After ten gunmen paralyzed the commercial hub and hospitality center of Mumbai in attacks that killed at least 174 people and revealed the weakness of India’s security apparatus, India’s tourism damage control and business operations are expected to resume sooner rather than later. The siege at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace & Tower ended Saturday, three days after foreign-based terrorists targeted 10 sites, including two luxury hotels. Indian police confirmed the end of this heinous crime executed by the Deccan Mujahideen, the group that claimed responsibility for the attacks – a previously unknown organization, reportedly operating under an umbrella group.
Indian Tourism Minister Ambika Soni has not released any official statement to the press just yet, but Dammu Ravi, private secretary to Minister Soni, spoke exclusively with eTurboNews (eTN). Ravi has made it clear that security has been stepped up across the city and that the ministry’s office is hopeful that tourism will be restored fairly quickly.
As far as guest traffic was concerned, Ravi said: “In general, it is really very tragic. Things will go back to normal, however. Of course, as had happened with the Twin Tower attacks in the US with traffic slowing down, under these circumstances, this is just normal reaction…since incidents are recent and memories are fresh.”
On the travel ban, Ravi said his office is not telling governments around the world “NOT” to issue travel advisories. “It’s up to the countries to evaluate and assess the situation and communicate to their citizens. For one, we feel travel advisories do not help under these circumstances,” said Ravi, adding it is quite difficult to comment on the issue of bans and advisories as…“What can we say to other countries in a situation such as this?”
Before the deadly attacks, India tourism was doing fairly well. Up until end of last year, foreign tourist arrivals to the country have grown at a cumulative annual growth rate of 15.86 percent reaching 5 million in 2007, an increase of 12.4 percent over 2006. Foreign exchange earnings from tourism registered a cumulative annual growth rate of 30.97 percent in the same period with figures for 2007 closing at $11.956 billion, an impressive spike of 33.8 percent over 2006. Domestic tourism continues to surge, showing more than encouraging trends with tourist visits over 461 million in 2006. By 2010, with the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi, India expects to host 10 million tourists.
India was clearly at pace with the ‘BRIC’ growth and the success of its Incredible India tourism campaign. However, the need for increased security was already on its plate long before bloodshed was dished out. Sint Kanti Singh, Indian culture and tourism undersecretary mentioned in an earlier meeting in Dubai with eTN that tourism police troops will be increased. “There have been isolated cases in the past. This is why we are adding more tourist police to the active service. We would like to dispatch more to secure the tourist centers. They won’t be regular policemen,” Singh said.
Singh told eTN that in order to ensure safety and security of their guests, the state governments have been requested to deploy tourist police at all important destinations. This is in view of safeguarding sites for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, expected to attract an additional 10,000 visitors and 9,000-10,000 sportsmen world over.
Obviously, nothing would have stopped the plot. Had tourist guards been deployed around the Taj and the Oberoi properties before the siege, nobody could have even prevented the carnage at a scale the South Asian Jihadists had orchestrated.
In the last months, India’s campaign became a bombshell all over the world. But Ravi said they may have to change the format of the “Incredible India” program slightly which will address fears of the travelers. He said: “This can happen anywhere in the world. This is not just India-specific. Terrorism knows no boundaries. Best is to wait and watch and let things settle down.”
As the financial and commercial capital of India, Mumbai is the most visited and extremely popular. “From that point of view, any attack in any popular city will have an impact on travel – both commercial and leisure,” Ravi said.
Asked if India’s commercial and financial health suffer from the shootings, Ravi said: “Hopefully not. Security experts have reacted very fast. They are working with the Intelligence and Indian police to curb any untoward incidences. We will know more. The economy has been good despite global market crash,” he said.
Added our source: “The Taj hotel will re-open because the main structure of this heritage hotel has not been damaged. We will do everything possible to bring it back to its original glory. The chairman of the Taj Group, Mr. Tata is very keen to put it back on track. Everything is possible in our capacity to bring things back to its former fame and glory.”
Top prominent Mumbai businessman Ross Deas said, “Mumbai is vital to India and Asia. Terrorists have only scratched Mumbai but not wounded it. The city is far too resilient and strong for this kind of attacks. However, religious tolerance and settling the Kashmir affair as well as educating more poor Muslims will help in the crisis. Giving Kashmir some autonomy as well will bring down these crimes.”
Deas, who uses Taj and Oberoi hotels extensively, said people should behave
as normal as possible. He said: “We’ve had more then 10 blasts over the years. We, Bombay people have gotten used to it, however have remained positive about the whole matter and have accepted it as a way of living today.”
He believes though it may take the hotels about six months to be back in business and get fully refurbished. He said: “More people will go there now just to say ‘I stayed at the Oberoi or Taj’. New security systems will be installed.” In fact, Deas said one of his companies designed a system called MOSECURE is currently being tested in high-rise residential buildings in Mumbai and Dubai, which make penetration by terrorist almost impossible. Although, Deas believes the events were a result of lack of security and state neglect of “intelligence” already available prior to terror, “Indian intelligence needs to penetrate the Pakistan/ Afghan outfits as well as Palestinian-based operatives,” he said.
Regular tourism activities are set to resume after the blasts, on the heels of India’s top law enforcement official quitting office, saddled by heavy criticism that the attackers appeared better trained, better coordinated and better armed than police.
As a private sector, concerned Mumbai native quite fed up with the scenes in the city he was born and raised, Deas said, “A Muslim anti-terrorist squad should be created by India. They should be staffed by Muslims protecting their own Indian brethren. Some of the political parties in India like the BJP have to tune down their rhetoric, or otherwise be severely reprimanded for raising religious divide among men.”