New Delhi: To attract foreign tourists, the Central government has established 169 rural tourism sites in the remote but exotic locales of the country.

According to a tourism official, the ministry has so far sanctioned 169 such sites in 28 states and Union Territories.

The scheme was launched in 2002 with the objective benefiting local communities economically and socially as well as enabling interaction between tourists and locals for a mutually enriching experience.
'The intention is to benefit the local community economically and socially as well as to enable interaction between tourists and local population for a mutually enriching experience,' said the official.

In the initial two years, the focus was to develop the infrastructure. State governments were asked to identify and select the sites, which were then developed.

'Rural tourism is mostly aimed at experience oriented. The locations are sparsely populated, it is predominantly in natural environment, a fact which mostly attracts foreign tourists. The aim is also to preserve culture, heritage and traditions of the country,' the official added.

The official said the Village Level Council (VLC) is the forum for local community to check whether plans were being implemented.

Over 5.5 million foreign tourists visited India in 2010, an increase of 8.1 percent over the previous year. In 2009, 5.17 million foreign travellers visited India, while 5.28 million visited the country in 2008.

The rural tourism project is showing good results with the involvement of local population and some more rural sites are likley to be included in the project, said a senior Tourism Ministry official.