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Bihar takes Buddhist route to draw tourists to the state

Mihir Kumar Singh, Tourism Secretary of Bihar, talks about the initiatives taken by the Department to promote tourism to the state

What initiatives has Bihar government taken to promote Buddhist tourism?

We have a wide range of products but the most important is the Buddhism. We have Buddhist places like Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir and Viashali among others. We already have a high international visitor market. This enables us to capture the 500-700 million strong Buddhist overseas markets in China, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and other countries having followers of Buddhism. Moreover, we are closer to Sarnath in UP and Kushinagar and Lumbini in Nepal, hence, there is a greater possibility developing an integrated Buddhist circuit that will draw Buddhist traffic from across the world. We are already holding various Buddhist Conclaves and meetings. Moreover, we already have number of other initiatives such as gathering of religious heads. Dalai Lama and Karmapa among others visit Bodh Gaya every year.

What arrival numbers did Bihar register in the year 2012?

The number of domestic and the foreign tourists visiting Bihar has increased. In 2011, 18 million domestic and 0.92 million foreign tourists had visited Bihar, which has increased to 21million and 1.1 million respectively. We are expecting 20 per cent growth in arrivals in 2013.

What is the tourism budget allocated for 2013-14?

We have Rs 106 crores from the State Plan and Rs 112 crores from the Central Government. We are also expecting around Rs 100 crores for Nalanda. Our Chief Minister has said that Budget will not be a constraint.

Bihar government has been trying to woo airlines to start operations from Gaya. What is latest development on this front?

We already have air connectivity to Gaya during season as Thai Airways, Druk Air and Mihin Lanka offer their services to Gaya. We are in dialogue with various Indian carriers to launch their services to Gaya. Once airlines approach us, we will see what sort of incentives we can offer to them. We have requested Civil Aviation Ministry to look into the matter. As far as charter services to Buddhist destinations are concerned, these places do not have airports. Charter flights are already operating between Patna and Purnea. Moreover, airlines also think of financial viability of the operations.

What is the marketing plan for overseas?

For the promotion in overseas markets, the Govt. of India, the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh and the Govt. of Bihar are entering into a dialogue with International Finance Corporation to promote Buddhist places in South East Asian markets. The concentrated effort is going on and finally we are trying to evolve a strategy so that we can do roadshows in these markets. We are also exploring possibility for airlines to come to Gaya. Apart from Buddhism, we have important religious sites for Hinduism, Jainism and Sikkhism and we are highlighting this in the overseas markets.

What initiatives have you taken on the infrastructure front?

To facilitate smooth drive to tourists upto Bodhgaya from Patna, construction of the four-lane Patna-Gaya-Dobhi road will start soon. After this road is completed, it would take only one and a half hours to reach Bodhgaya from Patna.

In order to provide reasonable standards to visitors, we are giving hotels and motels a subsidy of Rs 5 lakhs so that they can upgrade their infrastructure and offer good services. We are also developing public conveniences to offer quality facility to visitors. We are also trying to evolve a PPP policy to invite private investment in hospitality industry.

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