000 others will join at the last minute.


The first phase of the six-week-long parliamentary elections has already begun. This is India's 16th parliamentary general elections since it got independence from Britain in 1947.
With nearly 815 million eligible voters, more than 900,000 polling stations have been set up across the country.


As part of the tour package, the visitors will be able to witness the poll campaign and also get a chance to meet the candidates and election authorities.


Sharma said: "Elections in India are different from any other part of the world...Here is thrill, energy, enthusiasm amongst the parties and the masses. A large number of entries have been coming from Germany, France, America, United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Singapore."


Most of the tourists are also said to be keenly interested in visiting the city of Varanasi, where Narendra Modi, the main opposition party's prime ministerial contender and a hot favourite, and Arvind Kejriwal, the activist-turned-politician who was recently propelled into the spotlight, will lock horns.


The Indian government has also welcomed the initiative.

 

Ballot and the backpackers

Noisy, colourful and festive, Indian elections are much more than an exercise to elect a new government. Having generated interest all over the world because of their sheer scale, the elections have now become a draw for foreign tourists, who are flying in specifically to witness the biggest democratic exercise in the world, the Lok Sabha elections.


April marks the end of the peak season for in-bound tourism in India as heat becomes a deterrent for foreign tourists. However, this April is different as tourists are arriving to experience the elections. Tour operators in India and abroad have tied up to sell the elections as a tourism product and they are expecting around 2,000 tourists to arrive in India for experiencing the elections. The tour operators are focusing on the UK, France, Germany, the US, China, Japan and the Middle East. Besides tying up with tour agencies in these countries, they are also using social media platforms. “There was a grand opening of the initiative at the International Tourism Conference in Berlin early March, where tour operators from more than 100 countries were present,” said Manish Sharma, chairman, Akshar Travels.


Bookings have begun, and three groups of tourists have confirmed their travel plans. The tour operators have also received around 800 inquiries. The first to arrive will be a group from the UK, which will have 35 members, of whom 32 are NRI women. The women are keen to meet the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. The group will first visit the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit, after which they will proceed to Ahmedabad and Mumbai, and fly back. “I was planning to visit India. And, when I was told that I could witness the Indian elections, I agreed to change my itinerary. I am looking forward to seeing how elections take place in India. I have heard they are very colourful,” said Myrlene Constant, who is a business development manager with a dairy company.


Another group from the UAE, comprising only Arabs, is arriving around the same time. They will travel from Delhi to Agra and Ahmedabad. A group of students is coming from Germany for a five-day trip to Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. The groups from Germany and the UAE are visiting India for the first time and originally had no plans to come at this time of the year. However, they changed their plans so that they can witness the elections. Also expected is a group of students from Africa. Many of these students want to study how elections are conducted in India.


The destinations earmarked for these tourists are the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala. Local tour operators have also evinced a lot of interest. While the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit is the most popular, the other circuits being looked at include Delhi-Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, Kochi-Munnar-Thekkady, Ahmedabad-Rajkot-Gondal, Delhi-Bikaner-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur and Lucknow-Ayodhya-Varanasi. A tour operator said with the announcement of Modi’s candidature from Varanasi, interest in the city had gone up.
In November-December, when the concept was first being worked out, there was a lot of interest about AamAadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. Now, it seems his popularity has gone down and the tourists, especially the NRIs, are keen to meet Modi. He has been very active in reaching out to the NRIs and this could be a reason behind the interest in Modi.


The tourists would be taken to rallies in the afternoon and to meet the leaders on a one-to–one basis. Special places will be designated for the tourists in the rallies, keeping their safety and security in mind. The tourists will also visit a few villages. “Our elections are like festivals. There are festoons and dhols and nagadas. There are car and scooter rallies. There is so much colour and noise,” said Sharma.


The tour operators have approached political parties and the response has been encouraging. This has been the case in the past as well. For example, during the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2012, politicians had been only too happy to be part of the project. Bhushan Bhatt, MLA from Khadia constituency in Ahmedabad, recalls how the tourists spent an entire day in a village during the campaign. “It came as a pleasant surprise for us that visitors from abroad were interested in witnessing our election campaign. There were tourists who had first been to Rajasthan and then came to Gujarat. They came to see our public rallies and had an interaction with us,” he said.


For the Gujarat polls, 32 tour operators in Gujarat and Delhi had tied up, bringing around 230 tourists from the UK, Ukraine, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Uganda, Kenya, France, Italy, Canada and Australia. In Kerala and Delhi, too, tourists had earlier got a chance to experience elections by accompanying candidates on their door-to-door campaigns, thereby getting to know what a day in the life of an Indian politician on the campaign trail is like.
 
