Adverse publicity over incidents of rape may not be the only reason why international tourist footfall to India has decreased, feels Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guidebook publisher. The problem is more because of the perception that foreign tourists have that things do not move fast in this country, that there is so much chaos and too much red tape.
“People still think about India as I am going to have problems in terms of transport, traffic and bookings. And sometimes you do (face these problems). It is not a totally straightforward country to visit,” Wheeler told The Sunday Guardian on the sidelines of the .Open Minds thought leadership conference in Muscat.
“India has so much tourism potential and it gets so much tourists, but nowhere near as many as the size of the country. And in terms of the number of attractions it has, and the reasons for going there, it is seriously under-visited,” added Wheeler, who is a regular visitor to India.
Wheeler, who last visited India around three months ago said that he faced problems booking tickets while here. “In most places you just have to book the flight to where you want to go. In India, you have to show your credit card when you check in. On one occasion they would not sell me the ticket. I had given them all the details but they would not sell it to me. Why? Bureaucracy is still a problem.”
When told that several measures were being taken to prevent credit card fraud, he retorted, “When you do so much, you stop people from spending money. Bureaucracy is a deterrent for any traveller, not just foreign travellers. As a foreign traveller I experienced problems during my last trip.”
“He, the new Prime Minister, is saying that he is going to do all sorts things, isn’t he? He is going to cut the bureaucracy and the paperwork. We will see what he does,” he added.
However, all these difficulties will not stop Wheeler from visiting India. “Hampi is on my list as a place I haven’t been to. There are so many places I haven’t been to; I can go again and again.”
“For foreign visitors, the Lonely Planet India guide is still one of our most popular books. So it is an important destination for us,” said Wheeler who sold Lonely Planet to BBC six years ago, but still takes an interest in the company. Lonely Planet is currently owned by NC2 Media of the US.
“I have often said, like many years ago Johnson used to say about London, when you tire of London, you tire of life. It is the same with India. If you tire of India, you are tired of life. You may get frustrated, but never bored. It is a difficult country, but that is the price you pay with so much happening, and so many places,” he said.