The path less travelled

The Swadesh Tourism Conclave, organised by APN News and Balaji Foundation in New Delhi recently, uncovered trails that had so far remained covered in mystery and the dust of ignorance. A new age of tourism is set to hit India as the Covid recedes into memory.

AN AUSPICIOUS BEGINNING : Shripad Yesso Naik, Minister of State for Tourism in the Union government, lights the ceremonial lamp. He is accompanied by Rajshri Rai, editor-in-chief, APN News

By Journey Man

The Swadesh Conclave and Awards, a unique initiative organised by APN News in association with Balaji Foundation that recognises people for their invaluable contribution to the growth of the country, made a unique foray into the tourism sector on October 11 by organising the Swadesh Tourism Conclave at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.

It was a step forward after the successful event held at the same venue in August to mark Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, commemorating 75 years of India’s Independence and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements.

Based on the theme, ‘New Horizons’ the conclave aimed to promote not only in places in the India  we all know, but also destinations which are emerging a new hotspots for tourism and drawing eyeballs among tourists in India and around the globe.

The Conclave, conceived in a unique way, was divided into three sections, with awards given away to several promising stakeholders in each section. These people/organisations who have made a mark in their respective areas and influenced the growth of the tourism sector in the country. What made it more educative and memorable was the interactive Q&A session where several problems related to the tourism industry were discussed threadbare and solutions sought. The brainstorming sessions involved ministers, members from the hotel industry, travel associations, wedding destination planners, heritage railways and others.

While inaugurating the conclave, Rajshri Rai, editor-in chief of APN News and India Legal, said that the event is aimed at developing India’s economy and the tourism sector is a vital cog in the wheels of economic development of the country. She said that the Conclave aims to take the tourism sector forward by focusing on not only the achievements, but also by deliberating on the emerging challenges and seeking answers on how to overcome them. She added that the Conclave allows all the stakeholders and decision-makers of the sector a one of a kind platform to discuss, exchange ideas and share experiences, both good and bad.

While elaborating further on the Conclave, she made it clear that the sessions at the event are not mere monologues, where one person speaks and the rest listen, but interactive and with probing discussions, where everybody speaks, questions and seeks answers on various issues related to tourism. She said that one hopes that by the time, the Conclave ends, new horizons of hope and promise will open up, not only for the people participating in the event, but for the entire tourism industry as a whole.

First session
The first session kicked off with an address by Shripad Yesso Naik, minister of state for tourism in the Union government. While welcoming all at the Conclave and thanking APN News and Balaji Foundation for the unique initiative, he said that tourism is the biggest industry in the world and India has a huge potential to attract tourists from within the country and outside. He pointed out that though tourism in India received a setback due to the Covid pandemic, yet it has made rapid strides to come back under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has created jobs, offered opportunities for women in equal measure.

The minister also laid stress on the several initiatives taken by the centre and assured everyone that new horizons are being opened up. However, he accepted that a lot more needs to be done and that is only possible with everyone’s support and cooperation

Rajiv Jain,MD Rashi Entertainment and a destination wedding expert, asked why the government is chary of even talking, leave alone promoting, wedding tourism in the country when it is “already a Rs 5 lakh crore industry.”  Minister Naik replied that he was willing to discuss the potential of the sector with stakeholders and take it forward and even put it on fast track.

Answering another question by Rajshri Raion what the government is doing in the area of medical tourism, Naik said that centre is thinking of doing something on the lines of Ayush. He said that several measures have been taken for yoga tourism in the country and the government is planning to have an AIIMS in every district of India so that the country becomes the hub of medical tourism. He informed that the government is working on developing infrastructure facilities for the growth of the sector.

About Nagaland
When asked by Jyoti Kalash, additional chief secretary of Nagaland,that thestate’stourism is still badly hit due to a negative perception of the state (insurgency-prone), despite the fact that the state is today peaceful and has a lots to offer to tourists. He also pointed out the exorbitant airfares, an issue that could not be solved, even after detailed discussions with the airlines, which were looking at their bottomlines. Kalash, also an awardee, said that it is high time the government intervenes to boost tourism in the state.