The idea is to show the tourists how the Indian democratic system functions. The Election Commission, too, is said to be cooperating, although it is not officially a partner in the initiative. The tour operators have got an assurance from the Election Commission that they can inform the district collector concerned in advance if they needed any support in taking tourists on the campaign trail. The tour operators were keen that the tourists should also get a chance to visit the polling booths, but they have not yet got the Election Commission’s approval.
“It makes sense for our tour operators to market the elections. Many tour operators have looked at the elections as an opportunity and developed packages for tourists, combining the usual touristy places with election activities,” said Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators. He said the elections provided the tour operators with an opportunity to attract people even during off-season.
 
The packages for the tourists start at $1,200 per person for six nights and seven days, with the price going up to $1,800. The packages include accommodation, transport, meals and sightseeing, besides election-related activities. According to a tour operator in Gujarat, the tourists will be taken on campaign tours of candidates, where they will get a chance to interact with the candidates, see the election rallies and view, on the polling day, how people turn up to cast their votes. It is a wedding like atmosphere, with dinner and cultural programmes in constituencies, and the tourists will be treated to all of these.


The world is not just watching, it is coming to India to experience the elections this time.

 

 

Election tourists fly down to battlefield

Apr 10, 2014

BANGALORE: High-profile electoral battlefields are turning into camping grounds of a different kind: Poll tourists are homing in to be a part of the big fat Indian election. And most of them are coming in from foreign shores.


Aptly coined 'election tourism' , it's the desire to watch the dance of democracy up, close and personal that's drawing a number of travellers to India during April-May , when the country goes to polls.
So what does the tourist do? Shake hands with the local political candidate, express opinions at debates, join the campaign trail and know more about the leader — the offer has managed to lure as many as 800 foreigners and 2,000-odd NRIs so far to Election 2014, a high-decibel , technicolour event.


The favourite destinations ? No surprises there. It's Varanasi, Lucknow, Jaipur and Delhi up North and namma Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram down South, that have managed to grab attention. Obviously, it's high-profile candidates that have made this battle interesting even for outsiders.


Buoyed by the success of election tourism in Gujarat in 2012, Manish Sharma and his team decided to play up the concept during the LS polls, and offer structured packages. It worked.


"We've collaborated with local tour operators in many cities. There are rallies in the mornings, debates and discussions in the evenings and post-dinner group meetings with local candidates. We had to take permission from the EC before announcing these exclusive packages,'' Sharma, chairman of the Gujarat Association of Tour Operators, told TOI from Gujarat.

 

TIMES VIEW
It's a celebration of entrepreneurship that someone has realized the world's largest elections are worth showcasing through tourism. It's such out-of-thebox thinking that will not only give tourists a chance to see democracy at work from close quarters but also prove that if an idea is good and can be executed well, the sky is the limit for entrepreneurs. The government should encourage election tourism as it's an opportunity to showcase to the world its efficiency in conducting an election of this magnitude. For visitors, it's a chance to understand how the process works and enjoy a robust democracy in action.


Sights and insights
Apart from foreigners, NRIs from London, South Africa, Nairobi, Atlanta, St Louis and New York are pouring in. The first tour begins on April 16 in New Delhi, while the last tour ends on May 20. There are some Indian travellers too.
"I travelled to Varanasi last week to attend Mulayam Singh's brother's rally as I was keen to understand the way regional parties campaign. It was quite enlightening. There, I met a couple from Mumbai who had also planned their trip to Varanasi in order to participate in this rally," said Hari Nair, founder and CEO of Holiday IQ, a travel review portal. They recently carried out a survey on 1,500 Indian travellers, of who 25% welcomed the idea.


THE BIG DRAW
It's the colour, noise, controversies and drama of Indian polls that fascinate researchers and policy makers from across the world, noted Wego.com, an online travel guide which has helped many travellers plan their itinerary to include election day.


COST FACTOR
For a six night-seven day stay, the starting price of a tour package is $1,200, and includes accommodation, transport and food.

 

 

Election tourism

Dec 9, 2012

Trust Gujarat to come up with this one. Known for its enterprising skills, the state is now milking the coming elections. Tour operators will start 'poll tourism' for foreigners during the two phases of elections on December 13 and 17, something unheard of before.

But then Gujarat has always aggressively promoted itself, be it wildlife sanctuaries such as Gir Forest, monuments like Champaner Fort or religious places such as the Sun Temple in Somnath. And with this innovative move, tour operators are hoping to draw in more crowds. Last year alone, some 4.5 lakh foreigners and NRIs visited the state.

Manish Sharma, chairman of Gujarat Tourism Development Society, says, "This idea cropped up when I visited Mexico in 2005 where poll tourism was being discussed. I thought of trying it out in Gujarat. When this idea was mooted at the World Travel Market in London in November where some 100 tour operators " and tourism boards took part, the response was encouraging.

