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India's Rajasthan State Looks to Local Spending as Economy, Terror Attacks Hit Tourism

In India's Rajasthan state the fallout from terrorist bombings in the state and the attack on Mumbai in November have hit the tourism trade. The downturn has been accentuated by the global recession. But many traders rely on local spending on festivals and the wedding season, now at its peak, to earn their livelihood.

The wedding season in Rajasthan is in full swing. Drummers can be heard outside the homes of families of newlyweds, like this home in the city Udaipur.

The wedding season - during the cool, dry months of the year - triggers a wave of consumption. Textile traders are busy selling new clothes. Bazaars are crowded with women huddled together to seek the best money can buy. Jewelry shops see busy trade.

Jewelry sector is doing well

In Udaipur, the global economic downturn now carving its way across the United States and Europe is still to be fully felt.

Rajrajeshwar Jain is a jeweler in the Bada Bazaar in Udaipur. Jain says business has been brisk.

"Now presently the wedding season is running and business is good, especially gold business - [prices] is rising slowly, slowly - one reason is the gold rate is down so purchasing power is higher. After 14 January again the wedding season we think - we are getting more business," Jain explained.

Tourism industry is suffering

But not all businesses are faring as well. Tourism, especially by foreign visitors, has been a victim the economic slowdown. In addition, a string of terrorist bombings and attacks in India, including here in Rajasthan, as well as the attack last year in Mumbai, have hurt tourism.

Ashwani Nayar, the general manager of the Le Meridien Hotel in Jaipur, says the first signs of a downturn came with the banking crisis in the United States.

"I would be very dishonest if I said no [the recession] hasn't [affected business]," Nayar noted. "Certainly there has been a certain amount of fall back from the global recession that has happened. We've had a few cancellations, we've had a few numbers dropping - more than what we were expecting."

Terror attacks, economic slump blamed for lack of tourists

For travel agents and tourist shops near Udaipur's famed Lake Pichola - its waters lapping against the grand palaces on its shores - the drop in visitors has been severe. Bhupendra Singh Chouhan manages a travel agency catering to foreign visitors.

"Whether we are looking at Rajasthan or in India also because lots of tourists not coming directly; lots of cancellations due to the economy of the world banking and due to some bomb blasts in India - so they are canceling their group. We had lots of cancellations this time," Chouhan said.

Rajasthan normally receives 1.4 million visitors a year, lured by the state's camel festivals, beautiful desert scenery, music and folk culture and the splendor of its ancient palaces.

The drop in foreign visitors became evident after a terrorist attack in Rajasthan's capital, Jaipur, last May. At least 60 people were killed and 150 were wounded by a series of bombs that tore through the old city - highly popular to tourists.

Vipul Goyal and his twin brother Vibhor, who work in a textile shop in the Tripoliya Bazaar, say fear keeps many tourists away.

"Because of the blast most of the tourism has been affected," Vipul said. "Many tourists are scared of coming to Jaipur because the time the blasts took place (they) created fear in the minds of tourists to come to Jaipur - that is the main problem."

Official says lower prices could lure visitors back to India

Rajasthan's tourism authority is trying to lure visitors back. Anand K. Tripathi is an assistant director with the Department of Tourism. He says businesses and the government must cooperate, and suggests that hotels and airlines should review their rates.

"But since the tourism trade is mainly operated by private sector, I think a dialogue between the government and private sector would help evolve some strategy to counter this problem. We can find some solution to this to attract more and more tourists in the recession times," Tripathi said.

Rawat Brabhubrakash Singh owns the Amet Haveli heritage guest house on the banks of Lake Pichola. He remains optimistic over the outlook.

"The future is bright no doubt because Rajasthan is a place where tourists would like to come. We have everything here to present them," Singh said. "Every person is involved with history - some smaller or bigger - his blood is with history, you know so he can say he feels very proud if you ask him about his history."

Rajasthan's tourism authority, state government and tourism businesses are investing heavily in renovating the famed forts and palaces of the state's once mighty maharajas. In promoting new development as well as destinations, authorities hope a full recovery will come in the not too distant future.