India has agreed to allow foreign visitors to have access to more of its national parks, to boost tourism, with a target to increase 10,000 foreign tourists each year by 2020.
The move, which comes after India announced a 10 per cent hike in tourism from April, was announced by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Friday as part of the country’s plan to attract more visitors.
India is home to some of the world’s best-preserved landscapes and was once the home of many of the original inhabitants of the Himalayan region, who were brought there by Europeans.
But its reputation as a destination for foreign tourists has been marred by corruption, political unrest and a series of disasters, including a deadly stampede in 2016 that killed more than 1,000 people.
Tourism is the second largest industry in India after farming, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the GDP.
In 2016, India suffered its worst ever tourism disaster, when at least 50 people died in a stampede at a tourist resort in the state of Tripura, which was then part of Andhra Pradesh.
In addition to more access to the national parks and forests, visitors will be able to visit other areas such as coastal and river deltas, as well as tourist destinations such as the capital Delhi and Kathmandu.
The Indian government has also said it will open more than 200 new tourist destinations, such as hotels and tourist offices, which will help to ease the pressure on the budget-strapped economy.
The ministry said it would also create more tourist hotspots in the national park system.
The announcement was welcomed by tourism experts, who have said the tourism industry had been hit hard by the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium.
“There is a growing awareness among tourists that their safety is of paramount importance.
The government’s announcement is an important step to make them more comfortable,” said Anuj Kumar, executive director of tourism advisory firm World Travel & Tourism Association.