Inbound Tourism to India- Caution is Required while Using Government Data

The fruitfulness of any planning depends a lot on data quality that are used to chalk out policy and planning for certain development. Therefore, data should be as realistic and authentic as possible. Tourism being one of the most important sectors of Indian economy for its contribution to income and employment, policies should be extremely objective oriented and simple to execute easily. Thus, the data should be accurate and consistent to come out with any meaningful policy planning.

The latest data published by Ministry of Tourism is “India Tourism Statistics at a Glance 2017”.  Finding the new addition to tourism database, I thought of writing a small article in this blog space. After looking at the latest data published in the document, felt that writing on the database is even more pertinent to make relevant stakeholders aware about certain stark anomalies in the present document.

India Tourism Statistics, a publication by the Ministry, is perhaps the only authentic and detailed document on India’s tourism data. I am sure that anyone working on India’s tourism scenario at a broader scale for planning and business perspective, perhaps treats this document as a bible, especially from data availability perspective. Along with other information, it publishes quite a detailed data on inbound tourism to India. The document uses two terminologies regarding inbound tourism to India – FTA (Foreign Tourists Arrivals) and ITA (International Tourists Arrivals). One could envisage these two terms as interchangeable since the numbers were same for FTA and ITA till 2015 publication. While analyzing the number quoted in the 2017 document on inbound tourism, the following graph emerges.


Source: India Tourism Statistics at a Glance 2017 and India Tourism statistics 2015.

One can see the drastic difference in FTA and ITA numbers suddenly from 2014. Within a year ITA has increased by about 80%. In 2017 document Ministry has given a clarification saying that ITA numbers in 2017 document includes NRIs also along with foreign tourists. This explains the difference quite well at the face value. The question is something else.

In 2015 document, in TABLE 3.1.2 (page 79) the ITA numbers are exactly the same as FTA. The tourists in India are reported through two components – a) inbound tourists (FTA/ITA) and 2) domestic tourists. No single tourist can be accounted anywhere else. Now with this, the key question is assuming that NRIs were not included in ITA prior to the 2017 document, where were they accounted in? Were the NRIs a part of FTA till 2015 document? If yes, one needs to conclude that inbound tourists to India has gone up by 80% suddenly since 2014. And, if not, how were the NRIs accounted for? Certainly not as domestic tourists. The number of domestic tourists reported in 2017 document (Table No 17, unfortunately the document is without any page number) and 2015 document (Table 5.1.1, page 103 and 104) both reported exactly same domestic tourists as 1282.8 million and 1431.9 million in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The only plausible explanation is that the Ministry missed out reporting 5.43 million and 5.26 million NRIs for 2014 and 2015 respectively. And, of course the tourism statistics of India missed to report NRIs for more than 20 years by now. However, it is beyond any level of belief that this can at all happen in any condition. The reason being that international tourists’ numbers cannot be missed by any chance as it comes directly from immigration department. It is a huge credibility issue for the Ministry since these are perhaps the only number that are being used by policy makers and planners as well as researchers at a broader level. Coincidentally, these different numbers have been reported only from the year when the new Central Government took charge at the helm of the country, ignoring the previous years.

However, apart from the credibility issue of Ministry’s entire document, these anomalies have lot more serious implications. Couple of graphs on India’s foreign exchange earnings (FEE) from tourism activities are presented below.



In Figure 2, a significant drop can be noticed in growth of FEE since 2010. Perhaps the prime factors are global recession and poor recovery of most of the economies from recession trap. The current FEE is even lower than that of the year 2000 in nominal term itself. It will be significantly lower if it is considered in real term keeping in mind inflation for last 17 years. FEE related to the NRIs could not be missed out ministry by any chance since it has to be accounted in India’s income accounting system.

If we look at the FEE per international tourist arrival it is much lower than that was envisaged till the 2017 document was published. The blue and red lines in Figure 3 suggest the difference occurred due to new numbers quoted in 2017 document. One of the key policy implications is how to enhance spends of the international tourists in the country. This does not only impact countries income and foreign exchange reserve, but more importantly the local economies of tourist attractions. Perhaps the tourism policy makers need to think through the policies from a new perspective with these set of significantly lower number of FEE per international tourists according to 2017 document.

To end this article, it is critical for all users of this important and only database of Indian tourism to look at the numbers with extreme caution. One needs to cross check numbers of the previous issues of the same document instead of considering it at the face value. Else we may come out with analysis and interpretations, which may not be true because of source data errors.


4 responses to “Inbound Tourism to India- Caution is Required while Using Government Data

  1. NRI visitors were previous counted under the Departing Nationals Category because India’s tourism data was presented on the basis of nationality and not residence. With this change in reporting India’s inbound numbers have increased, but the outbound numbers have dropped by the same amount. The new format is much more useful from a planning perspective, but it would be much more helpful if the Ministry could provide historic data rather than just the last two years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Binit, many thanks for clarification. I believe you are mentioning about outbound tourists to India from other countries by “departing nationals’ category”. In 2015 tourism statistics we can obtain data for 2014’s outbound tourists to India from all countries of the world. The total number of these tourists (as per you which includes NRIs too along with foreign nationals) is 7.69 million. FTA to India for 2014 by both 2015 and 2017 tourists statistics is 7.68 million. And, NRIs according to 2017 statistics for the year 2014 is 5.43 million. So, even if we consider the way you suggested, 5.43 million tourists are missing in 2015 documents. Will you please share the source where you have seen 2015 and 2017 documents’ statistics are matching? I intend to do a forecast for inbound tourist arrivals to India. It will help me to solve this riddle go work on the forecasts. Thanks.


  2. Supperb explanation.
    I am not from India but a tourist and traveller who advised tour international operators and travellers for more than a decade.
    As you may suposed I visited most of India in many travels and in surely become my second home in my heart and in my time.
    As a foreigner I see all the strenghts and all the weakness in the tourism of India.
    I may write a full article about it and may clarify many points to improve.
    And many of the points will be painfull for many wrongly proud people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kesar, Thanks for your comment. I would encourage you to write your experience and your suggestions. I am sure that will help the tourism community as well as the Government to take steps to better experience of the foreign tourists. Thanks again.


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