Happy days here again for Agra's tourism industry
With night landing facilities and Instrument Landing System (ILS) now operational at the Kheria airport here, the Taj city's tourism industry is hoping for an increased influx of foreign tourists.
"Some international chartered flights have landed and we hope to see more on a regular basis. A few bottlenecks remain which, I'm sure, will be sorted out soon," city's tourism industry expert Rajiv Tiwari told IANS.
"Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh is taking a keen interest and has written to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister to set in motion the process of land acquisition on a priority basis for the new civil terminal at Kheria," Agra Development Foundation chairman K.C. Jain told IANS.
Jain said the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had identified 55 acres of land near Kheria airport. "If this land is handed over to the authority, construction of the new terminal can begin any day. Ajit Singh is keen on this," Jain said.
He said the civil aviation minister had written to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to expedite the land acquisition process.
Industry sources said some 500 international chartered flights are likely to land at Kheria in the next couple of months.
A senior executive of a travel company told IANS: "The tourist season lasts till March end. By then we should be flooded with foreign tourists. Due to economic pressures, a large number of western tourists are finding India much cheaper, affordable and attractive compared to other destinations."
He added: "We have seen a decline of around 42 percent in foreign tourists, but with the ILS now operational, we should see tourists flocking to Agra. In addition to the daily evening show Mohabbat at the Taj Mahal, we will soon have a hot air balloon to enable tourists to see the monument from the sky and a regular show of classical Indian dances in the afternoon."
The Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway has also opened up immense opportunities for the hospitality industry here.
"Since Aug 9 when it opened, we have seen a massive influx of domestic tourists from Delhi. Everyone wants to see the expressway. So they all land up in Agra, see the Taj Mahal and return the same evening. If not hotels, at least hawkers, 'pethawalas' (sweetmeat makers) and handicrafts emporiums are gaining from sales," said hotelier Surendra Sharma.
As tourists pour in, the traffic system and hygiene have come under fire from the tourism industry.
"It takes less than two hours from Noida to the Kuberpur intersection. From there, it takes an eternity for vehicles to reach the Taj Mahal. The Yamuna Kinara road needs better policing and maintenance," said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)