A critical look at the tourism industry in India over the past few years will reveal some intriguing details. Northeast India has now become a hot zone for many tourists as a result of the infrastructural upgrade in many relaxation centres across the region. According to a report, the tourism sector recorded an 18% increase in tourist visits in 2019 alone. Despite the pandemic, those numbers are expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
Speaking during the December 2020 North East Festival, in Guwahati, Union Minister Jitendra Singh expressed optimism that the region’s tourism sector has the potential to fast track economic recovery when the world overcomes the pandemic. Alluding to the largely pandemic-free status of North East India, Singh said tourists will find the region’s amazing cities as a preferred alternative to other tourist destinations in Europe and other parts of the world. Singh’s views also give credence to those of Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma who, months before, had pointed out the tourism opportunity presented by the over 26 million outbound Indian tourists who would seek local options due to the international travel ban.
Northeast tourism is experiencing enormous growth. The different governments of the states in the region have begun establishing global standard tourist centres all around the region to attract even more tourists.
The infrastructural revolution that these governments have begun is not the only reason for the growth in the industry, as certain entrepreneurs in the tourism sector have taken up the challenge, and are playing pivotal roles in ensuring they redefine tourism in the region. Prabahan Puzari is a lecturer at Blue Whale Academy and an entrepreneur. He founded Wildberry Holidays, which is one of the renowned tourism agencies in Assam. Although the pandemic lockdown negatively affected many businesses in the industry, Prabahan’s Wildberry was one of the few that survived and is still thriving. Prabahan has played a great role in promoting tourism by consistently showcasing popular tourist centres and hidden gems scattered across the region.
Not minding the competitiveness of the travel industry in Assam, Prabahan launched his company intending to alter the status quo. He has a firm belief in striving to succeed wherever one finds themselves and irrespective of the competition in that field. “Competition helps a person to remain active and try to do far better in the future. If there is no competition, our life will become stagnant. The travel and tourism industry represents the entire country and everyone working in the travel business has a dream to represent their country and state on a much bigger platform,” he says.
The key to his success he admits is being different from the herd and standing out. On how he was able to achieve this seemingly daunting task, he says, “It’s not only a venture, it’s my passion and hobby. We do tourism with a target of fulfilling people’s dreams so that everyone can afford to travel and explore new places. When you approach a business this way; to solve a problem and satisfy people’s needs, you’re bound to succeed.”
Behind every successful and driven entrepreneur is a dedicated and competent team. Prabahan highlights the importance of every member of his team that has been with him every step of the way. “As of now, I and my wife Srilekha Bhattacharjee run the venture. My parents are the biggest support. We have good car deals and expert drivers for Assam and Northeast India tours. There’re also other people we are working with; because we believe in ‘unity is strength’. They are like our family and we work towards the same goal – to provide the best services to tourists visiting our Northeast”.
Speaking on his commendable accomplishments despite the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, he highlights his approach to the situation as one of the reasons for his success. Prabahan, who represented ‘Cultural Tourism of Assam’ at World Tourism Conference 2019, in Hyderabad, and was the only person from Assam who got the opportunity to be a part of it says, “COVID-19 has changed the entire scenario of the world’s tourism industry. It became completely zero. Now, slowly, we are reviving the industry. I was very much positive during the lockdown period as I knew that tourism was not over and people will start to travel again as soon as the situation got better. We did many webinars and online meetings with various tourism stakeholders in Assam and the rest of India.
“I thought, first we have to revive the tourism sector through local-level tourism. So, I started to strengthen my relationship with the administration and local people of Assam to boost tourism within the state. I have visited Kaliabor, Kaziranga, Manas, Majuli, Dehing-Patkai and many places to re-introduce the tourism packages and deals after the lockdown period. I started the local tours in November 2020 with this initiative called ‘O Mur Apunar Dex’ and we got tremendous responses and support from the people of Assam,” he adds.
Sharing some inputs on the current progress that the tourism industry in the region is seeing, Prabahan mentions, “Northeast Tourism has seen great progress. If I have to talk about Assam, our ‘Awesome Assam’ campaign did very well; a global star like Priyanka Chopra Jonas is the brand ambassador of Assam tourism. That’s no mean feat! Flight and train connectivity improved a lot within Northeast, roads are being developed, direct flights from Guwahati to major cities across the country have been introduced, organised Assam Tourism Roadshows in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Goa, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai etc.
“However I also believe we have to work harder as we have just woke up from the dark days. We have to think of infrastructure and connectivity development in every corner of Northeast India. Safety and security are of utmost importance in the tourism industry. The government of Assam and other North-East states should introduce Tourist Security Forces (TSF) for smooth movement of tourists within the region. Lastly, people have to stop following ‘bandh’ (strikes) which is a huge disadvantage for our industry,” he adds.
Prabahan is poised to show the true beauty and tell the true story of Northeast India to people around the world. With significant success already and an impressive run so far, there are a lot more ideas and upcoming innovative projects he plans to launch under the Wildberry Holidays umbrella that will further take tourism in Northeast India to the next level.