The Union minister listened intently and then said that the government will look into the matter, as increasing tourism prospects in the north-east is an important agenda of the government. He also made it clear that the budgetary allocation for the region will increase if any promising and viable project/idea is placed before him.

The minister was also informed by Jyoti Mayal, president, Travel Agents Association of India, about the several problems faced by travel agents after the pandemic, who continue to work in a depressing environment with no support from the government.  

The branding issue
Branding is an important exercise in the promotion of any product/idea/scheme, and more so for destination branding, where a destination’s strongest and most competitively appealing assets are identified for prospective visitors. The minister was told by VA Shri Kumar,a brand expert and strategist that there has been no concentrated campaign to sell India after the success of the Incredible India campaign in the early 2000. He said that the time has come to now sell India within India and many tourist places have become popular and attractive just because they have been branded well. Today every location in India will have to sell itself to another location in the country, instead of going international, he emphasised.

Second No. 2
The second session focused on Goa. It started with an informative speech from the tourism minister of Goa,Rohan Khaunte, who apprised the gathering about various initiatives taken by the state government to come out of the popular perception that Goa is only about “sun, sand and sea”. He said that today Goa is pitching itself as “sun, sand, sea and software”. 

He explained the offerings of the “Work from Home” project initiated by the state during the pandemic. He also informed the stakeholders present at the Conclave about the “Digital Nomad” concept wherein people from the IT industry can park themselves in Goa to work in a conducive environment on its beaches and yet exult in the beach tourism activities offered by the state.

Neha Chandra of APN receives, from Rohan Khaunte, minister of tourism of Goa, the award on behalf of photographer Raghu Rai who has done yeomen work in architectural photography

He added that Goa is working on promoting itself as a “monsoon destination”. An engaging ecosystem in the hinterlands of Goa is in the offing, bird tourism is being developed, there is an on-going emphasis on wellness tourism, adventure tourism, and efforts are being made to get spiritual tourism on track. He also said that developing yoga tourism is one of the priorities of  the state government.

Home-stays is another area receiving attention from his government. The whole idea, he said, is to “come and get the maximum out of Goa”.

An international airport
The minister said that “emerging thoughts of tourism” have found an important place in all efforts related to tourism in Goa and the Mopa International Airport, which will soon come up in the state, will be a game changer. The “ease of doing business” strategy adopted by Goa will remove all bottlenecks faced by tourism stakeholders, he pointed out. The “Goa pass” incentive based on an app showcasing the state’s tourism potential will soon be in place, he promised. Skill academies for both front offices and back offices will come up soon, he said. A public relations agency will be hired soon to brand Goa properly, he announced.

Elaborating further on areas which generate interest for those planning to visit Goa, the minister said that today Goa offers the best of cuisine from around the world and showcases its heritage, culture and festivals. He added that the living cost in the state is relatively low, compared to other states. That leads to an incomparable quality of life. The Goans are generally hospitable and receptive to new ideas. They are comfortable with English, among other positives. The potential for the state becoming a big wedding destination is also being recognised, he said.

Wedding destination
During the Q&A session, Rajeev Jaininformed the minister that it was difficult getting permission for concerts and events on the beaches of Goa and there are inadequate big banquet halls in the state. To this Khaunte said that meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, or MICE will play an important role in the overall tourism strategy of Goa. He elaborated that there are convention halls in Dona Paula, an important tourist destination in the state and another big convention hall constructed by the government will soon come up.

Getting permission for events on beached shouldn’t be a problem, he clarified if environment protection laws are adhered to. He invited all stakeholders to connect with the state government to solve the issues at stake.

