No dollars, India tells tourists

No dollars, just rupees please.

In a sign of how the once-mighty U.S. dollar has fallen, India’s tourism minister said Thursday that U.S. dollars no longer will be accepted at the country’s heritage tourist sites, including the famed Taj Mahal.

For years the dollar was worth about 50 rupees, and tourists visiting most sites in India were charged either $5 or 250 rupees.

But with the dollar at a 9-year low against the rupee — falling 11 percent in 2007 alone and now hovering around 39 rupees — that deal has become a losing proposition for the tourism industry.

The tourism minister said, though, that the decision was only in part a reaction to the currency’s plunging value.

“Before the dollar lost its value, there was a demand to have [admission tickets] just in rupees,” Tourism Minister Ambika Soni told the CNN-IBN news channel.

Soni said that charging only rupees will be more practical and save money because “the dollar was weaker against the rupee.”

The Taj Mahal, India’s famed white marble monument to love, which had charged tourists $15 or 750 rupees, has been refusing to accept dollars since November.

The move makes visits pricier for American tourists, who now have to shell out nearly $20.

And it’s likely to get worse.

“We expect a slight appreciation of the rupee to continue, although it won’t be as dramatic as last year,” said Agam Gupta, head of foreign-exchange trading at Standard Chartered Bank in India.

The dollar has fallen against most major currencies. It has lost ground against the rupee because of an influx of foreign capital into India, Gupta said.

Soni said she isn’t worried about the decision affecting tourism numbers, as India provides more than just budget attractions.

“I always say it’s not numbers I am looking for or working for. I am working for tourists to have a complete experience,” she said.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-rupeesjan04,0,6152102.story