New Delhi: The Northeast clocked 7.7 million domestic and 160,000 foreign tourist arrivals in the past few years, according to government sources. There are plans to double the rate of tourist arrivals from the present 5.2%. Sanjay Basu, chairman, Adventure, Resorts & Cruises (ARC) Pvt Ltd, and executive committee member, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), feels that a coordinated promotion strategy is required of the eight states in the region in order to achieve that target. ARC has pioneered luxury cruises on the mighty Brahmaputra.
Here are some excerpts from an exclusive interview with Basu:
EastMojo: You have stated that Northeast is “the next great frontier for the Indian tourism industry”. What makes you so confident about the region’s potential?
Sanjay Basu: The north and south have had some exposure to tourism in the last 40 years. But northeast is a region which relatively had little exposure and offers a lot of attractions like mountains, jungles, wildlife, rivers, tribal cultures, textiles, festivals, tea and so on. All these attractions make it into a large-scale destination with the potential to rise up and become the new frontier of Indian tourism.
EM: But then there is this problem of perception; people in the rest of India and overseas continue to see the Northeast as a hotspot. How can that be best changed?
SB: Undoubtedly, the perception has to be changed. First and foremost is that the government must declare Northeastern states where peace has descended as not disturbed. Once that happens, then tourism will flow in more freely. Once tourist arrivals begin, political disturbances tend to subside. Take Kerala for instance. The state used to be known for strikes and bandhs (work stoppages). Today, bandhs are no longer successful in Kerala because the state’s population is so deeply embedded in tourism that they don’t want a single day of tourism activity to be wasted. So, tourism is one of the biggest game-changers if you wish to win the people over and get them away from political strife. It’s an industry where the end-consumer and the end-service provider work together. Be it the drivers, guides, staff in hotels, etc, they tend to be one-on-one with the tourist. Moreover, being an industry of smiles it helps to overcome all the negative or disruptive energies.
EastMojo: As one of the pioneers of luxury cruises in the Northeast, what are some of the impediments or challenges that a new entrepreneur who wishes to enter the tourism business in the region might face?
SB: When we started, navigation was a big problem but it’s since been mitigated. The perception about the place being disturbed is another major impediment. Connectivity too remains a serious issue. Amenities on highways need to be enhanced. And, along with all that, it is very important for publicity to happen on a mega-scale for money invested in marketing is money that is invested in the future of the region. And that really needs to be done on a massive scale.
EM: Do you find the governments of the seven states in the region working proactively for tourism promotion?
SB: They are sincere, they want to do it and they are trying to do it. But they also need a lot of guidance as well as work in a coordinated manner. By undertaking promotional activities individually, the states won’t be able to make much of an impact. Therefore, the entire region has to act together to attract tourists. Wildlife, rivers, cruises, mountains and culture, these are all part and parcel of the attractions of the Northeast. And each state needs to develop the assets they have and then put them together as well-organised circuits at the regional level with seamless end-to-end infrastructure and service firmly in place.
EM: Lately, a very interesting suggestion has been made to develop the checkpoint at Nathu La Pass along the lines of the Wagah border in Punjab for tourism. What is your own take on this?
SB: And why not? The Tawang Valley is another example with the Indo-China border there. The stories of the valour shown during the battles of the 1962 India-China conflict are recounted to this day. Then along the border with Myanmar, there are memorials commemorating the battles fought during the World War II. Therefore, the whole area can be developed into a destination for war memorials just as has been done at the Wagah border. That’s one segment of tourism. Similarly, there are other segments that can also be explored. For above everything else, there is tremendous scope for the development of natural history and natural heritage tourism.
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