Sports tourism
Soccer is a popular sport in Goa and it is the only state after West Bengal and Kerala, with a strong following. When asked by Sujit Bhar,Editor of Views on News, about what is being done by the government to promote the state as a sports destination, Khaunte said that the government is trying to establish Goa as an international beach volleyball destination and also build a cricket stadium. Today 12 matches under the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will be played in Goa.

(Standing from L) Mrs Madhu Kaya, representing Savoy Hotel, Mr VA Shrikumar, Managing Director, Push 360, Mrs Rajni Subba, Founder and Director, India Exquisite Pageant Organisation, Mr Vivek Sharma, Managing Director, Kridha Hospitality, Dr UK Mohammed Shareef, MD, Tigris Valley Holistic Wellness Resort, Mr Kishore Kaya Managing Director, the Savoy, Mussoorie, Mr Jyoti Kalash, Additional Chief Secretary of Nagaland, Mr Rajeev Jain, Managing Director, Rashi Entertainment, Mr CP Rathore, General Manager, Chomu Palace, Rajasthan, Mr Dinesh Singh, Director, Gaj Retreat, Mr Anubhav Sapra, Founder, Delhi Food Walks. (Sitting From L): Mrs Rajshri Rai, editor-in-chief, APN News, Goa’s Tourism Minister Mr Rohan Khaunte, Mr Shripad Yesso Naik, Minister of State for Tourism in the Union government, Mr Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India and Mrs Vinita Srivastava, Executive Director, Heritage Directorate, Railway Board.

When asked about the untapped potential of health tourism in the state by Kishore Kaya,a hospitality expert representing the Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie, theministersaid that unfortunately the available infrastructure of health tourism in the state is not being utilised properly and its potential needs to be projected in an organised manner amidst challenges. He said that the state government would  love to be a facilitator for any meaningful project that is placed before it.

When confronted with a question on media reports indicating a rise in the crime graph in the state related to women and whether it will affect nightlife in Goa, the minister made it clear that every state has its challenges and Goa is not an exception. He said on the contrary, Goa is known for its nightlife and one should not go by media reports. He informed all that the drug menace in Goa is being tackled with an iron hand. But, he said the core of any tourism is “responsibility” and “sustainability” and every tourist should be aware of these.

Session III
The third and concluding session was on Uttarakhand, also called “Devabhoomi”. A mystical land of mountains and mythologies, exquisite landscapes and exhilarating adventure, and wellness and yoga, Uttarakhand has something to offer every traveller.

Uttarakhand’s tourism minister Satpal Maharaj, who also holds the PWD portfolio, said that the state is working on several unique ideas to enhance its tourism potential, including cruise tourism, caravan (hotels on wheels) tourism, setting up camps for budget tourists, the Pandava trail, proposed Disneylands, religious circuits, new meditation spots, developing winter tourism, further promoting skiing and activities related to skiing, bungee jumping, highlighting home stays in the state that brings tourists closer to local culture and food.

He also talked about Jyotirlinga Yatras for high-end tourists, developing wellness cities, bringing in trains in the state wherein tourists can savour the beauty of the mountains while sitting in the compartments itself, exploring wild life in the Jim Corbett Park on trains and developing ropeways.

APN’s Shweta Rai receives, from Mr Satpal Maharaj, minister of tourism of Uttarakhand, the award on behalf of the Taj Group of Hotels for Best Hospitality

Responding to apprehensions raised whether all these will become a reality in the future, the minister said that the state will provide a single window system for getting all clearances for stakeholders. He also agreed to consider wedding destination as a theme for tourism in the state when pointed out that it was not mentioned at all in his list. He also said that elevated highways have gone a long way to shorten the travel time between Mussoorie and Dehradun.

Responding on the need to develop Uttarakhand as a medical destination, the minister said that the state has several medicinal herbs which need to be popularised and preserved.

To conclude, the Conclave was able to address major issues related to the destinations mentioned above and bring in “New Horizons” for the tourism sector in India.