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Red carpet out for hospitality boost

Patna, March 30: The government has at last realised what industry had been harping on for a long time: Bihar lacks quality hotels.

Faced with this reality, the Nitish Kumar government has invited leading hotel groups and tour operators of the country to Patna on April 28 to woo them to the state even as industrialists blame Bihar’s land policy, or the lack of it, for the hospitality lacunae.

In 2012, 10.97 lakh foreign tourists came to Bihar, the seventh highest footfall among states. It, however, did not help much because of the absence of quality hotels.

Also, corporate travellers have to face a problem owing to the lack of options when choosing hotels in the state.

Acknowledging the lack of quality hotels to be a major roadblock in attracting more foreign visitors, tourism minister Sunil Kumar told The Telegraph today: “If we want to improve our ranking in foreign tourist arrivals among states, we have to focus on setting up quality hotels. The department, on the chief minister’s instructions, has called a meeting with top hotel groups and tour operators on April 28, where a special strategy to help them come to the state would be discussed and finalised. Invitations and requests are being sent out and we expect top representatives of groups like Radisson, Taj and ITC, among others, to take part. Tour operators such as Thomas Cook and SOTC have also been invited. The meeting aims to ascertain what the hotel groups want from the government to set foot here and what problems they have faced in their attempts to do so. Industry representatives would also attend the meet.”

Sources said the state’s target was to tap tour operators and draw up a road map to improve the sector based on their observations.

Bihar lags behind Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal in terms of foreign tourist arrivals but stands ahead of Kerala, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.

“According to the figures provided by the tourism ministry, we rose from the eighth rank in 2011 to seventh in 2012 in terms of foreign tourist arrivals. The state didn’t figure in the top ten list in 2010 and the years before that. But quality hotels need to come up here for the state to improve its rank further. Else, the flow of foreign tourists may dip,” the minister admitted.

Industrialists, however, said the road to get quality hotels, including five-star properties, to Patna is fraught with hurdles owing to the policies of the state government.

“No hotel came to the state till 2006 or 2007. By then, the land rates were very high in Patna. Many investors want to come and set up hotels but they want land in or around Patna, which is next to impossible. The state government must make land available to them. It can try and acquire land to make a hotel hub. Land is the major issue right now,” said P.K. Agarwal, president of Bihar Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

The last time the state government helped the hospitality sector by providing them land was in the late-1970s and early-1980s, when the Maurya and Chanakya hotels came up in Patna.

Satyajit Kumar, vice-president of the eastern region of Confederation of Indian Industry, said: “The government needs to act tough. It talks about non-availability of land but a lot of land, belonging to various departments, is unused in the districts. For example, the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee has 200 acres of vacant land. The government must come up with a plan on how to use these for development.”