GREAT CIVILIZATION: The Taj Mahal is considered the landmark of India (LU ANQI)
By 7 a.m of a late April morning, the dining hall of Country Inn & Suites in Ghaziabad, India, was already packed with guests. The breakfast buffet offered a wide range of options in Indian style, but there were no eggs.
Some Chinese guests, particularly the first-time visitors, weren't accustomed to a vegetarian breakfast, but Hu Jinhua from east China's Jiangsu Province was an exception - she enjoyed the food, and has a particular fondness for curry.
Hu is a department manager with a Chinese drinking water treatment company, which produces water filters. Hu said her participation to a water treatment expo scheduled in Delhi was not only an opportunity for business expansion, but also could help provide more local people with cleaner drinking water.
More Chinese visitors like Hu are coming to India to take part in growing bilateral trade and cultural exchanges. According to the latest statistics from the National Tourism Administration of China, 118,300 people visited India in 2011, an increase of 19.1 percent over the previous year.
India's civilization, cuisine and souvenirs attract Chinese visitors. But in 2011 alone, only 0.21 percent of China's outbound travelers chose India as a destination.
The major reason was its relatively higher travel costs. Usually, one night in a hotel in mid-sized and large cities like New Delhi costs at least $250. Some scenic spots charge different admission fees depending on the type of visitors. For instance, the world renowned Taj Mahal charges only 20 rupees ($0.36) for domestic visitors, 510 rupees ($9.18) for visitors from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), but 750 rupees ($13.5) for foreigners from elsewhere.
Underdeveloped transportation was another factor that affects India's tourism. For instance, the Taj Mahal is only about 220 kilometers from New Delhi, but the trip would take nearly six hours. Also, many Chinese tourists have concerns about the food, water and safety of the country.
"We expect to send more tourists to India this year," said Dai Beibei from the marketing department of CYTS Tours Holding Co., Ltd, one travel agency dedicated to overseas travel for Chinese mainland visitors. "But, the total number will not likely exceed 1,000."
Dai agreed that higher cost was the primary reason for Chinese tourists' lack of interest in India. A seven-day tour package to India costs about 9,000 yuan ($1,420), which is only 1,000 yuan ($157) cheaper than a visit to Europe. Besides, high temperatures and dry weather in central India, which group tours routinely cover, make it less-than-ideal for relaxing getaways.
Currently, the majority of Chinese people likely to visit India are in their 40s and 50s, and mostly business travelers.
"In terms of attracting more Chinese tourists, there remains a lot of things to be done," Dai noted.