The Appeal of Offbeat Locales

By Swarnendu Biswas

India is a land of awesome tourism potential, which is manifested through its myriad natural splendours, known and lesser known historical legacies, and fascinating wildlife and adventure tourism options. However, it is true that a great deal of India’s tourism potential is still relatively much less explored by the tourists at large.

This is one of the many reasons why India’s figures for both domestic and inbound tourists reflect a story of huge untapped potential. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the foreign tourist arrivals in India during 2014 were 76.79 lakh, which increased to 80.27 lakh in 2015. About 88.90 lakh foreign tourists arrived in India during 2016.

Untapped Potential

Here it deserves a mention that as per the UNWTO definition, international tourist Arrivals (ITAs) comprises two components; namely foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) and arrivals of non-resident nationals. The UNWTO in its barometer ranks countries in terms of their ITAs. So far only the figures of FTAs were compiled in India. However, now India has started compiling the data arrivals of non-resident Indians (NRIs) also. 

According to the Ministry of Tourism’s press release, the number of NRI arrivals during 2014 and 2015 were 5.43 million and 5.26 million, respectively. Accordingly, the numbers of ITAs in India during 2014 and 2015 were 13.11 million and 13.28 million, respectively.

This is disappointing as compared to the international tourist arrivals in countries like France, the US or the Spain. According to World Tourism rankings, compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as part of their World Tourism Barometer publication, during 2016, the international tourist arrivals in France were 82.6 million, and the international tourist arrivals during 2016 in the US were 75.6 million.  According to the same source, Spain attracted 75.6 million international tourist arrivals during 2016 and China attracted 59.3 million international tourist arrivals during the same year. 

According to the same source, in 2015, the international tourist arrivals in France was 84.5 million, the international tourist arrivals in the US, Spain and China during 2015 were 77.5 million, 68.5 million and 56.9 million respectively. 

The domestic tourism figures of India are also not much better. According to the Ministry of Tourism, during 2016, the number of domestic tourist visits to the states/ UTs was 1653 million (provisional) as compared to 1432 million in 2015, registering a growth of 15.5 percent.

Like millions of others, I too don’t think India’s natural splendours or historical legacies are anyway less than that of France or the US or China, but why is our country getting so less number of international tourists as compared to its awesome tourism potential ? 

There are several reasons behind this not so encouraging tourism statistics of India which we have had discussed in this magazine before, but one of the reasons can be the fact that we are not giving adequate promotion to many of our ethereal but relatively unknown tourist worthy places among our domestic and international tourists and also among our outbound tourists.

By giving adequate promotion to these offbeat tourist locales in the right channels and through the right initiatives can give a huge fillip to India’s tourism and hospitality industry, both in terms of revenues and recognition.

Less Explored Wonders

India has an impressive array of tourist locales which deserve more recognition. One can enjoy azure blue sea with exploration of spirituality at the coastal town of Ganapatipule in Maharashtra, located just 375 km south from Mumbai; one can visit monasteries and marvel at the serene natural beauty in the hilly town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh; one can enjoy adventure sports at Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh; one can savour an ethereal sunrise at Ponmudi in Kerala along with the town’s tea plantations, lush green hills, streams and waterfalls; one can seep in the wild beauty of Sunderbans in West Bengal; one can introspect on the neo-Vaishnavite cultural legacy, get acquainted with the fascinating biodiversity and get impressed by the vast beauty of Brahmaputra in Majuli — the largest fresh water mid-river deltaic island in the world. In fact, there are huge numbers of offbeat and yet relatively less crowded tourist options in India, waiting to be explored by our hospitality industry in a more vigorous manner.

Digha, a scenic sea side town located 187 km away from Kolkata, where the Bay of Bengal can be seen at one of its turbulent best forms; Khajjiar, located just 23 km from Dalhousie by road where the greenery and serenity can parallel that of Switzerland and where one can also indulge in paragliding, horse riding or trekking; Kasol in Himachal Pradesh with its unspoilt charm of the quiet snow capped mountains, Halebidu in Karnataka with its romance of the ruins of the Hoysala architecture, the 30,000 old rock paintings at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh which presents the first reflection of human life on the Indian sub-continent… India has many enigmas to explore for over a lifetime. These offbeat destinations need to be more creatively promoted not only by the state governments and the Union Government but also by the concerted efforts of our hospitality industry.

These and many other lesser known but fascinating tourist destinations should be creatively marketed to generate awareness among tourists about them, and these marketing endeavours should be supplemented with more high-end hotels and resorts with state-of-the-art banqueting and MICE facilities, better roads and transportation facilities, and sprucing of other facets of hospitality infrastructure, in these offbeat locales of India.

For example, the only linkage of Majuli with the outside world is through a ferry service from Jorhat which operates six times a day. The introduction of a helicopter service from Jorhat to Majuli, with aerial view of the mighty Brahamputra can greatly enhance Majuli’s demand  among many well-heeled NRI and other inbound tourists. In this regard, the current Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal’s recent initiative to develop Majuli as India’s first carbon-neutral district and Assam’s first biodiversity heritage site is nothing short of praiseworthy.

These offbeat tourist locales of India should not only be promoted among our domestic and inbound tourists but also among our potentially outbound tourists. If the travels of many of our habitual or potential outbound leisure travellers can be directed towards domestic destinations, they can significantly increase the revenues of our tourism and hospitality industry. As the outbound leisure travellers from India are likely to be have more than decent disposable incomes, they are likely to spend healthy amounts on India’s tourism and hospitality industry, if their travel options are directed towards domestic destinations more frequently than before.

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