India plans to promote Buddhist sites as new tourist hotspots

TNN, Sep 30, 2012

VARANASI, India -- In an effort to attract at least half of the total Buddhist population spread in 35 countries by promoting Buddhist pilgrimage sites, is the new mantra of the ministry of tourism, Government of India and the states enshrining the Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

The call was given during the inauguration of the three-day International Buddhist Conclave (IBC)-2012 at a hotel compound in Nadesar area on Saturday. Due to the last-minute cancellation of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav's visit, Union minister of state for tourism Subodh Kant Sahai, along with the ministers of tourism of UP, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha inaugurated the conclave. Apart from 133 delegates from 30 countries, who are mainly tour operators, opinion leaders and travel writers, delegates from 16 states are also taking part in the conclave.

In his address, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) executive director Marcio Favilla said that "while the number of international tourists last year was one billion, next year this figure can touch the mark of 1.8 billion".

"During the G-20 summit held in June, the tourism sector was approved as an important economic activity. It's for the first time that the tourism has been included in G-20 declaration. Focus should be on sustainable tourism to generate employment. Similarly, religious tourism would play a key role in increasing the number of international tourists."

The Union minister of state for tourism said: "The ministry is aiming at promoting religious tourism on the line of the Muslim religious shrines in Saudi Arabia. Even if half of the Buddhist population (out of a total of 50 lakh) visits the Buddhist pilgrim centres in the country annually, the goal of the ministry would be achieved. This would also help in generating employment for three crore people."

The minister also highlighted the measures initiated by the Central government regarding visa issues.

The tourism ministers of participating states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, left no opportunity to promote the Buddhist sites of their states. However, the main competition between UP and Bihar to woo the delegates for attracting more and more tourists was quite evident.

Bihars minister for tourism Sunil Kumar Pintu highlighted how improvement in basic infrastructure, especially roads, had help in attracting a large number of tourists to the Buddhist sites in Bihar. However, UP minister of state for tourism M C Chauhan had no concrete plans to disclose except expecting that the chief minister would do some miracle to change the fate of tourism industry in UP.