Tourists stay away from Taj Mahal and other Indian attractions as protests erupt

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s tourism industry has been hit by a wave of violent anti-government protests against a new citizenship law that rocked several cities this month, with at least seven countries issuing travel warnings.

FILE PHOTO: The Taj Mahal is reflected in a puddle in Agra, India August 9, 2016. REUTERS / Cathal McNaughton / File Photo

At least 25 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters, and protests against the law continue.

Authorities estimate that around 200,000 domestic and international tourists have canceled or postponed their trip to the Taj Mahal in the past two weeks, one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

“There was a 60% drop in visitor attendance in December of this year,” said Dinesh Kumar, a police inspector overseeing a special tourist police station near the Taj Mahal who has access to visitor data. He said the drop was from December of last year.

“Indian and foreign tourists called our control rooms to check security. We give them protection, but many still decide to stay away, ”Kumar said.

The 17th-century marble monument is in Uttar Pradesh, the northern state that has seen the highest number of deaths and intense outbursts of violence in two weeks of unrest.

A group of European tourists traveling in groups across India said they now plan to cut their trip to 20 days.

“We are all retirees, so traveling must be slow and relaxing. The headlines in the newspapers have caused concern and we will be leaving sooner than expected, ”said Dave Millikin, a retired banker living on the outskirts of London, who spoke to Reuters from the capital New Delhi.

The Taj Mahal, located in the city of Agra, attracts over 6.5 million tourists each year, generating nearly $ 14 million annually in entrance fees. A foreign tourist pays 1,100 rupees (about $ 15) to enter the land, although nationals of neighboring countries are given a discount.

Managers of luxury hotels and guest houses around the Taj Mahal said last-minute cancellations during the holiday season had further weakened the business climate at a time when the country’s economic growth slowed to 4 , 5%, its slowest pace in over six years.

In an effort to quell the violence and unrest, authorities have suspended mobile internet services in Agra.

“Internet blocking has affected travel and tourism in Agra by around 50-60%,” said Sandeep Arora, president of the Agra Tourism Development Foundation which unites more than 250 tour operators, hotels and guides.

The United States, Britain, Russia, Israel, Singapore, Canada and Taiwan have issued travel advisories urging their citizens to refrain from visiting or to exercise caution when visiting areas involved in the protests of India.

Jayanta Malla Baruah, head of Assam Tourism Development Corp., said the state, home to the world’s largest concentration of one-horned rhinos, is visited by an average of 500,000 tourists in December.

“But this time, due to ongoing protests and travel advisories from various countries, the number is down 90% if not more.”

(1 Indian rupee = $ 0.0140)

Additional reporting by Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Zarir Hussain in Guwahati; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Richard Pullin


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Christina A. Kroll

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