More Chinese tourists are planning overseas trips for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday, but it seems relatively few are considering India as a destination.
But that may soon change.
Entering "India" as a destination in a search engine on Fliggy, a travel service platform of Alibaba, yields several tours to India. A six-day trip package to three cities in India has been sold less than 10 times within a month. Many other India products also have lackluster sales.
Meanwhile, tours to Southeast Asian countries, including trips to the islands of Thailand or cities in Vietnam, are hot sellers on Fliggy. For example, a six-day trip to the Indonesian island of Bali had sold 165 times this month as of press time.
"The number of Chinese tourists applying for tourist visas for India totals about 1 percent of those applying for Southeast Asian countries," said Liang Xude, who runs a business that helps with visa applications.
In 2018, the number of overseas trips by Chinese tourists reached 140 million and they are estimated to have spent over $120 billion, according to a report from China Tourism Academy.
Facing a growing market of Chinese tourists, India, a country that is proud of its culture, wants to become one of their destinations.
According to a report from the India-based Economic Times in August, India is revamping its tourism strategy in China, including opening a full-fledged regional tourism office in China aimed to attract 144 million tourists from China in five years.
However, contrary to India's efforts to woo tourists from China, many Chinese reached by the Global Times said that security and sanitation problems were the top two concerns that made them hesitate to choose India.
Kitty, who works for an online travel agency that focuses on India trips, said that almost every Chinese client asks one question: Is the situation in India like many reports describe, with no public toilets and cows idling around in streets with dung everywhere?
"I have to say that these reports about India are true, as Indians pay a lot of respect to cows. But many tourists travel by car, which means they would not step on the cow dung," Kitty said.
Bie Ke, a student from Peking University, who stayed in India for a month, told the Global Times that the sanitation situation in many cities in India sometimes bothered him during his visit to the country.
"For example, there are few public lavatories in many cities in India… and I even encountered men peeing in public areas every one or two days," he said. He also noted that sometimes tourists could use toilets in some fast food restaurants.
As for the security situation, Kitty and Bie Ke both said that it is safe for tourists to travel in India if they avoid pubs or other entertainment areas late at night.
"Negative news about India, especially about rape cases, has gone viral online, leaving the impression on many Chinese that India is not safe. It is not easy to remove the influence," Bie said.
The infrastructure of India, including road construction and facilities in many tourist spots, also falls short of many other countries, Bie Ke said.
He also said that India has paid more attention to some scenic spots, like the Taj Mahal, while neglecting the development of other cultural sites.
Despite these concerns, Chinese tourists who have been to India had praise for their experiences and encouraged more Chinese to travel to dispel their misunderstandings about India.
"India's service industry enjoys good fame worldwide. The high-end hotels offer better service than those in China. Many Indians are kind and there are fewer theft cases happening in India than in European countries," Kitty said.
Kitty helps make plans for Chinese tourists' trips to Indian cities, including the "Blue City" of Jodhpur and Jaipur, nicknamed the "Pink City." "They love the magnificent colorful architecture and their cultural or religious background," Kitty said.
Bie Ke, who is also fascinated by India's culture, said that his trip to India was one of his best experiences ever. "India has a slogan to boost its tourism, 'Incredible India,' which is so true," he said.
"India has a long and abundant culture and it has a large population, which means you will never get bored during your journey. Chinese tourists may find a shared culture in India, as Buddhism in northern India has close ties with Buddhist culture in China," Bie Ke said.
"India has unique tourism resources, which will make it more attractive when Chinese tourists want to taste different cultures on their overseas trips," Bie Ke said.
Kitty and other staff of online travel agents also appear optimistic about India's charm in China, noting that the growing popularity of Indian movies in China as well as India's strengthened efforts to promote tourism may bring more curious tourists from China.
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