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OVERCOMING THE IMPEDIMENT OF INFRASTRUCTURE

Infrastructure has long been a roadblock to the growth of tourism in India. Discussed in every forum, mooted while drafting every tourism policy and debated on every platform, although it may seem an issue addressed to death, it is far from it. With the tourism industry growing, and India welcoming more and more tourists from overseas countries and within the country, from all segments, including MICE, wellness and even niche tourism, States have reoriented its strategy to give a new push to infrastructure development.

Leading from the front, the Centre is going all way to prompt states for creating tourism infrastructure. Mahesh Sharma, Minster for Tourism and Culture (I/C) and Minister of State for Aviation recently informed Parliament that the Union government has released Rs. 2,903 crores since 2012-13 for development of tourism infrastructure in the country. The central government sanctioned Rs. 1,033.34 crores for the development of 153 tourism infrastructure projects in 2012-13, Rs. 1,664.85 crores for 226 projects in 2013-14 and Rs. 205 crores for 30 projects in current financial year, he said.

The government also sanctioned Rs. 500 crores for the creation of five new tourist circuits in the country during the current Budget. Furthermore, the Centre launched the National Heritage city Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), on a tourism budget of Rs. 200 crores and allocated Rs. 100 crores for archaeological sites’ maintenance. To boost religious tourism, they set up the national mission on pilgrimage, rejuvenation and spiritual augmentation drive (PRASAD). Development of new airports in tier I and II cities has also been on the cards in a bid to fuel tourism.

With the Centre taking giant strides to grow tourism in India so as to achieve the 1 per cent share of the global tourism pie, the States have also geared up and not lagging behind.

Kerala, for instance, has 200 simultaneous infrastructure projects in the works at the moment. Divided into approximately eight Master Plans, enveloping the major tourist destinations such as Kovalam, Kumarakom and Thekkady, among others, Kerala plans to ready their 30 year advance Master Plan to improve Kerala’s infrastructure. According to Anupama T.V, Additional Director General, Kerala Tourism, the achievement will be spread over 10-15 years, but the State has already commenced its first set of Master Plan activities.


Putting their money where their mouth is

More important than drawing up ambitious plans is the ability to walk the talk, and it has been a proud year for India with States allocating healthy financial backing to each of their projects. States such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh among others are also strengthening their tourism infrastructure.

Gujarat Government has attracted huge investment to develop tourism infrastructure in the state. Although the final figures for tourism is yet to come, it is believed that tourism alone has attracted thousands of crores of Rupees during the recently concluded Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2015. “More than 21,000 MoUs (memorandum of Understanding) have been signed during the Summit, which will usher in investments of Rs 25 lakh crores ($400 billion),” Gujarat Chief Minister said. The MoUs are for all sectors.

The Karnataka government is all set to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to develop infrastructure at tourist destinations across the state under the public-private partnership (PPP).The government recently approved the proposal of the tourism department to set up the SPV for tourism infrastructure development at an estimated cost of Rs.14,737 crores. According to a report prepared by the tourist department, the state has potential to attract a whopping Rs. 73,000 crores worth investments in tourist infrastructure development over the next 10 years, generating an additional revenue of Rs. 83,000 crores and employment to 43 lakh people by 2024.

The West Bengal Government has accorded top priority to tourism and exploring all options to develop the state as a tourist destination and attracting investment to this sector. At the Bengal Global Business Summit the State government showcased its major tourism schemes, including the hubs being developed under the PPP model in Gajoldoba, Jharkhali and Sabujdwip. The State has increased its budgetary allocation for tourism from Rs. 32 crores to Rs. 180 crores for 2014-15 and is working on developing related infrastructure.

In 2014, West Bengal Tourism identified 10-12 sites for major tourism infrastructure development, and allocated Rs. 120 crores for various projects of destination development. This included the widening of roads, electricity, water connections, etc. The tourism department has set aside Rs. 7 crores to set up tourist cottages and another Rs. 2 crores for developing youth hostel accommodation to tap that segment as well. Another Rs. 100 crores was allocated to for the creation of critical infrastructure such as roads, electricity, drinking water, and so on in Jharkhali.

According to Anupama, every Financial Year, Kerala Tourism utilises 90 per cent of their allocated funds in infrastructure projects, making it among the top performing departments year on year. This, she added, encourages them to expect a similarly healthy Budget allocation every year. “Last year we got an allocation of Rs. 210 crores, of which Rs. 45 crores was used in marketing, Rs. 10 crores in marketing plus infrastructure development, and the remainder for infrastructure. We also have additional agencies that take on development projects and utilise our funds for it,” she revealed.


The best laid plans

Each State has mapped out its focus areas in terms of development for tourism growth. Bihar, for one, plans to focus on developing theme parks, adventure tourism, world-class sound and light shows, at strategic destinations. All of this will be incentivised through the State’s new tourism policy. The State has also begun development activities in various destinations that they believe are of importance to Buddhism in a bid to develop the Buddhist Circuit in the State.

