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ITB Story: 'Do not put the stamp on India!'
By Roland Wildberg ~ Exclusive from ITB
Thursday, 6th March 2014
 

Exclusive ITB Feature: Panel about violations on subcontinent as a threat to global tourism at ITB Berlin 2014 -

Last year's global media coverage of India has been overshadowed by reports of extreme violence against women. This affected the reputation of India as a safe destination for travellers - especially travelling women - sustainably.

Here the question arises: is it tragic individual cases, which are possibly exaggerated and presented in a sensation-seeking manner by the media or is there a general threat situation for women in India, representing a risk for visitors from other countries. However one thing is clear: reports of sexual violence against women did obviously scare off tourists. The fact that the first panel to India on this subject and the question "how does the tourism industry deal with it?" had being held at the ITB 2014 shows how critical it may be.

It was the CSR-responsible of the ITB, Rika Jean-François, who from the start on put the subject into a global context and pointed out that the issue of gender violence is existing not only in India. Just because India is a democracy, there the topic is much discussed much more intensive in the public than in other countries. The discussion itself had a strong impact on female tourists who wondering what is the extent of gender violence and felt afraid to go out at all.

To prepare the subsequent panel discussion and in order to understand probable conflicts arising between travellers and locals, scientist Tatjana Thimm introduced her study “Critical Incidents – Challenges in tourism to and from India, taking into account cultural differences and gender“.

According to this, different communication structures formed an important difference between the two cultures: "While Indian are more orientied on conflict avoidance, consensus and harmony, Central Europeans focus on direct communication" she summarized a potential source of reciprokal misunderstanding. These are also the different understandings of authority and personal relationships.

In the ensuing discussion, participants drew a conclusion between the current media coverage and the the real problems of the country. So, Ashwini k MD mercury pointed out that in recent years increasing numbers of violations in India where registered, although they are far fewer than in many other countries.

At the same time, he noted a growing self-awareness of women in India as a rising sensitivity at important parts of the population: "Women in india dare on the march. I think there is a wonderful movement on the way. There has been an increase in the number of incidents. But it has to be viewed in a larger context. It is because now cases are getting reported. And the media is doing a wonderful job bringing this to the open."

Also Mark Mendez from Discover the World marketing agency entered on the social dynamics of the world marketing, where he pointed out that tourism in India has developed further and increasingly globalized. As a result, the theme is also virulent: "now since tourism has become global, we have to be more critical.

The isssue of gender bias and security is an international one." At the same time he previously warned to ignore the local reality in India when dealing with this problem: "We haven't done a copy-and-paste of western solutions, we have taken measures that fit into the local reality" he explained possible measures to curb gender violence.

Also Deepika Unni of the german Indian Chamber of Commerce pointed out that India not worse than other countries. However, on this subject is much in motion: "It is a huge movement: not only women, but also men. People are talking about it on the streets. There is more awareness. Media are reporting about it. In international media is only about the negative issues, but not about the possible solutions."

What solutions can find hotels to improve the safety of female traveller Renu Basu from the Taj hotel group did mention. So the luxury hotel group made very large investments in the area of security, for example, through extensive technological measures, but also through use of female staff.

Especially the participation of women in the work world belong to the very positive developments in India: "At least 30% of the students of good universites and management schools and 44% of undergraduates are women." Parallelly it was important to inform tourists about possible dangers without stoking panic: "It is about giving the confidence to the traveller and not putting fear into them."

Various panelists described positive developments, which are said to be out of world press' sight frequently: Rika Jean-François pointed out service women taxi, that nowadays do exist in different cities of India. Many of these riders were themselves victims of sexual violence and receive services by such taxi - the possibility to develop themselves socially.

Security for tourists is also linked strongly to the general quality of life of the Indian population, Gopinath Parayil, founder and Managing Director of the Blue Yonder travel company pointed out. He addressed the issue of tourism as a tool to bring change in society. As a tour operator, his company invested in the improvement of the living conditions of the people.

Asked about the reasons, he said: “If people feel bad, this directly has effects on tourism.” Parayil called for the travel industry in India to help making the country a better country, and in order to achieve this not just the top but also the bottom of pyramid should be changed.

Panelists also did demand better education of incoming tourism in order to create awareness of cultural and social differences in India. Also the audience did point out that tourists need to be clarified about no-go-areas and times not to walk everywhere.

However the problem should not be trivialiced, on the other hand there were voices refusing clichés that do focus on violence in the Centre. "Dont put the Stamp on India that they are rapist", an excited visitor brought it to the point.

Read the latest news and trends at ITB 2014 ONLY at 4Hoteliers.comAs a summary gender violence in India is not necessarily larger than in other countries. However it focuses on the negative side of the country in the current reporting, and it fades out, that the increasing sensitivity about the subject expression of progressive social change and and a vibrant democracy.

Here are the international media also in the obligation, to edit a wider field. This implies also a more active media coverage. Consensus at the panelists was also another aspect: Cultural differences are no excuse for sexual violence and the perpetrators are solely responsible for their deeds.

This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry has always fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance at its best.

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