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There's moolah to be made


Cultural confluences are another creative way to sell India and more tourists are good news for everybody.

Karen Stone Talwar has had a long relationship with Indian art - as a collector, as head of Bodhi Art gallery in New York and later as a consultant. Now in her new avatar as a travel specialist, she's introducing a group of Western tourists to the best of Indian art.

The trip focused around the India Art Fair, which opens in the capital next week, is a luxury affair. Guests will stay at five-star hotels, lunch with art experts like Amin Jaffer, the international director of Asian art at Christie's, drink cocktails with gallerists and have dinner and conversation with critically claimed artists like Mithu Sen and A Balasubramaniam. "Ours is a boutique travel adventure experience which goes beyond "seeing the sites, " says Talwar, whose firm Adventures in Art offers exclusive tours to some of the world's leading art fairs: Art Basel Switzerland and The Armory Show in New York. The India art fair is the most recent addition to the itinerary with a five-day package coming for $8, 000 per person, excluding airfare.

It's not just art that is putting India on the international tourist map. The lit fests are an even bigger draw. Entry to the Jaipur event may be free, but hotel rooms are scarce and expensive. "Almost all city hotels are packed during this five-day span, " says Rajesh Rajpurohit, general manager of the Ramada hotel. Hotels, resorts and guest houses have lined up special festival packages for tourists. Says a guest house owner in Jaipur, "Such events give a huge boost to tourism. At one go, 3, 000 to 5, 000 rooms get booked. And the spoils trickle down to everyone - shop owners, restaurant owners, taxi agencies, tourist guides."

Tourism is one of the reasons why every pretty corner in the country has its own music festival. A music festival is a creative, clever way to attract travellers. One of the highlights of the India Surf Festival at Puri is live performances by I20DUB - a collaboration by Argentinean and Indian artists and a didgeridoo player. Goa didn't need Sunburn to boost tourism, but a number of Indian tourists who would earlier shy away from stepping into the state now come in hordes just to attend the festival. If there were just 5, 000 visitors in 2007, in 2011 Axwell, Gabriel & Dresden, Pete Tong, Above & Beyond, Nick Fancuilli and several other artistes had 1, 00, 000 people grooving along on the three days. With its mix of music and entertainment, Sunburn panders to certain lifestyle aspirations. "Sunburn is so much more than a music festival. The fans come for the experience, " is Percept joint managing director Shailendra Singh's assertion.

-With inputs from Neelam Raaj, Rachna Singh and Ruhi Batra

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