Odisha, which welcomed about 10,000 visitors to the Buddhist Circuits in the State, are keen for the Centre to include these in their HRIDAY and PRASAD plans. Furthermore, Ashok Chandra Panda, Minister of Tourism & Culture, Odisha stressed the need for better air connectivity to the State, suggesting the emulation of the air-taxi service of Madhya Pradesh to the same end.

Anupama is of the opinion that no infrastructure can be categorised as tourism infrastructure, as all development gradually aids tourism as well. “Each State has a PWD department which develops roads, which also helps tourism, so you cannot draw a divide and chalk out what is the focused tourism infrastructure. Our projects include every facet of development, a few under PPP, but a majority by the State government,” she said.

Chhattisgarh’s focus for the year is to highlight Sirpur. Speaking at the launch of Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival 2015, Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh proclaimed that the Chhattisgarh government will strive to bring back the lost glory of Sirpur. “I will push for a new tourist circuit, with Sirpur at the epicenter that will make the region one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the country. For the same reason, I announce the setting up of a Special Area Development Authority (SADA),” he stated.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh earlier announced 2015 as Year of Tourism during which the tourism industry would be promoted. The State is also inviting private investment to develop tourism infrastructure.

Even Bihar, which has not been focused on tourism, is giving top priority to tourism infrastructure development. “We are looking to develop theme parks, adventure tourism, world-class sound and light shows, at strategic destinations, which will be adequately incentivised through our new tourism policy. It will also facilitate the private sector’s investments into various hospitality projects and make available land at select locations through a land bank,” Deepak Prasad, Principal Secretary, Department of Tourism, Bihar, said at SATTE 2015.

Tamil Nadu government has allocated Rs. 10,300 crores for the development of tourism infrastructure in the state with a target to attract 1.5 crores foreign tourists by 2023.


Roadblocks

Every project, big or small, faces its set of challenges. And infrastructure development in a country as diverse in culture, behaviour, weather and people as India, is no mean task. From government bottlenecks and lack of single window clearance for projects, to unavailability of funds and bad weather, the States brave them all in a bid to improve their infrastructure offerings for tourism.

Kerala faces the challenge of heavy monsoons, reducing its civil construction period to eight months of construction in a year vis a vis the 10 months of construction other States enjoy. As a result, any project undertaken during the year faces the threat of spilling over into the following year, a situation that is unavoidable, Anupama lamented.

Two of the deepest calamities to hit India, the floods in Uttarakhand followed by the floods in Jammu and Kashmir, also majorly hampered infrastructure and the development of the same. In an attempt to bounce back, recognising tourism as a major industry in both States, the Centre allocated generous Budgets to both States for rebuilding amenities.

With MICE gaining impetus in the world, and India contributing a sizeable chunk (the segment growing approximately 20 per cent year on year) to outbound MICE movement, questions were raised as to why this segment was only benefiting international venues. The answer was simple. India lacks the infrastructure to hold events at par with global standards. As a result, the country is losing this important facet of business to its neighbouring countries that have the amenities to cater to the segment. Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand etc. are all destinations that are popular in the Indian market, easy on the pocket and enjoy close proximity to India, points that are to their advantage over and above the availability of the required and demanded MICE space and facilities.

Barring Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, whose structure is now archaic to say the least, the infrastructure available is limited to private venues run by hotels, which lack the capacity to hold the large numbers events such as exhibitions and conferences draw.


Making an effort

Listing the challenges is not to say that the Centre, States and even the private sector have not been making an effort to fill the void of infrastructure. Sharma is keeping a close tab on the infrastructural work for their timely completion. In a review meeting in his ministry, the Minister insisted that time-lines must be maintained at any cost during the implementation of the schemes and there should be close monitoring by the officers of the Ministry of Tourism. He also directed that land clearances and other statutory approvals must be obtained in a timely manner to avoid any litigation or complication at a later stage to avoid inordinate delays.

Referring to the tourist circuits from the Himalayan and North Eastern region, Sharma said that several requests have been received from these states that more time should be kept for them for implementing schemes due to the difficult conditions in these states. He further instructed that the same should be kept in mind while deciding timelines for such states.

Anupama listed hospitality as an advantage in Kerala owing to the healthy relationship the State shares with the private sector in the region. “Initial development for any hospitality infrastructure required is always taken care of by the private partners. Furthermore, we have the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation which provides both budget and premium accommodation options under the tourism department, giving the sector a major thrust,” she opined.

The Centre and States have also realised the importance of the MICE segment and have, over the last few years, begun to chalk out a revamp of existing facilities and addition of new structures. During his term as Tourism Minister, K. Chiranjeevi sought the Finance Ministry’s help in setting up of six MICE centres in the country. The India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) which runs Pragati Maidan is mooting an expansion in a bid to make the establishment an exhibition centre-cum-convention complex.

States including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and a few others have laid out plans to develop their own convention centres to tap some of this burgeoning segment.

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