Industry

Luxury train mooted to draw Buddhists from China, Japan

As the Buddhist Circuit is the area where Buddhism originated and where theBuddha lived, the potential for Buddhist tourism expansion is enormous. File Photo  

The Commerce Ministry wants the Railways Ministry to consider running a luxury train, modelled on the ‘Palace on Wheels,’ on the ‘Buddhist Circuit.’

The aim is to attract big-spending tourists from countries such as China and Japan where Buddhism — which originated in India — has several followers, official sources told The Hindu.

The Commerce Ministry has been arguing of late for a liberal multiple-entry long-term visa regime to promote travel & tourism trade, and thereby increase India’s foreign exchange earnings.

Joint venture

The Commerce Ministry had recently asked Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to look at joint ventures with China or Japan in this regard, sources said. IRCTC is the Indian Railways subsidiary that had in March 2007 introduced the ‘Mahaparinirvan Express’ (also known as the Buddhist Circuit Train). Such ventures will push the Chinese or Japanese partner to make equal efforts to market the Indian luxury train in their country.

The proposal comes even as the government is planning a promotional exercise to boost the ‘Buddhist Circuit’ through better linkages of Buddhist sites of importance in India with neighbouring Nepal.

The proposal follows feedback from Chinese and Japanese during bilateral discussions — largely complaints about “poor” infrastructure including Wi-Fi and broadband connectivity, and absence of sufficient luxury hotels.

Other complaints included “poor” connectivity to airports, “lack of cleanliness” in the Buddhist Circuit train and railway platforms, lack of access to warm water, not getting food of their choice and platforms not having luxury lounges.

Drawbacks

These drawbacks have discouraged foreigners from repeat visits, the sources said. Following this, IRCTC had made a presentation before a Chinese delegation on the ‘Palace on Wheels’-concept and on other luxury/semi-luxury trains operating in India, they said.

When contacted, IRCTC chairman & managing director A K Manocha said he was not aware of such complaints, adding that IRCTC was open to every step that would help in promoting tourism in India.

The Commerce Ministry referred to a World Travel & Tourism Council report, according to which the Chinese spent $215 billion in 2015 on overseas travel, a 53 per cent annual jump.

The ministry has sought measures for India to attract a larger share of such spending in future by improving infrastructure and promoting Indian handicrafts and other items made in India.

500 million

There are about 500 million Buddhists worldwide. However, an International Finance Corporation (IFC) study on ‘Investing in the Buddhist Circuit (2014-18)’ said “India has only scratched the surface in attracting a meaningful share of religious Buddhist travellers.

Arrivals to India from Buddhist-dominated countries comprised a mere 0.005 per cent of all Buddhist adherents. Since the Buddhist Circuit is the area where Buddhism originated and where the Buddha lived, the potential for Buddhist tourism expansion is enormous.”

IFC study

The IFC study said the strategy to attract high-end explorers should include investments in “developing a wider range and higher quality of products, facilities, infrastructure, and aggressive promotion.”

It added that “these are wealthy local and international tourists. Very few visit the (Buddhist) circuit, as is evidenced by the lack of higher-quality tourist facilities.

“The circuit could be added to itineraries of higher spending travellers to other parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and neighbouring areas; however this will require significant investment in suitable infrastructure.”


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 2:32:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/Luxury-train-mooted-to-draw-Buddhists-from-China-Japan/article14492753.ece

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