MUMBAI • India's tourism industry has been hit by a wave of violent anti-government protests against a new citizenship law that have rocked several cities this month, with several countries issuing travel warnings.
At least 25 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters, and demonstrations against the law continue.
Officials estimate that about 200,000 domestic and international tourists cancelled or postponed their trip to the Taj Mahal in the past two weeks, one of the world's most popular attractions.
The United States, Britain, Russia, Israel, Singapore and Canada, as well as Taiwan, have issued travel advisories asking their citizens to either refrain from visiting or to exercise caution when visiting regions hit by protests.
"There has been a 60 per cent decline in visitor footfalls in December this year," said police inspector Dinesh Kumar, who oversees a special tourist police station near the Taj Mahal and has access to visitor data. He said the decline in visitor numbers was compared with December last year.
"Indian and foreign tourists have been calling our control rooms to check security. We assure them protection, but many still decide to stay away," he said.
The 17th century marble monument is in Uttar Pradesh, the northern state that has witnessed the highest number of deaths and intense bursts of violence in two weeks of unrest.
A group of European tourists travelling together across India said they now planned to cut short their 20-day trip.
"We are all retired folk. For us, travel has to be slow and relaxing. The newspaper headlines have led to a sense of concern and we will leave sooner than we had planned," said Mr Dave Millikin, a retired banker living on the outskirts of London, who spoke to Reuters from New Delhi.
The Taj Mahal, in the town of Agra, attracts over 6.5 million tourists every year, generating nearly US$14 million (S$18.9 million) annually from entrance fees. A foreign tourist pays 1,100 rupees (S$21) to enter the grounds, although those from neighbouring countries get a discount.
Managers in luxury hotels and guest houses around the Taj Mahal said last-minute cancellations during the festive season have further dampened business sentiment at a time when the country's economic growth has slowed to 4.5 per cent, its slowest pace in more than six years.
In a bid to clamp down on violence and unrest, the authorities have suspended mobile Internet services in Agra. "Blocking the Internet has affected travel and tourism in Agra by about 50 per cent to 60 per cent," said Mr Sandeep Arora, president of the Agra Tourism Development Foundation that groups over 250 tour operators, hotels and guides.
Mr Jayanta Malla Baruah, head of the Assam Tourism Development Corp, said the state, home to the world's largest concentration of one-horned rhinoceroses, is visited on average by 500,000 tourists during December.
"But this time, due to the ongoing protests and travel advisories by various countries, the number is down by 90 per cent, if not more."