Some 32 tour operators in Gujarat, Delhi and Ahmedabad have joined hands to get these tourists to India. Already, 230 international tourists have confirmed participation. Many are curious about how polls are conducted in the world's largest democracy and especially Gujarat, where chief minister Narender Modi has evoked both international praise as well as censure.

"They will meet local politicians, see how they interact with the electorate, how elections are conducted peacefully and visit a booth from outside, if permitted. In December, more than 25,000 NRIs and 5,000 foreign tourists come to Gujarat. It's also the time for weddings. Elections are just as festive with shehnais, dandiyas, garlanded candidates going to temples, meet" ings going on till late in the night..., he says.

The operators have campaigned for two months, most of it online. "We have spread the message through Facebook, emails and websites to foreign tour operators and have got a good response from the UK, Ukraine, Indonesia, Thailand, Sin" gapore, Uganda, Kenya, France, Italy, Canada and Australia, says Suhag Modi, manager of Akshar Travels in Ahmedabad. "Poll tourism will also be combined with the Kutch RannUtsav " 2012 which continues till January 31, 2013, says Sharma.

The itinery for these tourists has been divided into North and South Gujarat and Saurashtra and includes places such as Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Surat, Patan, Mehsana , Rajkot, Junagadh, Somnath and Porbandar. If this strategy works, Sharma says it could well be emulated for the 2014 general elections.

Politicians are gung-ho about the whole exercise. Former agriculture minister BhupendrasinhChudasama, the BJP candidate from Dholka, says, "The world's eyes are on Gujarat as it's now identified with progress and development. Earlier, Gujarat was identified with communal riots but it has been peaceful for " the last 11 years. I will show the tourists how polls are conducted.

However, not all are enamored by this idea. Social scientist Shiv Visvananthan says that tourists will see the spectacle of polls but not its dynamism. "What is it that they will be shown — will it be Modi in 3D, will they be taken to Muslim areas, to tribal pockets...? This is a gimmicky idea like slum tourism, a trailer of a festival called democracy." But he admits that seeing vast hordes coming to vote may be educative to the West where polls are often marked by absentism.

Tour operators abroad, meanwhile, see this as a new opportunity. Katerina Lishchuk, director of Kiev4u, a travel agency in Ukraine, tells Sunday Times that from October to February 75% of Ukrainians travel abroad, especially to warm countries such as India and Peru. "This year, for the first time, we decided to make Gujarat a new destination because within a 200 km radius, one can find forests, mountains, beaches and deserts." She will send 25 Ukrainians for these elections. "Ukraine, too, had polls this year. So this will be an educative trip for many as Ukraine is only 21 years old after breaking away from the Soviet Union. We even had Gujarati Day here on October 26."

In London, Anju Patel, a tour operator, will be sending about 200 foreign tourists to Gujarat. "Indian polls are so different from those in the UK where it's quieter. Many want to combine poll tourism with the temple circuit and will be in Gujarat for 2-3 weeks. It'll cost them around 1,000 pounds, excluding air fare." Let the show begin.

 

 

Tourists are booking election tour packages to the largest democracy in the world

Apr 09, 2014

The largest democracy in the world is India. Elections in this country with more than a billion voters means different things to different people. For some innovative travel firms, it means creating special travel and tourism election packages. especially the keen contest in the holy city of Varanasi.


For a price, they are offering international tourists a first-hand guided tour of the 16th Lok Sabha polls - attending political rallies, tours of electorally exciting places such as Varanasi and Rae Bareilly. And the feedback has been positive, industry sources say.


Tour companies secure bookings from the UK, Dubai and Germany for late April. Election tourism packages during the Gujarat state elections in 2012. International tourists want to see Indian democracy, and how political rallies take place in India. It is very different from what they would ever see at home. Interestingly, the Dubai lot is a group of 16 businessmen. The tours, typically for six days and seven nights, cost upwards of $1,200.


Sanjeev Chhajer, vice president of Cox and Kings says that though they don't have an election tourism package, they have received requests for arranging tours during poll time in cities like Rae Bareilly, Varanasi and Barmer. A repeat trend from the last general elections, he puts the jump in enquiries to about 25%. "Most of the clientele comprises party volunteers and government officials locally, and journalists and internationally. For Gujarat, the US and UK expat community has expressed a lot of interest," says Chhajer.


Dharmesh Sharma, a businessman from Missouri, US is planning a trip in late April to Ahmedabad and Varanasi. He usually visits India during Diwali. "People here would pay to see Indian elections - the autorickshaws, the loudspeakers and all of that. American elections are very different that way. I want to visit Varanasi because Narendra Modi is contesting from there. I also want to try and meet Arvind Kejriwal. I know it is difficult, but still," says Sharma, who was born and brought up in the US.


