New Delhi: The economic slowdown in the US and Europe coupled with adverse travel advisories hit the tourism sector in 2011 as the country saw less footfalls even during the festive season.

In mid-October, travellers from the US, the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia were advised by their governments to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to India, citing terror threats. No country has softened the tone of these advisories, despite a strong response by the Ministry of External Affairs.

It has affected the festive season with only 4.7 percent growth in foreign tourist arrivals in November as against 12.3 percent growth for the same period last year.

Till November, Incredible India campaign attracted 55.75 lakh foreign tourists including 11,121 visitors availing the visa on arrival facility.

Nevertheless, the Tourism Ministry unveiled an ambitious target of attracting about 11 million foreign tourists and creating 24.9 million jobs in the next five years.

The ministry has sought Rs 23,000 crore from Planning Commission in the 12th Five-Year Plan to develop tourism infrastructure and achieve 10 to 12 percent growth in the sector.

The year began with Subodh Kant Sahai taking over the ministry with new zeal and promise. He made a presentation on socio-economic relevance of tourism and strategies to address challenges in the sector to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This was followed by Singh constituting a high-level committee with members from different ministries including Civil Aviation, Urban Development, External Affairs, Road Transport and Highways to expedite tourism related projects.

Besides the introduction of e-visa system to facilitate more arrivals of foreign tourists, the ministry is also seeking extension of visa on arrival scheme to CIS, Middle-East and African countries to increase footfalls.

The ministry has proposed to set up 20 theme parks, first of its kind in the country, on the pattern of Sentosa in Singapore and Cancun in Mexico. These parks will have convention centres, food courts, amphitheatres, hotels, shopping plazas, swimming pools and adequate parking space among other facilities.

In order to develop tourism infrastructure, the ministry appointed a consultant to identify four new tourist destinations and two rural clusters in each state.

Catering to the huge demand for skilled manpower in the hospitality sector, the ministry has planned to open new institutes of hotel management and food craft institutes as well as augmenting the capacity of existing ones.

Recognising the need for innovations in the industry, it has developed new and niche products such as caravan tourism, golf tourism and cruise tourism.

It launched Campaign Clean India for a clean environment at tourist destinations. During the year, the global television campaign under the Incredible India brand was also initiated.

The campaigns have been successful and have won the PATA Gold Award 2011.

(Agencies)