This election, new observers: foreign tourists

It's not for nothing that Gujaratis are known for their head for business. These polls, a new venture has come to town: election tourist.

"As India is one of the biggest democracies, we have got a surge in enquiries from foreign nationals who want to witness it. Starting December 9, we will start taking tourists to Kutch, Mehsana, Vadodara, Surat, Jamnagar, Porbandar, where they will attend poll campaigns," said Manish Sharma, who has tied up with Gujarat Tourism to promote "election tourism" and combine it with the 'Rann Utsav' that ends on January 31. While the Utsav starts on December 15, the first phase of the polls is on December 13.

Even the fares are worked out. For Rs 15,000 per person, said Sharma, "they can see local tourist destinations, the Vidhan Sabha and visit election rallies and polling booths as well. More than 200 foreign nationals and around 1,300 domestic travellers will be visiting Gujarat around elections and we expect around 5,000 tourists for the Rann Utsav."

A problem they anticipate is a shortage of hotel rooms. Already the nearly 500 officials on duty in the state as regards election-related jobs have taken up much of the space in government-owned rest houses. And elections aren't the only show in town. The Rann Utsav and the Vibrant Gujarat Summit to follow in January are all keeping hoteliers nice and happy.

As per Gujarat Tourism department, 1.75 crore tourists visited the state till March 2011 — the figure almost doubled this year with 2.13 crore tourists till March 2012. The number of hotel rooms has correspondingly risen from 45,000 to 65,000.

"Despite having just launched, we have had a good start owing to many events happening simultaneously. We have had a large number of enquiries from foreign delegations who will be attending the Vibrant Summit," said Ranganath Budumooru, general manager of the newly opened Holiday Inn Express.

Parul Thakur, general manager at Courtyard by Mariott, affirms an increase in occupancy of about 10 per cent as compared to last year. "Even with respect to tourists, we have seen a growth of about 15 per cent and have garnered 90 per cent bookings in November and December and are looking at an equal occupancy in January. The number of business travellers has trebled while tourist footfall has also increased this year."

Encouraged by the growing popularity and heavy demand, the state government has added a venue for business conferences to the Rann Utsav. "Our aim is to garner 95 per cent bookings this season and hope to get a footfall of 8,000 tourists in the tent city area and 50,000 tourists through the month," said Nirav Munshi, Manager, Tours and Travel, Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited.

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