Travel portals have also registered an upswing in bookings at election "hotspots". Though the bookings have not come through a special pre-set "poll tourism" package, the trend is attributed to the general elections. "We tracked year-on-year growth of around 12% in hotel bookings for Varanasi. The numbers have grown exponentially for bigger cities - hotel bookings in Lucknow grew by 60% year-on-year while Ahmedabad has witnessed 35% growth in the same period. The general elections will fuel travel demand with increase in rail, bus and flight-bookings; and hotels and guest-houses will see an increase in demand as well," says Mohit Gupta, chief business officer for holidays at MakeMyTrip.com.


Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators estimates an influx of about 25,000-30,000 international tourists, including journalists, in April and May. "This is usually the lean season," says Gupta, when asked about the usual influx of international tourists in these months. His own agency, Stic Travel Group, has booked tours for from Singapore and Malaysia, political science students from the US, and other groups of tourists from the UK and the Middle-East who are specifically visiting to watch the elections unfold.


"The tour will consist of taking people for rallies in interior villages along with sightseeing. We also try and get them to meet local candidates from the area. We can't take them to polling stations since we don't have the permission for that," says Sharma, who says there is an increase in 25% in enquiries since the state elections for the election tourism packages, with a special interest in Varanasi, which has BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi contesting from the seat.

 


Holiday makers flock to India for election tourism

April 8, 2014

AHMEDABAD, Apr 8: Foreign tourists are arriving in India to witness India’s 16th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) elections currently being held in the world’s largest democracy under an election tourism initiative, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.


A large number of holiday makers from the US, France, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed up for a US$1,200 seven-day, six-night election tourism package offered by a private tour operator in north west Gujarat state.


The package includes a visit to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting with party leaders and Election Commission officers.


“In spite of summer, more people have committed to visit India in this year’s polls under the election tourism initiative,” said Election Tourism India’s city-based chairman Manish Sharma.


“The idea of election tourism is going to deliver another influx of tourists in the upcoming elections,” Manish said.


The concept was first conceived and launched before the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections with assistance from the Gujarat government, leaders of political parties and the Election Commission of India.
Whereas only 125 international tourists witnessed the state’s assembly polls two years ago, this year some 800 tourists will be watching the country’s election process in what is considered the biggest election in history.


Manish said another 2,000 tourists from Germany, UK, China and Singapore are expected to arrive to watch the polls.


When asked what attracted tourists to the elections, Manish said the “thrill” associated with polls in India is “unique”.


“Elections in India are different from any other part of the world. Here you find thrill, energy and enthusiasm among the political parties and the masses,” he said.


Elections are being held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12.


Around 814 million citizens are eligible to cast their votes at 930,000 polling stations throughout the country.  –BERNAMA

 

 

Ballots ring in cash for Indian tourism (Election Tourism)

April 09, 2014

Election in the world's largest democracy is ringing in cash for India's tourism trade as tour operators and hoteliers are promoting the new theme-based holiday package.


Advertised as the 'KumbhMela' of elections, tour operators, online sales agents, speciality and niche guide-touring firms are also cashing in on the five-week-long election polling exercise.


"Election tourism is new a phenomenon which is fast gaining popularity. It is being marketed as an additional attraction to those who are already planning a trip or made their bookings for holidays in India," SharatDhall, president, Yatra.com, told IANS.


"As it is a major world event and international attention is focussed on it, tourists have shown interest in extending their stay by adding major election battleground states and cities like Varanasi in their itinerary."


According to Dhall, the addition of a few extra days' stay can be managed within Rs.10,000-Rs.20,000 with high end facilities, and for as low as a couple of thousand rupees, to experience election season in places like Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi.


"Though election tourism is at a very initial stage it might generate an additional revenue of two-five percentage points in revenue in this elections."


Ahmedabad-based firm Election Tourism India, which started to sell niche packages during Gujarat assembly polls in 2012, is expecting to attract around 2,000 foreigners to come for the 2014 general elections.


The package which is spread across seven days and six nights with a cost of $1,200 (Rs.75,000) without airfare, will take tourists to political rallies and show them local attractions at the same time.
"Nearly around 800 foreigners have confirmed their participation to come to India so far. They belong to Germany, France, the UK, Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt and China," Manish Sharma of Election Tourism India told IANS from Ahmedabad.


"We will be taking these tourists to political rallies, showing them how five-six lakh (500,000-600,000) people congregate in these places and how rallies are taken out in cities," Sharma said adding that his company has tied up with the BJP to showcase its rallies in Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi and Jaipur.


