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AP Photo/Manish Swarup
Relieved faces.
LOVE AFFAIR

Despite demonetisation, foreign travellers came to India in hordes

By Manu Balachandran

Even demonetisation couldn’t take down India’s inbound tourism market.

Despite India’s currency woes last month—on Nov. 08, the Narendra Modi government invalidated high denomination bills that accounted for 86% of the cash in circulation—tourists flocked to Asia’s third-largest economy like never before.

In November, India saw a 9.3% growth in foreign tourist arrivals compared to the same period last year. A total of 0.89 million foreign travelers came to India in November, compared to 0.81 million in November last year.

In the process, India earned Rs14,474 crore ($2.1 billion) in foreign exchange from foreign tourists last month.

In all, India saw a 10.4% growth in foreign travellers between January and November this year, compared to the same period last year. Total foreign tourist arrivals to India in 2016 stood at 7.8 million, as of November.

Since coming to power in 2014, the Modi government has tried to revamp the visa process for travellers visiting India. It launched an electronic visa scheme in November 2014 that was first offered to 43 countries and subsequently extended to citizens of 161 countries. Last week, the government said that the number of foreign tourist arrivals on the e-Tourist Visa (e-TV) between January and November this year stood at 917,446, a 168.5% growth over the previous year.

But it hasn’t been easy for foreign visitors in India lately. Last month, thousands of foreigners suddenly found themselves in a precarious position after the government brought in restrictions on foreign exchange. The government had only allowed foreigners to exchange old currency up to Rs5,000 upon their arrival.

In the resulting pandemonium, accounts emerged of how foreign tourists resorted to street art to raise cash after being left stranded without a penny. Some, in their apparent desperation, even chose to run away from restaurants without having paid bills.

Let’s see if foreign tourists continue their love affair with India in December, when the real impact of demonetisation was felt in the country, and later into 2017.