"Incredible" India loses luster as tourists stay away

Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:07pm EST
 
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By Matthias Williams

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - It's billed as one of the world's most luxurious and romantic train journeys. An old-world tour of India's palaces and lakes, all the way to the Taj Mahal.

Despite great expectations when it was launched in January, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels train, with $2,000 suites and gourmet dining cars, has at times been left languishing in the rail yards as the global economic crisis and the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks put the brakes on India's tourist boom.

"If you don't have guests, what's the point of running the train?" asked Supinder Singh, the president of Palace Tours.

India has seen its tourist arrivals drop in recent months for the first time since 2002 when it launched its hugely successful "Incredible India" campaign that enticed millions of well-heeled tourists from around the world to explore the wonders of India.

Winter is peak season, but this year business has been slow and hotels are struggling to fill empty rooms due to mass cancellations by foreign tourists. All sectors have been hit, from pricey tours of Rajasthan, to budget beach holidays in Goa.

When Palace Tours launched the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels in January it had high hopes the $8 million train would be inundated with bookings by wealthy tourists seeking to explore India in the comfort of a five-star train compartment, with wireless Internet, a spa and silver-service dining on demand.

Instead, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels has either been relegated to the rail yards due to lack of passengers or plied the journey through Rajasthan to the Taj Mahal in Agra, with only a handful of the possible 82 visitors it can carry.

"I think there are more staff than us," said Amrit Dhaliwal, a tourist who traveled on the near empty train this month with her husband.   Continued...

 
<p>The deluxe "Lalgarh Palace" suite of the new luxury train Royal Rajasthan on Wheels (RROW) is seen on the outskirts of Jaisalmer in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan in this January 13, 2009 file photo.REUTERS/Vijay Mathur/Files</p>