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Making India a safer place for women travellers

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Looking at the increasing number of attacks on women tourists in India, ASTA India Chapter held a seminar in The Park Hotel, New Delhi, on the topic ‘Will India’s tourism be tarnished by attacks on women travellers?’ “We are a confused society and we don’t know how to react. On one hand we treat women as ‘Maa’ and in the other we kill the female child before birth,”said Jyoti Mayal, chairperson, Travel Agents Association of India – NR.

Safety and security have always been a major deterrent for travel and tourism market in India. Female tourists travelling to India have been on alert since a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped in a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012. Security in the national capital has been ramped up since then. However, reports of attacks on Indian and foreign visitors alike are still coming in, raising the question of when, if ever, sex crimes against women will stop.

The US state department travel advisory to India now includes a long warning to women that urges them to “observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding isolated areas when alone at any time of day”. The seminar also held discussions with dignitaries on how to save the image of India’s tourism market from being tarnished.

Mayal said a website describing the dos and don’ts in India should be available to every tourists once he/she has applied for visa so that the traveller knows which places to avoid.

Speaking on the occasion, Benita Sharma, area manager, Golden Triangle, and general manager, Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, said safety and security of women tourists is of foremost importance in ITC hotels. “We have an Eva floor at ITC hotels which is totally dedicated to women. Starting from the house keeping to the lift manager, everyone is a female there.” Though it is not mandatory for every women visitor to take the Eva floor, anyone visiting the hotel can opt for the same.

Nayantara Janardhan, CEO, Sakha Consulting Wings, a 24-hour cab service in the national capital, said, “We provide cab services in Delhi driven by women and only for women.” Talking about the safety and security of Sakha’s cab drivers, Janardhan said the women chauffeurs receive seven to eight months of training from the women’s wing of the Delhi Police and also carry pepper spray for self-defence. Though they have only eight cabs running now, they have plans to increase the numbers in the coming future.

Also present on the dais was Sue Beeton, associate professor in tourism, La Trobe University, Australia. Beeton spoke about women travellers, and also tourism in general by looking at events in other parts of the world, including Australia. Over the past 20 years, Beeton has conducted tourism-based research into community development, tourism operations, the relationship between film and tourism as well as nature-based tourism.

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