With election fever gradually gripping the country, tour operators in Gujarat have come up with special packages for foreign tourists wishing to experience various Lok Sabha polls related events in the state during the campaign period. From attending political rallies to meeting candidates, around 20 tour operators in the state will provide guided tours to foreign tourists under the unique initiative called 'Election Tourism'. Around 1,800 tourists from across the globe had witnessed the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Gujarat under this initiative, industry sources said, adding that the number is expected to cross 2,500 this year.
The tourists who had visited the state in 2014 mainly comprised of students, researchers, media professionals, political analysts and those who wanted to understand how elections in India are conducted on such a massive scale, said Manish Sharma, chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society (GTDS), an organisation of tour operators.
"Around 1,800 foreign tourists had visited Gujarat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. They were mainly from Japan, UAE, the US and some European countries. They were taken to different parts of the state by tour operators to witness various poll related events, such as bike rallies and public meetings," Sharma, owner of city-based Akshar Travels, said.
According to him, there are different tour packages to choose from. While the six-day package costs Rs 40,000, the two-week long package is for Rs 1.50 lakh.
The concept of election tourism in Gujarat was first introduced during the Assembly polls in 2012, followed by the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Sharma expects that over 2,500 foreign tourists will visit Gujarat during the Lok Sabha polls this time.
"Around 20 tour operators have come forward to offer guided tours to curious foreign tourists wanting to know how elections are held here.
"Apart from taking them to political rallies and public meetings, we will also take tourists to rural parts of the state so that they can have a glimpse of the election atmosphere there," he said.
He claimed the tour operators will also arrange one-to-one meetings with poll candidates as well as star campaigners of major political parties during the tour that may last for around seven days.
"In the 2017 Assembly polls, some tourists even had a ride in an open car during a rally in Naranpura area of the city. During their visit to some rural seats, sitting MLAs explained to the visitors how poll campaigning is different in villages and urban pockets.
"The tourists were also made aware about key poll issues by political leaders during such tours. In all, tourists get a complete experience of our election process," Sharma said.
Besides getting a first-hand experience of the charged-up election atmosphere, tourists would also be given an opportunity to explore heritage and other important sites, such as the Statue of Unity dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
To ensure maximum participation in this election, tour operators had already sent letters and brochures to Indian ambassadors based in major countries, urging them to promote the concept of election tourism in those countries.
Sharma said that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recognised the importance of this new tourism avenue. He said that the prime minister recently sent him a letter which said, "Our country takes pride in being the largest democracy in the world. Elections in India are the biggest democratic process, where citizens exercise their right to vote."
"These multi-phased elections have opened a new dimension of tourism by showcasing our 'Jan Shakti' or the 'Power of People'," the letter said.
According to Hitank Shah, national committee member of Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), majority of the tourists are either young professionals and students or senior citizens who are curious to know about Indian elections.
"These tourists are overwhelmed by the sheer scale of our election process. For them, it is hard to believe that 50,000 or even more people turn up at a single place to attend a political rally. This is a unique feature of Indian elections.
"We are hoping to attract a large number of tourists for election tourism this time," Shah, one of the leading tour operators offering election tourism packages, said.
Polling for all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat will be held in a single phase on April 23.