India’s reputation has taken a beating since December, when a 23-year-old student was fatally gang raped, which led to widespread international outrage.
Just last week another woman was gang raped — only this time, it was a Swiss tourist who was on a cycling trip with her husband.
Yesterday, a British woman jumped out of her hotel room window, reportedly to escape a sexual attack by the hotel’s owner.
And though the attackers have been arrested, many people in India — including police and government officials — have blamed the victims, leaving many to question just how safe the country is.
As a result, it seems that more and more people — especially women — are being dissuaded from travelling to the country.
There are multiple discussion threads on Thorn Tree, Lonely Planet’s travel forum, over whether travelling to India is safe or not. And several users said that they are considering cancelling their trips for fear of their safety.
“Soon I’m planning to visit India with my boyfriend and I’m a bit concerned about safety there,” a user named tiag wrote on a Thorn Tree thread. “It raises some questions, [about] what is the situation about safety in India.”
Danish tourist Judith Jensen is currently travelling in India with her 10-year-old daughter and told the International Herald Tribune that she feels a “persistent sense of danger.”
“There is no question that these stories will have an impact on foreign visitors,” she told the Tribune. “Women will prefer to visit other places like Singapore or Bali or Thailand, where safety is not such a big concern.”
Several countries have also issued travel warnings, especially for women. The U.S. Department of state warns that “U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India,” and the British Common & Foreign Wealth Office also warns women to “use caution when travelling in India.” The British Office also reminds women that “Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk.”
In short, these events may wreak havoc on India’s tourism industry.
Tourism is an important industry in India. About 6.3 million foreign tourists visited India in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the country’s Ministry of Tourism. And in that same year, tourism generated $121 million of India’s GDP in 2011, making up about 6.4 per cent of India’s economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
That means that a decline in tourism could seriously hurt the economy.
Yet, tour operators and travel experts insist that the events have not affected tourism and that the country is still safe.
Praveen Syal, the managing director of Indus Travels, a travel agency specializing in trips to India, said that he does not believe that these events have impacted people’s decisions to travel to India.
“We have not seen any decline in bookings to India by either women or couples/families,” Syal wrote in an email. “India has always been a challenging destination for Western tourists… We have always taken precaution with our women clients to India.”
Syal added that the events are rare and can be avoided with simple precautions.
“We still consider India a very safe destination even for women but like any other foreign destination we advise our clients what is safe to do and what is not. If you stay within safe boundaries in India nothing will happen,” Syal added.
Harkripal Singh, a representative of the Travel Agents Association of India, a tourism lobby group, told the Wall Street Journal that he does not believe the events have affected tourism to India. However, he insisted that the organisation is now doing more to protect women.
“In every country of the globe, these kinds of incidents happen from time to time,” Singh told the Wall Street Journal.
Admittedly, these events are rare and the majority of tourists travel through India without incident.
However, it’s clear that the Indian government must respond to these incidents swiftly and sincerely, and prove to women that it can protect them. They can do this with a few simple actions: for one, they can stop blaming the victims and start enacting laws that will protect them. Basic reforms, like protecting married women from being raped by their husbands (which is still considered legal) and pursuing harsher sentences for rapists, will help reform India’s image.
Otherwise, they can kiss their tourism industry goodbye.
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