India Cleans Up, Wants More Women

Tourism to India has fallen off sharply, particularly among women, following a series of highly publicized gang rapes. And the government plans to do something about it, according to Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma.

“Definitely the two issues which we have not been able to address are cleanliness and security, “ Sharma said. “We are concerned about that. India will be more clean and secure.”

First on the list for increased security is a pamphlet for visitors with a list of “do’s and don’ts”—such as “Don’t go anywhere at midnight,” “Don’t move alone” and “Don’t get into a vehicle without first taking a photo of the license plate with your mobile phone.” Other plans to improve the safety of women traveling within India include a crisis hotline in 12 languages and taxis equipped with GPS locators, Sharma said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made increased tourism a high priority, with the goal of doubling the number of tourists to India to 14 million by 2017. Modi is addressing the cleanliness issue with plans to clean India’s streets, but Modi faces an uphill battle on both fronts.

India ranks 74th among 140 global economies on safety and security parameters, according to a 2013 report issued by the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. And half of India’s 1.2 billion people defecate outdoors, fouling the streets and the water supply, not to mention the view.

“(People) talk about going to India, but they turn their nose up at us because they think it’s dirty,” Modi said. “I’m going to make such a country (you’ll) want to come and see.”

In addition to cleaning up the streets and implements new safety measures for women, Modi has made it much easier—and more spontaneous—to visit India by quadrupling the number of countries whose citizens are eligible to apply online for visas on arrival. Five more countries are scheduled to be added to the list—the U.K., Spain, France, China and Italy—which, along with the other 43, cover 62 percent of all visitors to India.

Sharma, who is also a junior minister of aviation, said the government also plans to grant approval for four new airlines to begin commercial operations.