India is fighting a perception battle on safety for foreign tourists due to "unfair and biased" media reports that the country was the most unsafe for women, Tourism Minister KJ Alphons said.
Mr Alphons, who is currently visiting Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai along with about 20 leading Indian travel agents to woo Chinese tourists to visit India, said that incidents like lynchings are bad for India's reputation.
The incidents of lynching are not affecting tourism "big time", he told reporters after holding a roadshow on Tuesday.
"Well, not on a big time basis... not really. But anything happening like that is bad for the reputation of the country. We will not say it's good for the reputation of the country," he said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called them criminals and asked the states to take action.
His ministry is now focusing to attract 10 per cent of the 144 million Chinese tourists who visited abroad last year, the largest from any country.
Despite special measures like e-visas, only 2.40 lakh Chinese tourists visited India last year against 14 lakh Indian visiting China.
"In 2016, India received about 2,51,000 Chinese travellers but in 2017 the number dropped to a mere 2,40,000. Given this backdrop, India has set an ambitious target of increasing this minuscule figure to an eye-popping 14 million by 2023," he said.
"We are opening an office in Beijing very soon, we should aim for at least 10 per cent of the 144 million Chinese tourists. This can be achieved in five years if we make concerted efforts," said Mr Alphons.
He said India is fighting a perception battle about safety issues specially for women tourists. He also blamed a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey which projected India as "most dangerous" country for women.
He said the story is based on interviews with 548 people out of which 43 were from India.
"Most of the 43 feminists may be anti-government. It has got politics to it," he said.
"There is a massive unfairness in the whole reporting process. There is a huge bias in reporting. It is not fair. I don't want to play with numbers. Even one such case is not acceptable...Why they did story like that," he said and outlined steps like creating helpline in 12 languages, including Mandarin as well creating of tourism police by 14 states in India.
He said he is in China to "break the so-called story... it is not true". The number of cases (relating to safety) are so few, he said.
He also said ban on beef eating has not affected tourist arrivals much.
"Not really. You see Kerala, Goa and North East which are beef-eating states. These are all big tourism destinations. People will go where they are comfortable. We need respect the sentiments of people anywhere. That is so fundamental," he said.
Mr Alphons said he is here to find out why more Chinese are not visiting India despite various measures.
India has all these basic things like good hotels with food and water facilities. India has very large number of Chinese restaurants though some of them are spicy, he said.
From now on China will have India Tourism Office which will be headed by an IAS or IFS officer. It will also have strategy advisor besides a PR agency to campaign, he said.
The previous tourism office has been closed years ago, he said.
Tourism from China to India is not picking up also because of lack of campaigns, he said and highlighted the improvement of relations, specially between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He refuted the perception that campaigns like the Buddhist circuit for Chinese travellers failed to work.
"Buddhist circuit never worked because we never had the infrastructure built for that. If we have infrastructure they will come," he said. The new infrastructure included six-lane highways which will be ready in two years.
For the Chinese, there are 38 Mandarin speaking guides in India, he said.
Their numbers have grown to 200 though they have not been certified by Archaeological Survey of India, (ASI) which he said is not necessary.
He said over all the tourism sector in India is doing extremely well.
Tourism revenues fetched USD 27 billion as the sector registered a 14 per cent increase. Tourism is contributing to seven per cent of the GDP and created 14.62 million jobs in the last four years, he said.
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