Tourism on Top of Agenda
Highlighting its immense tourism potential, Madhya Pradesh celebrated 2015 as ‘Visit Madhya Pradesh’ year and now the state is all set to organise the biggest religious gathering – Maha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain. Improved infrastructure and better air connectivity are catalysts to the growth of tourism, says Rao.
How did tourism fare in 2015, the year of ‘Visit Madhya Pradesh’?
Trends were quite encouraging. We organised Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart in October 2015, which got a tremendous response. It was well received. And now we are all set with the grand Simhastha Maha Kumbh mela, the biggest religious gathering in Ujjain, which is expected to result in a staggering 50 million footfall from across the world. The tourism professionals certainly stand to benefit in a major way. The idea of our chief minister to celebrate 2015 as ‘Visit Madhya Pradesh’ year was to put tourism on top of the government’s agenda. So the year was quite positive.
What is the percentage of the international and domestic tourist arrivals in Madhya Pradesh? How has been the overall growth?
It will be unfair for me to claim that footfall has suddenly increased because it does not happen overnight. The impact of our efforts was reflected in 2015 and the year witnessed as many as 65 million tourists. On an overall basis, I can tell you that the response was quite good.
How much revenue does the state get from foreign tourist arrival? How much potential do you see for foreign tourist arrival to grow in the coming years?
The number of foreign tourist arrivals in India is nearly 6.5 million and the revenue obtained by foreign tourist arrivals in India is INR 945 billion (EUR 12 billion). We expect the foreign tourist arrivals to grow by 8-10 pc in the coming years. I don’t have exact figures for Europe, but the number of international tourist arrivals in the state is 280,333.
What are the state’s strengths and focus areas in the tourism sector? How do you plan to utilise your strengths? Any plans to bring new features to MP tourism?
Madhya Pradesh is predominantly a tourist destination. We are centrally located geographically. The state’s natural assets include rivers, mountains, plateaus and forests. The destinations of historic importance include destinations like Bhimbetka, Sanchi and Khajuraho temples. The examples of medieval architecture include Orchha and Mandu forts, palaces and temples. Others include Chanderi, Datia, Dhar, Vidisha and Bhojpur. The National Parks of Madhya Pradesh include Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Panna. So one is spoilt for choice in Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier we didn’t have good infrastructure but now we have good airports and better roads. So we are actually at a stage where we can takeoff. I would say, a tourist looks for diversity. He doesn’t want to go to the same place again and again. So this is a state where you will find area, diversity and now infrastructure too. Our policy is not only to organise leisure tourism but also to make it experiential and this is very important for us.
Recently, a group of 40 from Brazil visited the state. They wanted to explore farming practices. So these are some of the innovative ways beyond our key sectors, where we are working and trying to offer a complete new experience to the tourists. We have caravan tourism, with caravans that come fully equipped with modern facilities such as Wi-fi connectivity, mini bar and TV.
Similarly, the state is specially promoting water tourism in the water bodies of the state, Tawa-Madhai and Bargi – Mandla cruises being the main attraction. The cruises take you on a beautiful ride through jungles and places of natural beauty. Also, river rafting in the Betwa River at Orchha is a popular activity amongst the adventure seekers.
How is the air connectivity in the state?
It is getting better with the time. An intra-state air service has been started by MP Tourism. With the inclusion of two Cessna Grand Caravans, the last generation full glass cockpit commuter aircraft, Madhya Pradesh has become a pioneer state to have introduced intra- state air service.
What about adequate accommodation for foreign tourists?
Our main focus is on care and comfort. The accommodation units of Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation include hotels, motels, tourist bungalows, cottages, huts, lodges, log huts, holiday homes, retreats, hostels and tourist villages. Many of these offer restaurant, bar, transport and conference facilities.
What are your plans for attracting investments in tourism?
If you look at the ‘Ease of Doing’ business report prepared by the World Bank, Madhya Pradesh occupies the number fifth rank. We know exactly why we are on this rank and it will not be too difficult to occupy the top slot in the future. You can take it from me that in the next two years, MP will be the number one state in the country on the ease of doing business index. And if the business in Madhya Pradesh is easy to do, tourism will be a natural beneficiary to it given our focussed approach.
Finally we have gathered for ITB Berlin tourism fair. How do you look at the fair for MP tourism?
In order to attract both domestic and foreign tourists, MP Tourism organises road shows to popularise destinations in the state. For international promotion, MP tourism participates in most of the tourism shows in various countries and ITB Berlin is one such platform for us.