Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspected the development taking place in Varanasi and claimed that the city's infrastructure development has caused its tourist inflow to double in five years.
"Development is having a positive effect on Varanasi as well as tourists visiting here. If we talk about 2019-20, the number of tourists visiting here has doubled in comparison to 2014-15," said PM Modi while addressing an event to celebrate the 98th anniversary of Sadguru Sadafaldeo Vihangam Yog Sansthan on December 14, 2021.
He also went on to say that despite COVID-19 pandemic, Varanasi's Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport in Babatpur had seen a huge footfall. "In 2019-20, more than 30 lakh passengers travelled from Babatpur airport alone during COVID-19. With this change, Kashi has shown that if there is will, change can come," said Modi.
FactChecker verified both these claims against official data from Uttar Pradesh's Tourism department and the Airport Authority of India. Here's what we found.
Far From Double
Data provided by UP's Tourism Department, unlike Modi's claim, is by calendar years and not financial years. So, FactChecker has considered data from 2014 to 2020 which covers a longer period than that in the PM's statement.
In 2014, over 54.8 lakh tourists visited Varanasi district, out of whom 52.02 lakh were Indians and 2.87 lakh foreigners, according to the Annual Tourist Visits Statistics - 2014-18. In 2020, Varanasi district saw 9.82 lakh tourists, including 8.76 lakh Indians and 1.06 lakh foreigners.
This means that instead of rising, the tourist inflow in Varanasi has dropped by 2020. It continuously rose between 2014 and 2019, but dropped in 2020. While the tourist inflow in the district rose by 23.82% between 2014 and 2019, when compared between 2014 and 2020 it shows a drop of 82.1%. So, clearly, Modi's claim is not true.
The tourism department's records also provide data on tourist footfall in Varanasi region, which is one of the nine regions the state is divided into. But, considering the PM's claim was limited to Varanasi city, the district-wise numbers are more comparable. When it comes to the region's numbers, which are only available from 2016, the data point at a drop of 49.21% in tourist footfall between 2016 (1.75 crore) and 2020 (88.93 lakh).
FactChecker spoke to Avinash Chandra Mishra, Joint Director, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, who said the numbers reported on the government website are not accurate and the data should be considered in a way where the numbers represent the minimum number of tourists that have surely been to Varanasi in those years.
"Our data is not accurate because data from all hotels, etc. are not taken but we sample the estimate. Actual data can be higher than what is reported on the website. The number of people coming from different corners of the country is immense and data for those who come to dharamshalas is not collated too. So there is a good chance that the number of tourists have doubled over the years," said Mishra. "So, the data available on the website can be considered as the minimum threshold of the number of tourists," he added.
COVID Didn't Affect Travel That Soon
In the same December 14 address, Modi also claimed that in 2019-20, more than 30 lakh passengers travelled from Babatpur Airport, an international airport north-west of Varanasi, during COVID-19. But, this claim is misleading as even though the airport saw a total of 30.10 lakh passengers (domestic + international) in 2019-20, restrictions on traveling due to COVID-19 came into force in March 2020, and most of 2019-20 was unaffected by COVID-19.
However, in 2020-21, which was affected by restrictions due to the onset of COVID-19, Babatpur International Airport saw 14.66 lakh passengers, registering a dip of 51.3% from previous year.
FactChecker had also tried contacting the Prime Minister's Office, Director General at the Directorate of Tourism in Uttar Pradesh, the Regional Tourist Office in Varanasi, and the Publicity Officer at UP's Tourism Department via email and calls, but had not received a response by the time this article was published.