Railroad authorities to open 100 budget hotels in India

Indian railways, one of the world's biggest rail networks, plans to build around 100 budget hotels across the country over the next decade to meet the tourism boom, a top rail official said.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares (acres) of land owned by railway authorities have been identified for the hotels, said P.K. Goel, who heads the catering and tourism arm of the Indian railways.

"We are the biggest players in the travel business in India and we want to make serious moves to tap the tourism boom," Goel said.

India is facing a severe shortage of quality hotel rooms because of increased business activity and a spurt in leisure travel by the country's burgeoning middle class, as well as international tourists.

International tourist arrivals rose 13.2 percent in 2005 to 3.9 million, the highest ever, and the government expects arrivals in 2006 to grow by 15 percent.

India's rail network has lost some of its high-end passengers to the country's expanding airline sector in recent months, following unprecedented aviation growth since the government liberalized the sector in the early 1990s.

Air fares have plummeted as small and budget airlines compete fiercely for passengers, and many middle class and less affluent Indians now travel by air. Aviation officials expect the number of fliers to grow from around the current 20 million a year to some 50 million in 2010.

"We are facing competition from the airlines. Combining rail travel and hotels is our strategy to counter the budget airlines," said Goel. The railways already run a string of very low-budget hostels across the country.

The railways have approved 41 hotel projects across the country, while the remaining 59 were at different stages of approval, the official said. The railways have identified 423,000 hectares (1,045,233 acres) of land, some of it vacant, for the hotels which will be run in partnership with private companies, the official said, reports the AP.


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