London-based firm Political Tours' director Nicholas Wood told IANS about increasing numbers of inquiries related to Indian elections and people's interests in travelling to India for this purpose.
"We'd love to cover the run up to the elections. We have covered the US elections; so this could definitely be an option in future. Like all our tours we try to provide a very real approach to people's everyday problems as well as high level political analysis," said Wood, whose company promotes theme tours like 'London and the financial crisis tours', 'Libya tour - after the revolution' and 'China tours: growth and change'.


Other tour operators also claim to have observed a trend which indicates higher enquiries for ticket bookings and accommodation in major cities around their respective polling dates.


"With two of the biggest political personalities contesting from Varanasi, supporters of both the parties are thronging to Varanasi to boost their candidates. We tracked year-on-year growth of around 12 percent in hotel bookings for the city," Mohit Gupta, chief business officer- holidays, MakeMyTrip, told IANS


Gupta's views were corroborated by Pradeep Singh, a New Delhi-based guide who operates tours with international tourists from various nationalities from the national capital to Agra. "Tourists would earlier ask various questions on how to bargain in markets, or how to avoid beggers, cows and congested lanes. Now they seem to be more interested in knowing about election details, which shows that they are aware of the magnitude of things happening here," he said.


"Posters, bill boards, advertisements in newspapers seem to have grabbed tourist attention. They even want to collect election campaigning caps as souvenirs," said another who was accompanying a troupe of Korean tourists to Agra.


(RohitVaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)

 


Election tourism programme launched for foreigners to understand Indian elections

17 April 2014

RNA Research & Archives

With the Lok Sabha elections in full swing, foreigners are arriving in India to witness the political proceedings of the country. Keeping this fact in mind, EC has launched an election tourism programme for 50 foreigners from 20 countries. 


This is the brainchild of Manish Sharma, who is the chairman of the Tourism Development Board, more and more foreign tourists are said to be visiting India with the sole purpose of witnessing the elections.


Also, officials from election commission of Namibia are closely monitoring Indian elections by travelling across the country with aid from ECI. 


Indian elections which are spread over nine-phases see a huge voter turn-out to select India's next government and many foreigners want to witness the huge political shift. 


This holds excitement and suspense as the country's mood is palatable with two mainstream parties, Congress and BJP attacking each other while a third-front is trying to dislodge their supremacy. 


This 'Election visitors programme' by Election Commission is meant to help the Namibian government officials understand the process of general elections in World's largest democracy. 


The team was sent to Karnataka to understand the elections on ground level by EC. 


Under this programme in association with Election Commission of India and UNDP, around 50 officials from Election management bodies of 20 countries will be touring the country to understand how EC micro-manages the election process. 


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has signed an agreement with the Election Commission of India, allowing officials from 17 countries to visit India during the elections.
Representatives from countries such as Nigeria, Namibia, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Bhutan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, Palestine, Palestine, Iraq and Oman are part of the campaign. 


They were allowed to witness Delhi elections alongwith field-level exposure to elections at different venues. 


“The ultimate purpose is to learn how the election commission conducts free and fair polls using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs),” said a UN official to Al Jazeera. 


Election tours include visits to a campaign rally and office of political parties. Most of the high-profile leaders are campaigning across the country.

 

 

Tourists line up for ringside seat at Varanasi poll battle

Apr 15, 2014

AHMEDABAD: Along with the Taj Mahal, the backwaters of Kerala, Delhi belly, the predatory Indian male and so many other delights that await the intrepid traveler to this country, a new segment has emerged -- election tourism. This is travel with an educational purpose according to the companies that promote it -- the visitors get to learn about Indian democracy and how it works.

Many of them want a ringside view of the Battle of Benaras, the old name for Varanasi, which is the stage for one of the most significant contests in these elections, with voting set to take place on May 12, the last day of balloting. Students of political science, business leaders, company executives and others from the US, Europe and Southeast Asia will descend on the temple city to see how India elects the man likely to be its new Prime Minister.


Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, tipped to be in a strong position to form the next government in opinion polls, has to fend off the challenge from AamAadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, apart from Ajay Rai of the Congress, in Varanasi.


"Our group is adventurous and excited to experience India's elections. We want to witness the clash between political parties at Varanasi," said Nirav Patel, a US-based IT professional. Patel will camp in Varanasi for 10 days along with 35 others, each of them paying close to $3,900 for the privilege.


Election tourism made its debut in 2012 during the legislative assembly elections in Gujarat. With Modi seeking (and eventually winning) a fourth consecutive term as chief minister, Akshar Travels Pvt. Ltd sensed an opportunity to acquaint the world with Indian democracy through tourism.


