With Air Asia, the low cost international airlines announcing operations from Bhubaneswar to Kuala Lumpur, there has been a buzz of excitement in Odisha, for those who can afford to and for those who can dream to make that international travel. The Odisha government in inking this deal with the Malaysian carrier has focussed on South East Asia as a new tourism avenue. While this move is laudable, lot of homework needs to be done if Odisha is to make tourism an important cog in the wheel of its development.
Tourism happens to be a big contributor to GDP in our vast and richly endowed country. In a period of 10 years from 2004 to 2014 India’s tourism revenue doubled to 38 billion dollars. It is suggested that in another ten years it will rise to 71 billion dollars growing at a CAGR of 7.9%. According to HSBC Global Research, this growth for rest of the world in the same period would be of 4.2%. Odisha, a state which has a very long coastline, many rivers, waterfalls, natural reserves, vast forest land, Buddhist and Jain sites, lakes, numerous temples in pristine glory, and all of which makes it an ideal candidate to have a robust tourism sector has not been able to tap its potential fully.
It is interesting to note that for every million rupee invested, tourism sector generates 78 jobs while manufacturing does 45. Despite tremendous potential, tourism in Odisha has not taken off like it would have wanted it to. Tourism sector generates direct jobs for nearly 1 lakh Odias and indirect jobs for another 2.7 lakh. According to data depicted by Labour Bureau of Govt. of India for year 2015-16, Odisha’s unemployment rate remained at 5%. Significantly, the female unemployment rate was at a high 8.7%. It is reflective of a very poor employment rate in the state. It is thus no rocket science (cliché, but an interesting one nevertheless) to join the dots of increased spending for tourism and job generation.
Where are they coming from?
Nearly one-fifth of Odisha’s inbound domestic tourists came mostly from neighbouring states of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. While this is natural, it also goes on to show that tourists from far off states have not espoused great interest in coming to Odisha.It is noteworthy that the inflow from West Bengal (about 15% of all domestic tourists) is largely religious tourism given the average Bengali’s devotion and/or attachment with Puri.
A look at where foreign tourists visit is interesting. While the majority 49% visit north of India, 29% visit West, 18% South and a measly 4% to the East. Odisha’s share of all foreign tourists visiting India is abysmal at less than 1%. The majority of that 1% hail from Western Europe. This shows the narrow tourist base that Odisha caters to.
Connectivity is another element at the centre of tourism development. It is lamentable that about 10 districts in Odisha do not have rail connectivity. While the road conditions are better, they are top killers with road accident rate in Odisha being one of the highest in the country. The condition, punctuality, frequency of whatever local train connectivity exists is pathetic. Only the airport at Bhubaneswar is functional though plans are afoot to make other air strips functional in near future. Despite rivers criss-crossing the state, travel in it is virtually non-existent and is risky given umpteen accidents that gets reported once in a while.
Another problem is with the behavioural aspect of people at large. If you have ever been to a ‘picnic’ on a river side, or near a waterfall, or any such popular places, especially in the ‘picnic season’, there are high chances that you would have encountered unruly youth, often drunk, passing lewd comments, dancing suggestively even. Be it the goon like behaviour of a servitor of Jagannath temple, Puri or the average lewd youth loitering at tourist locations, these are impediments to growth of tourism that no amount of capacity building can overcome.
The problems with tourism infrastructure of hotel rooms (though there has been an increase of late), the quality of them, cleanliness of tourist locations, accessibility, local transport, maps, signboards, largely plague most tourist locations barring say the ones at Puri or Bhubaneswar for that matter. In that perspective, gross inequality in development of tourism is another issue that plagues Odisha tourism.
There is tremendous potential that tourism holds for Odisha. It can contribute largely to Odisha’s GSDP. In Part 2 of this essay I shall try to discuss few possible solutions to the problems mentioned in Part 1.