So it has been some time that the Part I of this piece was written. It dealt with outlining few of the major problems with tourism in Odisha. In this second part of the essay I shall attempt to delineate few measures that can offset these overriding concerns and help take Odisha tourism, abound with possibilities, on the growth highway.
Last week I visited Agra to attend a wedding and flew back through Delhi airport. There I could see the huge billboard in the passenger waiting area displaying the ad for Odisha tourism. Now that has been a recent addition and a much welcome addition. Aggressive advertising, which Odisha tourism woefully lacked and is now taking baby steps in, is necessary to motivate tourists from other parts of India to come visit the state.
This has to be extended to foreign shores too. As we had seen in the previous essay, of the very low number of foreign tourists visiting Odisha, majority hailed from Western Europe. This kind of concentration is desirable, yet very restrictive. The Odisha tourism social media handle are again in stages of infancy and need to be more aggressive to reach out to prospective tourists.
Just getting people to know about a prospective tourist location is a small part of the story. Unless it is matched by necessary infrastructure and environment, any amount of advertising is meaningless.
If you have been to Goa, the Indian poster boy of tourism, you will notice few important things that Odisha, which wants to become a prominent tourist location, lacks. One is the safe and largely problem free environment. Why would a tourist, foreigner or Indian come to a place where the likelihood of harassment is high? Why would anyone want to spend quality time in a place where there would be undue local interference? These are factors that work against tourism in Odisha. If you are not ensconced in a high star resort or in Puri (such has been the concentration of tourism in Puri that one cannot think of any other such place) working your way through and with the locals might leave a bad taste.
Strict maintenance of law and order, no tolerance for harassment of tourists should be high on priority for district administrations which have prominent tourist locations.
If you are a reader from Odisha who has travelled in local buses I am sure you will agree that they are more often than not unworthy of a decent travel. Road accident frequency is high, condition of buses deplorable and conduct of operators often cringe worthy. A year and half back I was travelling to Odisha by train and a female co passenger wanted to go to Puri from Bhubaneswar. The fun part regarding the suggestions she received apart, when she alighted the train she had no other option than asking around where to find a bus from. Gross lack of information, improper and no signboards are deterrents that Odisha tourism needs to overcome.
Special bus and train services to tourist locations are a must given the current state of transport. It would be prudent to invest in initiatives like One-Odisha or something on those lines which can act as one stop counter for visitors who could get all information, compare prices, charge/recharge the phone, get photocopies, etc.
The number of hotel rooms, an important parameter in any tourism sector, has increased over the years yet the condition of them largely remains poor. The government in its tourism policy has done good to propose withdrawal of VAT for new ventures and must be congratulated for the same. Yet single window clearance, loan availability, and overall ease of doing tourism business remains as big challenges.
Onus should be on the government to project tourism as a source of employment. As mentioned in part one of these essays, investment in tourism has very high ROI and thus plain and simple, government spending needs to increase in this sector.
Too little, too concentrated
As I write this piece there are reports emerging of government in final phases of approving for light and sound show at the world famous Konark. What took it so long to come up with this no-brainer, for it has been successfully implemented at umpteen sites? Why cannot more such initiatives be planned for other high stake sites? There is no dearth of talent in the state. Enterprising and committed bosses are needed to tap such talent.
Also, if Odisha needs to up its tourism game, it needs to get rid of the Bhubaneswar-Puri-Konark centric approach. Sheer neglect of other potential tourist locations is a huge reason for current state of affairs. This has to be undone and a way could be to set up competition among districts. Those that are disadvantaged need to be given bonuses and nudges. There are several examples set by other states which can be emulated.
However one thing that cannot be emulated and which is at the root of making any such endeavour a success is the attitude. Only when the average Odia will understand the potential tourism has for her state and/or for her income, only when adequate behavioural change will support new initiatives, only when state machinery will ensure a conducive environment, will the change, a much needed change occur.