The Telegraph
Sunday , July 15 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lessons for Bengal in tourism fair

Calcutta, July 14: Gujarat is flaunting its smooth roads and Andhra its star hotels; Himachal is planning to set up an airport to spare tourists the pain of travelling by road. Thailand is providing plane tickets from the same window offering holiday deals and even unheralded Chhattisgarh is providing tourist cars at airports and railway stations.

The tourism fair in Calcutta has a lesson for the Bengal government, which, unfortunately, thinks browbeating tour operators is a way to bring in tourists.

At the Bengal stall of the Travel Tourism Fair at the Netaji Indoor Stadium and the Khudiram Anushilan Kendra, a man tells a potential customer he has to find a car to travel to Darjeeling himself. “We don’t offer vehicles.”

In today’s world, who wants to take all that trouble, asked a middle-aged professional planning a holiday during the Puja. “I want a complete package, but they just didn’t have any.”

No such problems if you are going anywhere from Pattaya to Palampur.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has got Thai Airways at its stall. “We wanted to provide a potential tourist all the information at one place,” said Vaishali Sharma, a marketing officer for the authority.

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who has come all the way to Calcutta to sell his state, said his government would develop the proposed airport with private investment. “It would be of great help to tourists who don’t like travelling by road.”

In Gujarat, tourism department officials said, the state spent Rs 90 crore last year to develop infrastructure. Roads, accommodation, renovation of heritage sites… the list is long.

This year, the Narendra Modi government has requested the Planning Commission to grant Rs 1,200 crore to develop coastal tourism. It already has the Mahatma Gandhi circuit: a train covering the 21 places where Gandhi made night halts during his historic march in 1930.

“We are renovating the night halts by improving roads and providing tourist amenities along the trail,” said Sanjay Kaul, Gujarat tourism commissioner. “For the Buddhist circuit, we have created seven golf courses through private initiative,” he added.

Amitabh Bachchan is the state’s brand ambassador for tourism. In the two years that the actor has campaigned, the number of tourists to Gujarat has increased by 54 lakh, an official said.

That is over 10 times the number of inbound tourists (five lakh) for Bengal. Shah Rukh Khan has agreed to be Bengal’s brand ambassador but no documentary featuring him has seen the light of day yet. The contrast was stark as Bachchan beamed from the television set at the Gujarat stall, extolling the splendours of the Gir forest.

The Andhra government will spend Rs 500 crore this year to build three-star hotels, develop roads and set up amenity centres. “The amenity centres have motels, restaurants and interpretation centres, where help can be hired to bridge the language barrier,” said Chandana Khan, Andhra’s tourism secretary, who is in Calcutta for the three-day fair.

“Since we don’t have adequate guides, a special programme has been launched where 100 guides will be trained at the national institute for hospitality and tourism,” she said.

“Tourism infrastructure has two components — hard and soft. The first includes hotels, roads, transport and other amenities. The second is essentially the human resources — the personnel whose living depends on tourists. Both are equally important.”

Unfancied Chhattisgarh is also spending crores to develop accommodation and approach roads, and train guides. “We are trying to catch up,” said P. Sen Bhowmick, the general manager of the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board.

Tour operators who interacted with the tourism officials of various states said Bengal’s tourism department needed to learn a thing or two from them. Bengal tourism minister Rachhpal Singh had yesterday criticised private tour operators for taking tourists out of the state but his department has done nothing compared with the other states to lure tourists.

“We have doubled the budgetary allocation to Rs 90 crore this year,” said a senior official of the state tourism department. “We are planning major infrastructure development.”

Plans in this state seldom fructify. No official could say what had been done in the past two years. “We went to Gujarat last year to take part in a fair,” one official said.

Tour operators lamented the condition of roads, lack of organised local transport, dearth of decent hotels and the absence of any new destination.

“We have been trying to promote the same places for 60 years,” said an official who requested anonymity.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee kicked off the Digha beach festival earlier this year. “Minus the infrastructure and marketing muscle, such festivals are like local fairs,” a city tour operator said.