The world wants to learn about the story first hand, said Akshar chairman Manish Sharma. About 150 tourists from the US, UK, Ukraine, Germany, Dubai, Japan and elsewhere have booked through his company to witness the Varanasi poll battle alone, he said. Election tourism will bring repute to Indian democracy and will havea direct impact on future political, economic, social and cultural fortunes, Sharma said.


The election will boost travel to Varanasi this summer. Tourism is generally sluggish between mid-April and September because temperatures spike to an uncomfortable 41-45 degrees Celsius, said tour operator Majid Khan, director of Khan Travel and Tours, based in the temple town. Things will be different this time.


Among the visitors are Josh Simmons of Missouri University in St. Louis and students from Japan. They will get to experience election fever at public rallies, on the campaign trail and even have a chance to interact with Election Commission officials.


"They want to meet locals at the ghats and gather a sense of how Indians vote and elect their leaders, especially in these elections," he said.


Near 350 youngsters from Gujarat will travel to Varanasi to witness the "colours of democracy", Sharma added.


While there are a handful of tour operators offering election tourism, it is still a niche category, said Rajeev Kohli, vice president, Indian Association of Tour Operators.


"Those who are coming are drawn by the sheer scale of the elections, while NRIs (non-resident Indians) are possibly drawn because of the hype around the candidates," he said.

 

 

Election tourism: The new mantra for Varanasi travel industry

April 22, 2014

As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet

Foreigners keen on experiencing a slice of Indian elections are being treated to guided tours of this holy city and many of them have taken this opportunity to create awareness among voters urging them to exercise their franchise.

As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet.

"These tours are part of 'Heart of India', designed by a US-based operator which takes them to different parts of the country before ending in Varanasi. And, as the city has riveted the attention of the entire country, I thought it was only fitting to show them the heart of Indian democracy too," SomNath, who conducts the tour here, told PTI.

Guided by Nath, 18 American tourists wearing starched- white Gandhi topis and holding placards then walked the streets of the holy city and urged people to vote.

"It felt great to be here in Varanasi during this time. And, I wish India luck. But, people not coming out to vote on polling day, is an issue in our country too. And, so we feel happy to raise awareness about the same here," Sarah Alsdorf, 67, part of the team had said during the walk.

Another group of American travellers are scheduled to arrive in the temple town on April 24, incidentally on the day when BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will file his nomination for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.

"After our successful trip in the first week of April, another group of American tourists will be visiting Varanasi on April 24. This time we are planning to take them to Benares Hindu University and interact with the students and crowd there to give them a feel of the polls," Nath said, adding, "The idea is to give them a slice of elections in India."

As foreign tourists interested in Indian politics might also want to witness the "political jamboree", a tourism official said, operators are formating tours on "election themes", to woo travellers heading towards the holy city.

According to Uttar Pradesh tourism official data for Varanasi, there is a steady increase in foreign tourists footfall in the last three months gone by -- 30,960 (January), 32,273 (February) and 41,593 (March).

Also, for the March month, there is a constant rise in footfall for foreign tourists in the last three years, with March in the current year seeing a huge jump over previous years -- 22,455 (2012), 24,895 (2013) and 41,593 (2014).

A group of travel and tour operators from Gujarat, under the umbrella of Tourism Development Corporation Society, has launched travel packages linking them to what possibly they say would be "an electoral spectacle" in Varanasi, given the presence of political heavyweights in the spiritual city.

 

Election tourism: The new mantra for Varanasi travel industry

22 April 2014

Foreigners keen on experiencing a slice of Indian elections are being treated to guided tours of this holy city and many of them have taken this opportunity to create awareness among voters urging them to exercise their franchise.


As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet.


"These tours are part of 'Heart of India', designed by a US-based operator which takes them to different parts of the country before ending in Varanasi. And, as the city has riveted the attention of the entire country, I thought it was only fitting to show them the heart of Indian democracy too," SomNath, who conducts the tour here, told PTI.


Guided by Nath, 18 American tourists wearing starched- white Gandhi topis and holding placards then walked the streets of the holy city and urged people to vote.


"It felt great to be here in Varanasi during this time. And, I wish India luck. But, people not coming out to vote on polling day, is an issue in our country too. And, so we feel happy to raise awareness about the same here," Sarah Alsdorf, 67, part of the team had said during the walk.


Another group of American travellers are scheduled to arrive in the temple town on April 24, incidentally on the day when BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will file his nomination for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.


"After our successful trip in the first week of April, another group of American tourists will be visiting Varanasi on April 24. This time we are planning to take them to Benares Hindu University and interact with the students and crowd there to give them a feel of the polls," Nath said, adding, "The idea is to give them a slice of elections in India." As foreign tourists interested in Indian politics might also want to witness the "political jamboree", a tourism official said, operators are formating tours on "election themes", to woo travellers heading towards the holy city.


