The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha tees off yen tourism drive from the greens

Hounded by healthcare horrors and rattled by the rally row, it is time for the chief minister to take a swing — on the golfing greens. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has teed off a fresh initiative to woo international tourists to this part of the world — for its ecology, for its heritage and for its fairways.

At the inaugural session of the 39th annual convention of the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) on Friday, Bhattacharjee underlined the role of golf in driving the hospitality industry.

“Calcutta is one of the cheapest golfing destinations in the world and in Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), Tollygunge Club and Fort William, we have three world-class golf courses,” he observed. They, stressed the chief minister, could be the hub of a heightened tourist activity, particularly from golf-crazy Japan.

Bhattacharjee went on to emphasise the need to upgrade the city’s airport and lamented the absence of a direct air link between Calcutta and Tokyo coming in the way of Japanese tourists flying in more frequently to wield their irons here.

In further proof to his fairways push, the chief minister has lined up a lunch and a business conference on November 22, during the Consular Corps golf tournament at the Tolly.

The golfing fraternity of a city that doesn’t host even one of the 25 pro events on the PGA Indian Tour and as a stop, is a distant “fifth choice” (after Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai) on the corporate sponsor’s target list, isn’t convinced things can change too soon.

“Look how Delhi has tied up tourism with the game by laying out three designer golf courses (DLF Golf & Country Club, Golden Greens and Classic Golf Resorts) along the drive to Jaipur,” pointed out Brandon De Souza, president, Tiger Sports Marketing (TSM), which drives the Indian Tour. TSM had recently suggested to the government that Calcutta be linked to Patna and Bodh Gaya through an integrated golf-tourism blueprint to cash in on the Buddhism connection. “If the state is keen to develop allied areas of interest in its backyard, like heritage spots and eco-tourism parks, the whole picture could change real quick,” clarifies the golf consultant.

And that is exactly where the state’s thrust could be in the coming months. “We are already developing the Sunderbans, the world’s largest delta, into a global eco-tourism destination. Efforts are also on to showcase heritage hubs like Bishnupur, Murshidabad and Santiniketan. The tea gardens of north Bengal could be another vehicle to draw foreign tourists,” the chief minister told Friday’s convention.

Admitting that the tourism potential of Bengal has hardly been tapped, Bhattacharjee lent an ear to a string of pleas from the hospitality forum. “He has assured us that restaurants will be granted industry status and luxury tax will be abolished,” said federation president S.K. Khullar.

The trade is lobbying for reduction in sales tax on food from 17.25 per cent — “the highest in the country” — to 8-10 per cent, among other sops. The federation is also hopeful its proposal for setting up a state-level tourism advisory council and a tourism committee under the chief secretary will be accepted.

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