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Its 'Incredible India' campaign got a fillip as the ministry announced a tie-up with Google for TV commercials on You Tube, while ITDC hotels were able to recover somewhat from the aftershock of disinvestment and posted profits.
The flagship campaign made another inroad with lone adventurer Ajeet Bajaj skiing to the South Pole and hoisting the 'Incredible India' flag in Antarctica. On the flip side, the response to 'bed-and-breakfast' was slow as only 97 homes with 280 rooms were approved till last count.
Union Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni's achievements were getting tax holidays from the Finance Ministry for two, three and four-star hotels coming up till March 2010 in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Gautam Budh Nagar and Ghaziabad and tax waivers for those wanting to let their homes for bed and breakfast facilities.
The projected national guestroom requirement is, however, 1,50,000 and FICCI warned that the shortage will go up 10 per cent a year (possibly more by 2010) if policy initiatives are not taken to curb skyrocketing land prices and red-tape.
Soni also decided to promote the country as an emerging medical tourism hub with the motto that a patient coming to India be treated as a tourist and leave it "spiritually enhanced and physically rejuvenated".
Conversely, the ministry examined foreign investor bids for setting up a 1,000-bed hospital and over $610 million were in the pipeline to build budget accommodation.
Travel and tour operators got a relief with simplified licence renewal procedures and extended validity from three to five years. They will now no longer have to head for Delhi as the licencing authority is delegated with regional directors of India Tourism.
Service tax for tour operators was slashed by 75 per cent and they will have to account for returns only on 25 per cent of gross amount charged on package tours which includes cost of accommodation, food, transport arrangement, tourist guide, entry to monuments and related services.
Incredible India website got a Chinese language portal, but its announcement to enter into a pact with a UK-based firm for e-commerce met with resistance from tour operators who objected to the customer/tourist directly buying the package. The ministry then broadened its approach by inviting all tour operators to put up their weblinks/ads on the portal.
The Ram Setu affidavit botch-up spoilt Soni's trip to Japan, to sell India destination among the high-spending Japanese, and she later cancelled her trip to the big-ticket Incredible India@60 celebrations in New York.
Nevertheless, India saw building up of tourism and cultural relations with China and Japan by celebrating year of friendship with both countries.
A China National Tourism Authority office was opened in Delhi but India remained undecided about where its India Tourism office should be -- Beijing or Shanghai.
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