JAIPUR AND KOVALAM: The New Year has brought some good news for the tourism industry - despite the hardship of the currency ban, number of foreign tourists coming to India has gone up by 9%.
While the figures differ from state to state, Rajasthan appears to have benefitted the most. Ahead of New Year, hotels and monuments were flooded and Jaipur's picture postcard destinations are bustling with tourists. Even domestic travellers appear to have shaken off the fears of cash crunch.
Namrata, a school teacher from Lucknow, said they did not face a cash problem. "Where we could pay online, we did. Where they wanted cash, we gave cash," she said.
Severine and Caroline are two French tourists who had no prior information about the currency ban. They found out about it at the Delhi airport. "(But) We have had no problems," said Severine, "We have paid in Jaipur with cash and card."
At the Amer fort and other ASI monuments in Rajasthan, cards cannot be swiped but online ticket sales are up. According to the government figures, as ASI monuments went cashless, online and e ticket sales went up by 14%.
Souvenir shops and local curio sellers, however, say business suffered due to their inability to change Rs. 2000 notes. "How can I give change of Rs. 1,900? Notebandi has affected our business," said Aziz, a bangle seller who has set up shop on a footpath at Jaipur's Jal Mahal.
But in Kerala, the holiday season has not reported good cheer.
Coupled with the no liquor policy, the currency ban has affected tourism. A study by the Kerala planning board shows that in November, international tourism has dropped by 8.7% and domestic by 17%.
"Demonetisation alone cannot be blamed for the drop in footfall," said EM Najeeb, President, Confederation of Kerala tourism industry. "The excise policy is also not tourism friendly. Revenue has dropped by 30-40%." he said.
Reji Oswald is an avid traveller from London, who is currently holidaying in Kerala. The cash crunch has meant that he has had to change his spending pattern. "It has left many tourists in a tight spot. We can't spend the way we want to... buy the Indian things we want to... money access is restricted in ATMs," he said.
There are another 4 months to go for the tourist season in India, which usually lasts till April before the onset of the summer. Travel agents say some bookings that are on hold will depend on whether the government announces measures, especially to make it easier for foreign travellers.
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