Low footfall of foreigners in Bhitarkanika due to registration process: tour operators

Kendrapara: Odisha may be receiving thousands of foreign tourists every year but only a fraction of them visit Bhitarkanika National Park allegedly due to hassles in mandatory registration of overseas visitors by the forest department, a charge denied by the department.

Odisha had received as many as 66,971 international tourists in 2016 but their inflow to the Bhitarkanika National Park was only 211, according to information available with the forest department.

Those involved in tourism sectors attribute this small number of foreign tourists to the hassles in mandatory registration of overseas visitors, but the forest department said there can only be stray cases of delayed registration of foreigners and the department was doing everything possible to ensure there was no inordinate delay.

“In verification of visa, passport and registration, forest officials are simply harassing the visitors. The foreigners are being stranded for at least an hour at the Divisional forest office during verification,” alleged a local tourist operator, Samarendra Biswal.

Last week, a group of foreign tourists were halted for more than two hours at the registration cell of DFO office, another tour operator said, adding this apparently formed a very poor impression about the implementation of procedural formalities.

The way overseas visitors were being treated, the number of foreign tourists visiting Bhitarkanika is dropping, local tourist guide, Pradip Das alleged.

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“We are intent on finishing the registration process of foreigners promptly. There may be stray cases of delayed registration. The department is taking best possible efforts to ensure that registration of foreign tourists does not get inordinately delayed,” Divisional Forest Officer, Bimal Prassana Acharya said.

An international tourist is required to furnish photocopy of passport, visa and three recent passport size photos during the registration process. No fee is charged for registration.

The registration of foreigners has been made mandatory as per the direction received from the bureau of immigration, ministry of home affairs, he said.

Bhitarkanika is home to saltwater crocodiles, white crocodiles, Indian python, king cobra, black ibis and many other species of flora and fauna.

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While 207 foreigners visited Bhitarkanika in 2014, the year 2015 accounted for inflow of 211 international tourists.

The months of November-January are the peak period when foreigners throng the national park, district Tourism officer, Bijoy Kumar Mohanty said.

Initiatives for providing better facilities and help to foreign tourists visiting Bhitarkanika is the need of the hour, said former Sarpanch of Dangmal gram panchayat, Madhav Manna.

The local economy of villages on the fringes of the national park could become tourism-centric only when Bhitarkanika becomes the preferred address of foreign tourists, he said.

The Bhitarkanika national Park covers an area of around 145 sq km which encompasses the Bhitarkanika Mangroves.

It is a Mangrove swamp which is located in the delta of the rivers Brahmani, Baitarani and Dhamara.

It is ideal spot for camping, trekking and picnics.