Lithuanians keep complaining about the unbearable dreariness of Lithuanian winters. Why not go for a holiday in India, a 356-day destination, says Girish Shankar from the Ministry of Tourism of the world's second most populous country.
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India works hard to attract tourists and part of the effort are the so-called Indian Roadshows, tourism business meets. "We make presentations on what India has to offer, followed by business-to-business interactions between the trade partners from India and tour operators from the country we are visiting," Mr. Shankar explains. He has brought a team of 18 tour operators from India, all eager to strike deals with colleagues in Europe. There were four stops in their Roadshow: Riga, Vilnius, Krakow and Warsaw.

The Lithuania Tribune talks to Mr. Shankar about what India could offer to Lithuanian tourists, for whom price is till a major consideration, and what could attract Indian tourists to the Baltics.

Why would Lithuanians want to visit India?

Oh, there are so many reasons! India is a 365-day destination, and it has a variety of things to offer. Our slogan is ‘Find what you seek’, and what that means is that whatever a traveller wants, it is available in India. [India] is a unique experience, and we have a saying, and it’s the truth, that goes: “If one goes to India once, he is bound to visit it many more times.”

What is the present status of Lithuanian-Indian tourism interactions?

It has been great, of course, the number has not been very large. Last year, there were more than 3,000 visitors from Lithuania to India, and we expect the number to increase. Recently, on the 1st of May, we announced our electronic tourist visa, which will facilitate travelling and will make travelling to India very easy for any person. One can get authorization to travel within 72 hours of applying for it through an online application.

What is the most popular destination for Lithuanians in India?

Without a doubt, the Golden Triangle (a tourist circuit in India consisting of Delhi, Agra, including the Taj Mahal,, and Jaipur) is very popular. Plus, Varanasi (considered “the religious capital of India”), and even some of the Ayurveda centres in Kerala and Goa. These are, generally, the very popular ones.

What is the best time to go to India?

Well, it’s a 365-day destination. Every season is a good season, every month, even today, you can go right now if you choose to. During winters, when you have a very harsh winter, we have very mild winters. At that time, the sun is up for the entire day, and you will enjoy the winters there. During summers, we have places in the lower Himalayas for leisure travel, the middle Himalayas are there for adventure activities.

Skiing is available in the winter and during the rest of the period activities such as white-water rafting, trekking and paragliding, among others, are available.

Faraway countries look at Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as a single market and almost as a single geographical entity. What about the Indian Ministry of Tourism?

Geographically, of course, it’s the Baltic region, but naturally, all of the three countries are different. We give importance to each and every country because they are different culture-wise, there are historical differences and, of course, the languages differ as well. That is why this time, we are covering two different countries: we had just covered Latvia, and now we are here in Vilnius.

Where of the three do most tourists come from?

At present, Estonia is in the lead, followed by Lithuania and then Latvia.

Which means that there is room for expansion?

Oh yes, definitely. With the economy growing very fast in Lithuania, we feel that people will have more disposable income, which would mean that people should afford to travel more, for farther distances and longer periods. India is the perfect destination for them.

There’s a myth in Lithuania that only rich people can afford to travel to India. Is this true?

Not at all, not at all! The flight fares aren’t very expensive, you can travel to India very easily and within India also the costs are not that high.

We have luxury hotels, of course, but their prices aren’t that high and comparable to hotels in European countries. Four-star and three-star hotels also offer great services at a much cheaper rate and a variety of Bed and Breakfast, as well as budget hotel solutions are also there. Travelling costs within India are low, too.

What is the best route to travel from Lithuania to India?

There are multiple routes. One of them, and the most popular one, is via Moscow, the second one is via Frankfurt, the third route goes through Helsinki and there’s also a route through Istanbul. Turkish Airlines flies via Istanbul to Delhi and Mumbai.

Have you had a chance to see Lithuania?

Yes, I had a few hours today, I went to see the old town in Vilnius, I went on top of the hill to see Gediminas castle, and I also went to Trakai outside of the city to see the castle there. I must tell you, it is a beautiful country, I loved it, really. Lovely landscape in Trakai and even the old town was really awesome.

What can Lithuania offer to Indian tourists?

Well, one thing is the natural beauty, especially during the summer season with the lush green landscapes. That should attract Indians definitely, because they are travelling in large numbers now, thanks to the growing economy and the increase in disposable income in the hands of people. The middle-income group in India, which is a good potential market, is growing very fast right now.

In that case, we are looking forward to our tourists going to India and Indian tourists coming to Lithuania.

Of course, tourism always grows both ways, it’s never just one-way traffic.

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