You must have heard of an industry tour, a slum tour but how about an election tour? The Indian travel and tour operators are giving international travellers an opportunity to come and be a part of the largest democratic electorate in the world.
What do foreigners love about India the most? Its chaotic cities, the historical monuments, food, scenery, the cultural connect or the religious relief! To add to this list now is the Indian elections that they can have a firsthand experience to. From being a part of a political rally to meeting an election candidate the tourists can come and be a part of the world’s biggest democracy.
With about 900 million voters, set to decide the future of India’s ruling government, giving the Indian tourism industry a different way to market the country. The elections are to be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, with results coming in on May 23.
Some Indian tour companies are courting international visitors with week-long ‘election tourism’ packages that would try to combine some traditional sightseeing with access to political campaigning. According to an election snapshot compiled by Creative Travel India, there will be no less than one million polling stations, 11 million polling officials, two million electronic voting machines and an expenditure of around USD 7 billion, which is bigger than the USD 6.5 billion spent on the US election in 2016.
The western state of Gujarat had figured out the potential of election tourism way back in 2012 during the assembly polls and again during the 2014 general elections. “The visitors will have an opportunity to explore our vibrant democracy accommodating different cultures, the workings of various national/state political parties and can be part of their election rallies too. I look forward to welcoming all.” says Manish Sharma, chairman, Gujarat Tourism Development Corporation, an organisation of tour operators.
The ultimate safari
Tourists can have a look at the rallies in their air-conditioned raths (chariots) or use more conventional transport. The madness in the environment is for sure to engross them. This experiential form of tourism is expected to be an adventurous experience for the international travellers who will witness campaigns in different languages with the soaring sound of the speakers in the scorching heat and among the dusty clouds.
The tour will help the tourists given an “understanding” of the Indian democracy and its history and can range anywhere between two – seven days and cover approximately 10-12 destinations in Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra and Goa, among others. The visitors will be taken to the rallies conducted by the candidates of rural areas, to the public rallies addressed by the regional candidates. If there would be any national leader visit, the tourist will be taken to meet and interact with them as well. The visitors would also be given a chance to interact with election candidates for a better understanding of their system of the campaign and election-related issues.
According to Election Tourism India’s website, about 5200 tourists participated in Indian election tourism in 2014, from countries like China, Nepal, US, UAE (Dubai & Abu Dhabi), Australia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, France, and many others from across the globe. The tourists mainly comprised of students, researchers, media professionals, political analysts and those who wanted to understand how elections in India are conducted on such a massive scale.
Karan Anand, head, Relationship, Cox & Kings, told Media India Group, “We are handling enquiries of foreign travellers who wish to witness the elections in India- one of the largest democracies in the world. These tours are specially customised to offer a window to India’s rich culture, election rallies and political complexities. While Gujarat is a major attraction, states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Himachal are also being preferred by travellers for election tourism.”
Election Tourism offers various packages across India that includes ‘Northeast Egalitarianism’, ‘Grassroot Democracy of Kerala’, ‘Maharashtra Political Tour’, and the ‘Liberal Government of Gujarat’. “But the most popular are the ones in north Indian, Varanasi, Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow and such. That might be because the Golden Triangle of India (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) has always been a tourist trap, but now, a visit to the Taj Mahal can be followed up with “the most luscious dinner with the party officials,” promises the website. Trips rage from seven to eight days, and cost between USD 270-430.
Schemes for domestic dwellers
Elections will not only see a rise in numbers from the outbound market but the domestic market will also see a growth. “Travel during this period is expected to rise significantly closer to the election dates as people travel to their hometown to cast a vote. As a result, domestic travel is expected to rise at least 10 pc more than usual,” added Anand.
Thomas Cook India has launched a Ghar Jao Vote Karo (Go home and cast your vote) campaign that will extend from March 26 to May 19, to encourage Indians to exercise their right to vote by flying back to their respective hometowns- where they have been registered as voters. As part of the campaign, a pre-election discount of INR 1,000 on return air tickets (per adult) is offered on providing documentary proof such as Voter ID and Aadhaar cards. The last date of flight departure is May 19, coinciding with the last date of polling.