SOURENDRANATH BHATTACHARYA, managing director, West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, met readers of The Telegraph in his office at 3/2, BBD Bag, to answer their queries. Participants included Sukumar Pal, Subhomoy Ghosh, Anupam Muhuri, Diptimoy Ghosh, Avrojit Das, Samir Bhattacharya and Chandrima Ghosh
Chandrima Ghosh: Why donít you beautify your office'
We want to do up our office but there are some impediments. The building has been declared a heritage structure. Besides, it will require massive funding to restore it. So, before the facelift, we have to take into account several aspects.
Sukumar Pal: Government lodges are not as clean and tidy as the private ones. Why'
Cleanliness can be judged from both within and outside. The interiors of government lodges have improved considerably over the years. For attractive exteriors, we are giving lodge-keepers four to five monthsí time to renovate their buildings. We have decided to award Rs 10,000 and a certificate to the best tourist lodge-keeper. In this connection, I would like to mention that the tourist lodge at Behrampore, which was running at an annual loss of Rs 7 lakh, is now earning a profit of Rs 4 to 5 lakh a year.
Sukumar Pal: Why do lodges impose a service charge of 5 per cent when the staff are paid by the government'
Earlier, the service charges were higher. Moreover, the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) has its very own speciality that private entrepreneurs cannot offer. We pay special attention to the security of a tourist. We are, after all, answerable to the government and, ultimately, to the people. In addition, our aim is not to host only the upper middle class. The lower middle income group is also our clintele, and we have to take care of them in different ways.
Anupam Muhuri: What is your agenda to develop tourism in new spots like Jayanti'
At the outset, I would like to say that we have two thrust areas ó the mountains and the Sunderbans. As the WBTDCís financial capacity is not very sound, we are forced to take the help of private entrepreneurs. At Jayanti, we are trying to build a ropeway link to Buxar that will not only cut the distance but will also help tourists reach easily. We plan to build a tourist lodge at Rajabhatkhaoa.
Anupam Muhuri:The WBTDC recruits agents to work at 10 per cent commission. Are these agents later inducted as staff'
We insert advertisements in newspapers for agents and those who have taken a tour-and-travel course can apply. However, they need a trade licence. When they make bookings, they are not entitled to accept money but can accept cheques on behalf of the WBTDC.
Anupam Muhuri: Private agencies lay a lot of stress on advertising their tour packages.
Admittedly, our advertisements are neither adequate nor attractive. But we try to reach the people. We use both the print and electronic media, as far as our funds permit. We also distribute booklets about our packages.
Anupam Muhuri: Do you have any international tours'
We tried for a Bangladeshi package that had to be abandoned midway because of some unforeseen developments.
Diptimoy Ghosh: Tourist guides of the government of India get paid a fixed rate. This does not happen in the case of the state government. Why so'
Fees for guides are fixed by the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and it is accepted by all. In addition, our officers often accompany the tourists. Our aim is to provide only such persons as tour guides who are aware of the history of the particular place that the tourists are visiting.
Diptimoy Ghosh: Often, tourist guides are illiterate.
We have issued instructions to stop recruiting uneducated guides. If such a person is already on the rolls, we train him up to help tourists by providing them with the correct information of a particular place.
Chandrima Ghosh: Why do we have to take a ferry to cross the Hatania-Doania river at Kakdwip, in South 24-Parganas, with our vehicle to get to Bakkhali and Frasergunge'
There is a barge to ferry the vehicles, so I think there should not be much of a problem.