According to Uttar Pradesh tourism official data for Varanasi, there is a steady increase in foreign tourists footfall in the last three months gone by -- 30,960 (January), 32,273 (February) and 41,593 (March).


Also, for the March month, there is a constant rise in footfall for foreign tourists in the last three years, with March in the current year seeing a huge jump over previous years -- 22,455 (2012), 24,895 (2013) and 41,593 (2014).


A group of travel and tour operators from Gujarat, under the umbrella of Tourism Development Corporation Society, has launched travel packages linking them to what possibly they say would be "an electoral spectacle" in Varanasi, given the presence of political heavyweights in the spiritual city

 

 

Election Tourism: The New Mantra for Varanasi Travel Industry

22nd April 2014

Foreigners keen on experiencing a slice of Indian elections are being treated to guided tours of this holy city and many of them have taken this opportunity to create awareness among voters urging them to exercise their franchise.


As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet. "These tours are part of 'Heart of India', designed by a US-based operator which takes them to different parts of the country before ending in Varanasi. And, as the city has riveted the attention of the entire country, I thought it was only fitting to show them the heart of Indian democracy too," SomNath, who conducts the tour here, told PTI.  


Guided by Nath, 18 American tourists wearing starched- white Gandhi topis and holding placards then walked the streets of the holy city and urged people to vote.   

      
"It felt great to be here in Varanasi during this time. And, I wish India luck. But, people not coming out to vote on polling day, is an issue in our country too. And, so we feel happy to raise awareness about the same here," Sarah Alsdorf, 67, part of the team had said during the walk.          

Another group of American travellers are scheduled to arrive in the temple town on April 24, incidentally on the day when BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will file his nomination for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. "After our successful trip in the first week of April, another group of American tourists will be visiting Varanasi on April 24. This time we are planning to take them to Benares Hindu University and interact with the students and crowd there to give them a feel of the polls," Nath said, adding, "The idea is to give them a slice of elections in India."   

         
As foreign tourists interested in Indian politics might also want to witness the "political jamboree", a tourism official said, operators are formating tours on "election themes", to woo travellers heading towards the holy city.       


According to Uttar Pradesh tourism official data for Varanasi, there is a steady increase in foreign tourists footfall in the last three months gone by -- 30,960 (January), 32,273 (February) and 41,593 (March).      


Also, for the March month, there is a constant rise in footfall for foreign tourists in the last three years, with March in the current year seeing a huge jump over previous years --  22,455 (2012), 24,895 (2013) and 41,593 (2014).        


A group of travel and tour operators from Gujarat, under the umbrella of Tourism Development Corporation Society, has launched travel packages linking them to what possibly they say would be "an electoral spectacle" in Varanasi, given the presence of political heavyweights in the spiritual city. Varanasi Tourism Guild President Sushil Singh said, the elections are going to push up economy in the city further, and travel and hospitality industry both will benefit from peoples' movement in and out of the sacred city.       

     
"Airline traffic has already shown increase. And, there is already a 20-25 per cent increase in tourist influx and small budget hotels, guest house, lodges and dharamshalas are all seeing at least 30-40 per cent hike in occupancy rates," he said.  


With high-profile candidates like Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in the fray, the spotlight has ready turned on Varanasi in a different way, and as polling date nears, hotels and travel industry are seeing a spike in an otherwise off season, according to Mrityuanjay Mishra, Assistant Director, India Tourism office in Varanasi. "Hotels are seeing a jump of about 40 per cent in booking despite April-June being an off season here. This election has made all the difference this summer. And, with the city becoming a prime ministerial candidate seat, the excitement is bound to go up. It is happy time for all stakeholders of the sector," Mishra said.         


Rahul Mehta, President of an NGO 'Tourism Welfare Association' said, party supporters are flocking in from different parts of India, and tour operators are "very happy" and the nature of this election will be "drawing more and more people".            


"People are coming in from Ahmedabad and Delhi in support of their respective parties. And with Modi vs Kejriwal battle assuming centrestage in the city, the entire country is looking at Varanasi. National as well as international press will also be coming for coverage. Some are already here, and it is going to be a boom time for tourism," Mehta said.        
Chairman, Diamond Hotel, S K Singh, said, "Two weeks before the polls here, a massive crowd is expected to descend on to the city now. And, with about 2,000 hotels, lodges, motels, inns and dharamshalas in the city, Benares is ready for business."            


Nath said apart from regular American tourists that he handles for his US-based client, "Travellers from the UK, France, Germany are also expected to visit the ancient city, as I get them from my colleagues who operate in the European sector. Lots of South Asians tourists would anyway come due to Buddhist sites like Sarnath nearby, election or otherwise."  

