THE INDIAN Railway Budget 2015-16 will see a slew of initiatives intended to boost tourism, including 52 per cent more funds for Indian Railways than in 2014-15, and about US$6.5 billion for its annual plan.
Under the initiative Incredible Rail for Incredible India, Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will plan and promote tour packages for Gandhi Circuit to attract tourists to mark the occasion of 100 years of the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to India.
To be flagged off from April 9, the Gandhi Circuit trains would cover destinations such as Chandigarh, Ambala, Panipat, Delhi Cantt, Moradabad, Bareilly, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Porbandar, Bhavnagar and Surat.
IRCTC has uploaded information on a 9D8N package, priced from US$119 per person, on its tourism portal.
The Railway Ministry is also mooting plans to offer coaches in select trains connecting major tourist destinations to travel agencies on a revenue-sharing model.
Major thrust has been given to north and north-eastern states well known for their scenic beauty and adventure tourism opportunities. A sum of US$9.3 billion has been proposed to connect Kashmir and seven sister states in the north-east.
The ministry will also launch the Coastal Connectivity Program this year where Indian Railways will partner with concerned ports for rail connectivity to Nargol, Chharra, Dighi,Rewas and Tuna.
“Meghalaya in the north-east has been brought on the Railway map of India and direct connectivity to Delhi has been provided to Arunachal Pradesh. Further, the Barak Valley in Assam will be brought on broad gauge by March this year. The work for connecting the remaining states of this region is progressing well,” revealed Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, railway minister.
The minister also said the successful training experiment of auto-rickshaw and taxi operators as tourist-guides on Konkan Railway will be replicated at major tourist stations.
Rajesh Magow, co-founder and CEO-India, MakeMyTrip, said: “Many tourist hubs under-served by the airline industry. The ministry’s continued commitment to enhancing rail connectivity in the north-east and Kashmir region will expedite tourism-related infrastructure development in the states.”
However, Sarab Jit Singh, senior vice president, Indian Association of Tour Operators is less convinced, commenting: “There are various circuits available for tour operators to sell but very few buyers; Gandhi Circuit will make not much difference – the only reason to this is inadequate infrastructure and basic amenities.”