Indian tourists giving Australia destinations a miss

NEW DELHI Wed May 26, 2010 12:47pm IST

Longboard surfers walk into the water at the popular tourist of Main Beach at Surfer's Paradise, in this October 17, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/David Gray/Files

Longboard surfers walk into the water at the popular tourist of Main Beach at Surfer's Paradise, in this October 17, 2003 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia last year has rattled travellers from the subcontinent, with up to 30 percent fewer tourists opting to take the trip Down Under.

Indian tour operators say there has been a sharp drop in tourist traffic to Australia's holiday and business sectors in the last seven months.

"The perception that Australia is unsafe continues amongst Indians who mostly holiday with their families, despite the assurance given by the Australian government," says Pradip Lulla, president of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI).

The attacks on Indian students last year escalated into a diplomatic issue between the two countries and hurt Australia's lucrative foreign student market.

Indian media labelled the attacks as racist, but police and the Australian government said it was the work of criminals.

Although Australia condemned the attacks and assured the Indian government the assaults were being treated with utmost seriousness, travel warnings and negative media reports in India forced holidaymakers to rethink their Australia plans.

Lulla said there had been a drop of 25 to 30 percent in Indian tourist numbers for Australia’s leisure and business sectors from October last year to April.

"I don't see a pickup if negative media reports and travel advisories continue," he says.

Data from the Australian High Commission website showed that though there was an 8 percent rise in visitor arrivals from India in 2009, the holiday and business markets had dropped 10 percent and 15 percent respectively.

"The government should give some assurance that tourists will be safe there at all times of the day," said Anil Punjabi, director of the Kolkata-based Ar-es Travels Pvt Ltd.

Tourist bookings from eastern India had dropped 10-12 percent over the past couple of months, he added.

Australia is a major destination for Indian students studying abroad, but the international student sector has been forecast to see a 20 percent drop in Indian students in 2010, according to a study by the Tourism Forecasting Committee.

The number of Indian students wanting to study in Australia plummeted by 46 percent between July and October last year, according to Australian immigration department figures.

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