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Minister cites tourism woes

The Bengal tourism minister on Sunday highlighted some of the hurdles threatening to trip chief minster Mamata Banerjee’s plan to turn Darjeeling into Switzerland, Digha into Goa and the Sunderbans into the Kerala backwaters.

Lack of proper roads, signage, logistics and trained personnel are some of the negatives minister Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury pointed out at a tourism conference organised by the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Industrial Trade Fair.

“Our chief minister feels tourism can be the state’s biggest industry. So many countries have prospered simply because of its tourism… however, our tourism department has remained neglected and we have forgotten our hospitality,” Choudhury rued.

At a time when states like Gujarat, Goa and Kerala have surged ahead in the tourism sector with attractive and innovative promotion and marketing models, Choudhury said Bengal in many ways remained “one-dimensional”.

While Gujarat set aside Rs 385 crore for tourism in 2012-13, according to data released by Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited, Bengal had a budgetary allocation of Rs 90 crore during the same period. The allocation during 2011-12 was a meagre Rs 44 crore.

Apart from infrastructure woes, Choudhury said, Bengal also suffers from a lack of soft skills. A large section of the staff in hotels and resorts across the state lack the training in serving guests with courtesy. To illustrate the point, the minister recounted his experience in his home district Malda.

“When I arrived at a lodge (in Malda), the manager and other senior personnel were missing. No one could tell me anything about tourism in the area. If I am subjected to such indifferent treatment, I can well imagine what others go through,” the minister said.

He spoke about the lack of decent entertainment options in Digha post-sunset, which forces tourists to remain indoors. Unlike Digha, Choudhury said, Goa has a range of attractions for tourists.

The minister said the government was considering outsourcing lodges, resorts and transport facilities in order to ensure their better functioning and upkeep. According to this model, the state would create infrastructure and invite private players to come forward and run logistics.

“There is hardly any connectivity to places like the Sunderbans which has a huge potential. High-end tourists can make a state’s tourism thrive and to get them, infrastructure is the most important factor,” said a city-based tour operator.

The conference was also attended by heritage conservationist G.M. Kapoor, who spoke about the need for safety and cleanliness in order to boost tourism. “We need to give tourists reasons to visit the state, and if we fail to do that, they will go somewhere else,” said Kapoor.