Election Tourism: An Indian Travel Agency Is Turning Election Fever Into Exciting Tourist DrawTop Stories

March 29, 2019 17:13
Election Tourism: An Indian Travel Agency Is Turning Election Fever Into Exciting Tourist Draw

(Image source from: US Wall Street Journal)

An Indian travel agency is now pitching the country’s Lok Sabha elections as a tour option by offering visitors a chance to soak in the excitement of the world’s largest democratic exercise.

The package includes the chance to take part in rallies, engage with voters in rural and urban areas of India and even meet political party candidates.

"The process of electing people's representatives in the world's largest democracy is almost like a festival. It's an experience like nowhere else," says Manish Sharma, chairman of Akshar Travels, the agency that has launched the tour.

This tourism strategy was started during the December 2012 state elections in Gujarat, attracting those who visited the state during the peak winter tourist season. It was repeated in the 2014 parliamentary polls, which pulled in around 5,200 tourists.

Most of these visitors included researchers, media professionals, students, and political analysts.

Sharma says the number this year is expected to cross 10,000 with "positive inquiries" coming from the United States, France, Germany, Austria, and Japan.

The tour has been showcased at major tourism expos in foreign capitals for the last six months.

"A lot of queries have come from people of Indian origin. Many are interested to visit Varanasi, the constituency Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contesting from," he adds.

Modi has, in the past, supported this idea of converting India's elections into a tourism draw. Other popular locations include Lucknow, Delhi, and Mumbai.

The package, which spans around a week and costs about $450 (excluding flight costs), covers different regions a tourist may want to visit. It combines regular sightseeing with popular electoral campaign schedules in and around these zones.

Access to political leaders and their events is not a problem, says Sharma. "In fact, political candidates like the presence of a group of foreigners at the rally as it increases the attraction of the rally," he says.

Besides obvious challenges that arise from a lack of good-quality tourism infrastructure across the country, the appeal of the election-tourism package is also confined by the fact that parliamentary elections are usually held in summer when temperatures can soar close to 45 deg C in many parts of the country.

Security for foreign tourists among a crowd of thousands also poses a challenge for Akshar Travels and its partner agencies.

But Sharma thinks India's parliamentary elections, which take place every five years, have immense untapped tourism potential. "If the ministries of external affairs and tourism pitch in and help develop this in an organized manner, we can generate at least 20 billion rupees (S$391 million) worth of revenue from election tourism," he says.

"There are many different kinds of tourism options across the world, whether it is sports, leisure, heritage or others. Election tourism is one that is not available anywhere else. Why don't we develop it into a business model?"

With about 900 million voters, India will elect its next federal government from April 11 to May 19.

By Sowmya Sangam

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