How China's states are stealing a march on India's, with Buddhist tourism push

by Ananth Krishnan, India Today, Jan 3, 2018

At least in promoting tourism, India should learn from China's example in giving Buddhist tourism a push.

Beijing, China
-- Datong in Shanxi province is known in China as the hub of coal-mining. But with a massive green makeover, it's Buddhism and not coal that it's city officials are now banking on.

The famed Yunggang grottoes, one of three renowned sites of Buddhist art in China where towering Buddhas have been carved into sandstone mountainsides, is at the centrepiece of plans to woo foreign tourists - part of a wider push to green the city's economy and move it away from coal-reliance.

China's provinces hold lessons for India's states in how they are making a concerted effort to generate tourism revenues, investing in infrastructure, hotels and marketing.

Even in Buddhist sites-where India, in fact, has far more historical links to Buddhism-Chinese cities have managed to attract Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian travellers on a larger scale than India.

"The grottoes is a big part of our tourism push, and we are getting travellers from Asia and India too," says Wang Lin, deputy director of Shanxi province tourism development committee.

China's domestic tourism market is among the world's largest. And internationally, 122 million Chinese go abroad ever year.

Inbound foreign tourism is also on the rise, reaching 138 million in 2016 (although Hong Kong accounted for 81 million, according to official figures).

In 2016, more than 40 lakh Japanese tourists travelled to China, compared with 2 lakh to India. Around 7 lakh Indians travelled to China, according to Chinese statistics, while only 1 lakh Chinese made the journey in the opposite direction.

In fact, more Chinese travelled to Sri Lanka than India, with two Beijing travel agents explaining that Indian tourism not only failed in terms of China-specific initiatives that Sri Lanka has been doing, but also the lack of hotels in Buddhist sites and Chinese-speakers has been seen as a drawback.