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Up, up and away
Agnimitra Paul at the inauguration; Paoli Dam dropped by on Sunday

What: Tourist Spot, tourism festival hosted by Camellia Hotels & Resorts in association with Anandabazar Patrika.

Where: Netaji Indoor Stadium.

When: July 1-3.

Attendance: Over 130 stalls and 20,000-plus visitors.

Overheard at the festival: dada, Puja-te ebaar saat din chhuti pachhi, South Africa hoye jaabe?” “Na dada, South Africa minimum nine days. Aapni borong Kenya niye neen, Masai Mara ta dekhe ashun.” The first a middle-aged Bengali gentleman your typical bhadralok and the second an intrepid counter manager at one of the stalls at Tourist Spot. That exchange, in a nutshell, tells you which way tourism and tourists in Bengal are going. Away from the well-trod Shimla-Kullu-Manali or Jaipur-Jodhpur-Udaipur circuits and straight to foreign shores.

Over three days, that’s the story that unfolded at Tourist Spot. By the time the fair got over on Sunday, over 20,000 people from in and around the city had trooped in. Brochures got picked up, spot bookings were made, deals sealed. Everyone went home happy the organisers, the travel companies and above all, the prospective travellers.

“Our packages are targeting the Puja holiday crowd. The best part is, we’re getting lots of queries about foreign destinations. Yes, Bangkok-Singapore-Malaysia are favourites. But among the biggest draws abroad this time are Egypt and Europe. Our special Romantic Mediterranean package, comprising a 14-day tour of Egypt, Greece and Turkey, has got a very good response,” said Abhijit Sen, deputy general manager, east, Cox & Kings. Ashutosh Jha, customer relationship executive at the Thomas Cook stall seconded him. “From Day One, we have been getting lots of queries about Egypt and Europe,” he said.

Even those looking to travel locally can take heart from what state tourism minister Rachhpal Singh said at the inauguration on Friday. He held out a bouquet of promises: better, cleaner accommodation across the state; a revamped website and exciting options like boat safaris into the core area of the Sunderbans.

Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

Fashion designer Agnimitra Paul, who was also present at the inauguration, spoke about the need to start an attractive river cruise that would explain the history of the ghats and doing something to preserve the heritage buildings of north Calcutta. She also stressed on setting up a user-friendly website that would let people do bookings across Bengal online.

But the real attraction proved to be the lucrative foreign deals on offer. Take the example of Arun Kumar Das. Post-retirement, his only passion is travel. Having toured all corners of India, he is now looking at a package to Germany-Austria-Switzerland-Italy this Puja. His travel partners? “My wife, daughter and son-in-law. I’ve collected all the information. Now I’ll go home and consult them before booking a package.”

Most stalls were dangling the carrot for spot bookings. For example, Thomas Cook offered a Rs 15,000 discount for every seat to Europe, while MakeMyTrip gave away gifts with each booking. “Thailand, Singapore, Pattaya and Phuket are the places I chose this year. It’s a nine-day tour and I wish to make the most of it,” said Ashok Kumar Manek, who got his bookings done on Sunday.

Kesari, which is Mumbai-based, was conducting a daily lucky draw, with the winner getting a free trip to Shimla-Manali. “Our base is in Maharashtra, that’s where people know us. But we opened a Calcutta office a year back after realising the travel and tourism potential in the east. The response at the fair has been great both for domestic and international destinations,” said Yogendra, who looks after branch sales of the 27-year-old company. At MakeMyTrip, most domestic queries poured in for Shimla and Kashmir people wanted to catch the snow in winter. By end of Day Three, Cox & Kings had notched up 100 bookings.

But if you are in Calcutta this Puja, you could drop in at Camellia Group’s Yin Yang a Chinese restaurant and a hookah bar opening at City Centre 2.

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