Less than just one per cent of the world's Buddhist population visits India, the land of Lord Buddha's birth, thanks to lack of basic wayside amenities, bad roads and near-absence of tourist infrastructure at major Buddhist sites, according to a comprehensive FICCI-ICRA study conducted here recently.
Calling attention toward the potential attraction of Buddhism among its followers worldwide, the study pointed out that tourist arrivals could go up by 400 per cent and India stands to earn nearly $1 billion, if only some serious efforts were made towards developing the Buddhist destinations.
The study calls for increase in direct flights from Buddhist countries like China and Japan, raising number of direct domestic flights between the sites, provision of wayside amenities, budgets hotels and guides who could speak key foreign languages.
A five-point agenda evolved by FICCI to boost Buddhist tourism includes improving air connectivity with countries like China, improving rail connectivity within key Buddhist sites, encouraging Joint-Venture enterprise in developing infrastructure, putting world class conservation mechanism in place and issuance of multi-entry visa for the travellers.
"All this requires a coordination between ministries of tourism, civil aviation, railways, surface transport and external affairs," the study noted.
Positioning India as a Hub for Buddhist Tourism, the study, observed that India has been able to attract only 0.06 per cent of the worlds Buddhist population of about 350 million.
China, which is billed as biggest tourist outbound market by 2010, contributed only 0.1 per cent of nearly three million total outbound travellers, to the Buddhist sites in India.
The five countries of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar account for more than 90 per cent of the world's Buddhist population.
But total traffic to the Buddhist circuit is about two lakhs, which is only 5 per cent of the total in-bound traffic to India.
"It is important to encourage a public-private partnership by incentivising investment in creating and maintaining basic tourism infrastructure like good roads, clean budget hotels, security, availability of guides trained to speak key foreign languages, presence of restaurants and wayside amenities, hygienic environment," the study said.
Noting that Buddhist sites of tourist interests were spread over ten States, the study said," Issuance of a multi-entry visa is a key requirement for Buddhist tourists traveling on a circuit. The standard route taken by Buddhist tourists is Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Patna, Kushinagar, Lumbini, Sravasti and Sarnath."
"Hence a multi-entry visa will enable the tourists to travel to Nepal and be back in India and save time and trouble in having to reapply for visa in order to complete the circuit," it added.
The FICCI also called for a "multi-pronged marketing strategy" since different countries have followers of different Buddhist doctrines.
"This will help market the Buddhist sites in appropriate countries, target higher-spend category tourists from these existing countries and address new markets," it said.
There is also a need for proper implementation of conservation strategies and monitoring at regular intervals to make Buddhist monuments, sites and structures world-class destinations, it added.
The study noted that holistic development of Buddhist tourism in India assumes special significance in the light of the decision by India and China to celebrate 2007, as the India-China Year of Friendship Through Tourism and the designation of 2007 by India and Japan as the India Japan Tourism Exchange Year.