Odisha likely to relax restriction on foreign tourists visit

Bhubaneswar: With foreign tourists keeping away from Odisha since abduction of two Italians by Maoists in March, the state government is seriously considering relaxation of certain restriction on the visit of international guests to tribal pockets.

"Yes, there has been drastic fall in the foreign tourist inflow to the state since abduction of two Italian nationals in Kandhamal district," Tourism Minister Maheswar Mohanty told reporters here.

While more than 60,722 foreign tourists visited Odisha during 2011-12, no tourist from abroad visited the state since March this year mainly due to restriction imposed on visit to tribal pockets, said Benjamin, a city-based tour operator.

On steps to woo foreign tourists, the minister said "I`ll urge the chief minister to relax certain restrictions on the visit of foreign tourists to tribal pockets."

Benjamain and other tour operators who attended a meeting convened by the tourism minister on the proposed tourism policy, said not a single hotel in the state has room booking from any international tourists since March.

"We have no booking for any foreign guests till March 2013," said manager of a leading hotel here.

While 53,212 foreign tourists visited the state in 2010-11, their number was 47,105 in 2009-10. Visit of foreign tourists used to add to the tourism sector in the state by providing employment to hoteliers, tour operators, guides, drivers and above all the tribal people in remote areas.

Maoists kidnapped two Italians – Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo – on March 14 during a trekking expedition in Kandhamal-Ganjam border.

As Maoists alleged that foreigners were taking semi-nude pictures of tribal women and misusing them, state government imposed restrictions on movement of tourists, especially foreign tourists, in areas inhabited by tribals.

Tour operators feel restriction on visit of foreign tourists to tribal belt adversely affected the tourist inflow besides threat of Maoists in the area. They want the government to review the situation and make some relaxation.

Of about 60,000 foreign tourists who visited the state last year, only a few went to tribal areas. However, the impression of restriction kept foreigners away, they said.

Restriction on the visit of foreigners also gives a wrong signal to the international tourists, the tour operators told the minister.