• A general view of the residential area is pictured during dusk at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, April 5, 2015. Jodhpur, also known as the blue city in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, which residents say originally, was used to show where the highest caste of priestly Hindus live, who wanted to set them apart from the rest of the population. Later the rest of the population followed suit. Another reason for the city to be blue is to keep the buildings cool during the summers, local residents said.Reuters file
  • Stakna monastery catches the evening light near Leh, the largest town in the region of Ladakh, nestled high in the Indian Himalayas, India September 27, 2016.Reuters file
  • Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, pose as they sit in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, April 16, 2016.Reuters file
  • A couple kiss in front of the ancient Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi November 5, 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama also visited the spot during his trip to India.Reuters file
  • International Kullu Dussehra underway in Kullu on Oct 11, 2016IANS
  • Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers teachings at the Sakya Monastery in Kaza, in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh July 11, 2009Reuters file

The six-month tourist season begins in October every year in India and draws many foreigners, especially those from Western countries, because of the pleasant weather that prevails in most parts of the country, barring Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

The range of attraction for foreign visitors to India is vast — from ancient palaces, forts, mountains, pristine beaches and backwaters to temples, monasteries, sand dunes and desert ranges — not to talk the festivals that are celebrated during the six-month period.

Read: India earns $15 billion from foreign tourist arrivals in 2016

Some of the top tourist hotspots for foreign visitors to India are Taj Mahal in Agra, Qutub Minar and Red Fort in Delhi, forts and desert ranges of Rajasthan, beaches in Chennai, Mangalore, Mumbai, palaces in Mysuru (Mysore), Jaipur, Jodhpur and other parts of the country.

Besides, there are many festivals that are unique to India that draw foreigners from near and afar. Some of these festivals are the 10-day Dussehra celebrations in Mysuru, the Desert Festival in Jaisalmer held in February, Holi (festival of colours), Diwali and other cultural events.

The Indian government has been assiduously wooing foreign tourists with various initiatives, the most significant being e-tourist visas launched in November 2014.

The number of foreign tourists arriving on e-tourist visas was 4.45 lakh in calendar year 2015 and has been consistingly rising every month. The facility in popular among visitors from  the UK, the US, Russian Federation and Germany, apart from other countries. It is available to citizens from 150 countries.

India's ranking in tourism globally

The country improved its ranking in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2015, jumping 13 spots to 52nd position from 65 in 2013. The TTCI is released by the World Economic Forum. The introduction of e-tourist visas, among other measures, was seen as contributing to the elevated ranking, according to the Indian government.

Trends in foreign tourist arrivals, earnings

During the October 2015 to March 2016 period, 49.16 lakh foreign tourists visited India, marking a growth of  6.8 percent over 45.99 lakh over October 2014-March 2015. The foreign exchange earnings (FEEs) for India, or the money spent by these tourists, was $11.18 billion. 

However, FEEs in calendar year 2015 declined 2.8 percent to $19.67 billion even as FTAs rose 4.4 percent to 80.16 lakh. 

The tourism and hospitality sector is among the top 10 sectors in India to attract the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). During the period April 2000-March 2016, the hotel and tourism sector attracted around US$ 9.23 billion of FDI, according to an update by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

Among corporate players in the hospitality sector, Taj Hotels owned by the Tatas, Oberoi Group of Hotels and Leela hotels have a presence in many parts of India.