Alongside visits to the Taj Mahal and elephant rides, tourists travelling to India are keen to experience the ongoing general election, prompting tour operators to launch a range of election tourism packages to capitalise on the trend.
These tours typically include opportunities to see election speeches, talk to locals in urban and rural areas about the polls, and sometimes even meet leaders of political parties.
One travel agents’ organisation has launched a dedicated campaign to promote the new category of tourism.
“India, being the largest democracy, attracts worldwide attention in every aspect,” says Manish Sharma, the chairman of the Tourism Development Corporation in Gujarat. “General election 2014, especially, has the world’s eyes on it. Keeping in mind the immense interest generated, we are providing packages under our specially designed campaign – Election Tourism India 2014.
“Visitors have an opportunity to explore our vibrant democracy accommodating different cultures, the workings of various national and state political parties and can be part of their election rallies too.”
A six-day tour called the “Democratic Triangle” package, offered by Akshar Travels, a tour operator based in Gujarat, includes a meeting with a candidate, attending a speech and a political rally, along with an elephant ride and visits to forts in Jaipur and the Taj Mahal.
Tour operators say that the election packages have generated demand from travellers from countries including the UAE and the United Kingdom. There has been a surge in demand for destinations including Varanasi, one of the locations the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, is contesting from, apart from Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat.
India’s general election started earlier this month and runs for five weeks, with results due to be announced on May 16.
“We tracked year-on-year growth of about 12 per cent in hotel bookings for Varanasi,” Mohit Gupta, the chief business officer at MakeMyTrip.com, told The Times of India. “The numbers have grown exponentially for bigger cities –hotel bookings in Lucknow grew by 60 per cent year-on-year while Ahmedabad has witnessed 35 per cent growth in the same period. The general elections will fuel travel demand with increase in rail, bus and flight-bookings, and hotels and guesthouses will see an increase in demand as well.”
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