The Taj Mahal is India’s premiere tourist destination. As one would hope, there are rigorous security checks at the entrances. But, if the officials responsible for the security don’t understand that they are manhandling one of India’s most vital assets, they are doing their country a disservice.
It was disconcerting to watch their handling of an American teacher. The teacher was carrying a paper cut-out doll, a well known children’s character, often photographed with the world’s leading landmarks, and shown to young students in foreign countries, who are then tasked with identifying the landmark, and writing about it.
This cut-out, according to the over-zealous official, was disallowed according to statute determined by the national assembly. The teacher’s efforts to appeal to logic were in met with disdain. So, she gave up on diplomacy, and explained to the senior officer that the official list of disallowed items at the gate did not include anything that could, even in the broadest terms, include the paper doll. The doll got in, but no-one won.
That experience was not unique among the tourists.
In contrast, a local youth carrying a hockey stick, apparently the weapon of choice among the young men in Agra, was allowed in without question.
India really needs its tourists.
Looking at the national statistics makes that clear. The country has a population of 1.22 billion people. More than 150 times as many as tiny Switzerland. Both countries earn the same amount from tourism – $16.6 billion. But India needs its tourist a lot more. Switzerland is running an international trade surplus of $66.5 billion, while fighting against an appreciating Swiss Franc. India runs a deficit of $80.15 billion and the Rupee is in decline.
The tourist in India soon realizes that the government is heavily reliant on visitors for its revenue. Every bill at hotels and restaurants contains a plethora of taxes, usually adding more than a third to the cost of the meal.
Government expenditures at 14.4% of GDP vastly overshadow the revenue (8.8%). It desperately needs the money because its not anywhere close to balancing the books.
Taxing tourists also acts as a disincentive, but with so few alternatives, one would expect an effort to treat guests well. Apparently not.