 

 

Election tourism booming in Indian holy city

Apr 23, 2014

VARANASI, India - Foreigners keen on experiencing a slice of Indian elections are being treated to guided tours of this holy city and many of them have taken this opportunity to create awareness among voters urging them to exercise their franchise.


As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet.


"These tours are part of 'Heart of India', designed by a US-based operator which takes them to different parts of the country before ending in Varanasi. And, as the city has riveted the attention of the entire country, I thought it was only fitting to show them the heart of Indian democracy too," SomNath, who conducts the tour here, told PTI.


Guided by Nath, 18 American tourists wearing starched- white Gandhi topis and holding placards then walked the streets of the holy city and urged people to vote.


"It felt great to be here in Varanasi during this time. And, I wish India luck. But, people not coming out to vote on polling day, is an issue in our country too. And, so we feel happy to raise awareness about the same here," Sarah Alsdorf, 67, part of the team had said during the walk.


Another group of American travellers are scheduled to arrive in the temple town on April 24, incidentally on the day when BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will file his nomination for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.


"After our successful trip in the first week of April, another group of American tourists will be visiting Varanasi on April 24. This time we are planning to take them to Benares Hindu University and interact with the students and crowd there to give them a feel of the polls," Nath said, adding, "The idea is to give them a slice of elections in India." As foreign tourists interested in Indian politics might also want to witness the "political jamboree", a tourism official said, operators are formating tours on "election themes", to woo travellers heading towards the holy city.


According to Uttar Pradesh tourism official data for Varanasi, there is a steady increase in foreign tourists footfall in the last three months gone by -- 30,960 (January), 32,273 (February) and 41,593 (March).


Also, for the March month, there is a constant rise in footfall for foreign tourists in the last three years, with March in the current year seeing a huge jump over previous years -- 22,455 (2012), 24,895 (2013) and 41,593 (2014).


A group of travel and tour operators from Gujarat, under the umbrella of Tourism Development Corporation Society, has launched travel packages linking them to what possibly they say would be "an electoral spectacle" in Varanasi, given the presence of political heavyweights in the spiritual city.

 

Election tourism: The new mantra for Varanasi travel industry

April 23, 2014

A group of American tourists display placards urging people to vote during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, as part of an election-themed tour of the holy city of Varanasi. (PTI Photo)
Foreigners keen on experiencing a slice of Indian elections are being treated to guided tours of this holy city and many of them have taken this opportunity to create awareness among voters urging them to exercise their franchise.


As political decibels rise, Varanasi is turning into a tourist magnet.


“These tours are part of ‘Heart of India’, designed by a US-based operator which takes them to different parts of the country before ending in Varanasi. And, as the city has riveted the attention of the entire country, I thought it was only fitting to show them the heart of Indian democracy too,” SomNath, who conducts the tour here said.


Guided by Nath, 18 American tourists wearing starched-white Gandhi topis and holding placards then walked the streets of the holy city and urged people to vote.


“It felt great to be here in Varanasi during this time. And, I wish India luck. But, people not coming out to vote on polling day, is an issue in our country too. And, so we feel happy to raise awareness about the same here,” Sarah Alsdorf, 67, part of the team had said during the walk.


Another group of American travellers are scheduled to arrive in the temple town on April 24, incidentally on the day when BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi will file his nomination for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.


“After our successful trip in the first week of April, another group of American tourists will be visiting Varanasi on April 24. This time we are planning to take them to Benares Hindu University and interact with the students and crowd there to give them a feel of the polls,” Nath said, adding, “The idea is to give them a slice of elections in India.”


As foreign tourists interested in Indian politics might also want to witness the “political jamboree”, a tourism official said, operators are formating tours on “election themes”, to woo travellers heading towards the holy city. According to Uttar Pradesh tourism official data for
Varanasi, there is a steady increase in foreign tourists footfall in the last three months gone by — 30,960 (January), 32,273 (February) and 41,593 (March).


Also, for the March month, there is a constant rise in footfall for foreign tourists in the last three years, with March in the current year seeing a huge jump over previous years — 22,455 (2012), 24,895 (2013) and 41,593 (2014).


A group of travel and tour operators from Gujarat, under the umbrella of Tourism Development Corporation Society, has launched travel packages linking them to what possibly they say would be “an electoral spectacle”

 

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INDIA, being the largest democracy, attracts worldwide attention in every aspect. Be it it's culture or the people. Forthcoming General Elections 2017, especially, has the world's eyes on it. Keeping in mind the immense interest generated, we at "Tourism Development Corporation" are providing packages under our especially designed campaign - "Election Tourism India 2017". The visitors will have an opportunity to explore our vibrant democracy accommodating different cultures, the workings of various national/state political parties and can be part of their election rallies too. I look forward to welcoming all.

Manish Sharma Chairman Tourism Development Corporation.