• Saturday, April 20, 2024

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High demand for ‘election tourism’ in poll-bound India

Travel operators expect 25,000 people to visit India for election tourism during the seven-phase general elections of 2024.

A man rides past an election awareness poster displayed along a street ahead of India’s upcoming general elections, in Hyderabad in the southern state of Telangana on March 26, 2024. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

NATIONAL elections in India are something that the entire world follows closely. Starting in 1952, five years after it became independent, the South Asian nation has conducted general elections regularly till date. The number of voters in the world’s most populous nation and the largest democracy has only increased and in the 2024 elections, 970 million people are eligible to cast their ballots.

The electoral process itself is a gigantic one with huge mobilisation of personnel — electoral and safety — in intense summer and guarding the ballot machines till the results are declared. This year, a seven-phase election will be held starting April 19 and concluding June 1 with the counting happening on June 4.

The upcoming general elections in India have evolved as an attraction for domestic and international tourists as well and according to a report by the Hindu businessline, travel companies have come up with the idea of “election tourism” to cater to those who want to watch the 44-day-long festival of democracy closely.

Read: Why India holds its elections in harsh summer?

According to the report that cited a player, the travel firms predict that nearly 25,000 people will explore the elections. The rise in such tourists will boost the sector and the economy.

Arrival of foreign tourists in India has gone up 64 per cent in 2023 compared to the year before, totalling more than 9.2 million. However, according to data from India’s tourism ministry, the sector still remains more than 15 per cent below pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019.

Read: Modi keen on UK, Oman trade deals in probable third term: report

The tourism agencies are banking heavily on the elections in this situation. Akshar Travels in the western state of Gujarat has taken a lead in promoting election tourism in India and according to Manish Sharma, chairman of Akshar Travels Pvt Ltd, nearly 8,000 tourists visited India for election tourism during the 2019 polls. This year, they are expecting more than a three-time surge, Sharma told the Hindu businessline.

Who are the tourists who are eager to participate in the festival of democracy? It was learnt that requests have come in from nations such as the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan and those keen to see the elections from close quarters are people interested in political affairs, students, journalists, delegates from G20 nations and leisure travellers.

The tour package offered by Akshar Travels includes participation in rallies and meetings besides opportunities to meet and eat with local politicians. The guests can also go to rural bodies and go for local sightseeing. These packages, which were tried and tested during the last general elections, include states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which send the most number of members (80 and 48, respectively) to the Lok Sabha or Lower House of the parliament to which the elections will take place.

Sudesh Rajput, consulting partner at Delhi’s Incredible Holidays, told the Hindu businessline that they cater to domestic and international tourists. The agency is also offering more customised packaged as clients want to club religious and electoral travel.

The packages begin from Rs 25,000 (£237) per head and they combine poll-related activities with sightseeing tours.

Rajeev Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, told the news outlet that they want to show the foreigners how elections are held in the country.

However, the Election Commission of India, which carries out the humongous task of holding elections in the country, has maintained restrictions on tourists watching the electoral process closely or visiting polling booths, which are treated as sensitive zones during the elections.

Some foreign tourists also raise concerns over safety during elections. Some regions in the country get very sensitive in times of elections, particularly those affected by Left extremism, and travelling in those areas could become hazardous for foreigners.

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