The targeting of British and US nationals at luxury hotels in Mumbai may have serious consequences for tourism in the region.
TransIndus, a UK operator that offers tailor-made holidays to India, sends 30-40 clients through Mumbai on a daily basis during the high season, which runs from October to March, reaching a peak just after Christmas. Amrit Singh, a director for the company, said: "I think it'll affect it quite seriously. I don't think we will get very many cancellations but fresh booking will certainly be much lower."
Three-quarters of a million British visitors arrive in India each year. Mumbai is not primarily a leisure destination, with most travellers there on business or in transit. However, the concern for Indian tourism officials is that the terrorist activity in Mumbai will have a negative affect elsewhere. The Indian Ministry of Tourism tried to reassure prospective visitors, stating that "India is a large nation and an incident in one place does not impact on tourism and day-to-day life in the rest of the country."
Cox & Kings, an India specialist tour operator, reported that two of its clients, a British couple, were staying in Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai when the terrorist attacks took place. The couple were later successfully evacuated and are being repatriated. Philip Grierson, marketing director for Cox & Kings, said "We've been ringing around all the people who are imminently due to go to India and all of them have said that they are happy to go ahead with their tours through Delhi. There seems to have been quite good resilience being shown by our customers.
"It remains to be seen a bit more about what this was all about, and whether it was really aimed at tourism, or undermining the Indian government. What we'll probably then see is a significant drop in prices from hotels and possibly airlines. We've seen that sort of thing before in Egypt after terrorist activity and gradually confidence builds up and the place gets back to normal."
Flights are still operating into Mumbai's Chattrapathi Shivaji International Airport, the busiest in India, which receives about 30 per cent of the country's foreign tourist arrivals. A spokesperson for British Airways said: "We're operating our normal twice-daily service. The situation is being kept under review." BA passengers were being given the option to postpone travel, or rebook to a different Indian destination.
The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to Mumbai until further notice.
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Australian actress Brooke Satchwell, of Neighbours fame, hid in the toilets at the Taj Mahal hotel. "You could hear machine-gun fire start up in the lobby and everybody there just froze. Staff put their heads out and they were seeing people getting shot in the hallway. Hotel security ushered us very quickly across the lobby. I ran down the steps and past a few more dead bodies and then up the side street."