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Published on : Tuesday, November 8, 2016
The star of The Real Marigold Hotel TV series, filmed in India, told delegates: “India really is a wonderful country.
“Not only is it wonderful because of its beauty, variety and richness of culture but the people make it so special.
“The people are warm, funny, joyous, welcoming and very, very intelligent –particularly the women; they are extraordinary.”
She was joined by leading tourism officials from India, which is the Official Premier Partner of WTM London as part of its bid to encourage more visitors from around the world.
Dr Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State for Tourism, highlighted the sheer variety of experiences, including UNESCO heritage sites, luxury travel, ecotourism, medical tourism, religious travel, undiscovered regions such as north-east India and wildlife.
In the last 18 months, India’s government has invested more than U$400 million in developing tourism infrastructure around the country.
The minister said the government is expanding its e-Visa scheme to make it easier for overseas visitors to travel to India, and is tackling issues of safety and cleanliness.
It has also identified cruise tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conference and event) travel as growth sectors.
A new free 24/7 helpline has been established for visitors to call for answers to travel queries in one of 12 languages, and themed tourism circuits are being developed across the country to encourage special interest travel.
The minister also launched a website for a new Incredible India Global Tourism Mart in New Delhi next February.
India expects foreign tourist arrivals to rise 10% year-on-year in 2016, taking visitor numbers to a projected nine million.
There were 870,000 UK visitors to India last year and the UK market is seeing strong growth – numbers over the past three years have risen by almost 100,000.
New flight routes from Manchester and increased airlift from Birmingham will enable more UK travellers to reach India in 2016 and 2017.
The country will also mark the 70th anniversary of independence in 2017.
WTM London is the event where the travel and tourism industry conducts its business deals. Buyers from the WTM Buyers’ Club have a combined purchasing responsibility of $22.6 billion (£15.8bn) and sign deals at the event worth $3.6 billion (£2.5bn).