India as a tourism destination is a rich melting pot of unique and diverse experiences for any traveller. Its plethora of tourism products and offerings is enough to satisfy the needs of even the most discerning traveller. Each of the 28 states has its own USP, but for a traveller wishing many diverse experiences, it is often necessary for them to visit different states. This poses quite a problem for a tour operator as issues like inadequate connectivity, accommodation, ministry regulations, costs and taxes all invariably creep up, and in most cases, threaten to ruin the whole travel experience. By himself, a travel and tour operator can do little or nothing about such problems, but if state ministries put their heads together, it is possible to eliminate most issues by way of a simple tie—up.
Issues and complexities regarding inter-state travel would easily disappear if the Ministry of Tourism and the State Tourism Departments work on a joint strategy to share a single platform to promote tourism and tourism-related activities. In the past, some states have attempted to plan and implement similar initiatives by signing Memorandums-of-Understanding (MoU) to jointly promote tourism activities. For instance, the ‘Seven Sister States’ from the country’s North Eastern Region is one of the oldest and best examples of collective effort to promote a region’s tourism products. Haryana, Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh had also joined hands in 2008 to jointly promote North India’s tourist destinations and circuits. The states also decided to jointly participate in major international and national tourism events like WTM London, ITB Berlin and SATTE - New Delhi. Other such examples include Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh announcing their decision to increase tourist arrivals through an MoU.West Coast circuit in the making
These states have set an example for others to follow. If one analyses the opportunities, an attempt at joining hands to promote tourism could be made by the states lying along the West Coast of India, which comprise of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. Each of these states have a mixed bag of unique tourism products and destinations to attract cultural, religious, heritage, adventure, leisure and even MICE tourists. The vast 3,300 KM long coastline that extends right from Gujarat to the southern tip of Kerala can be termed as the biggest USP that the region has. The coastline even offers state tourism boards an opportunity to encourage tour operators and travel agents to promote niche tourism segments such as Beach and Cruise Tourism. Also, it cannot be neglected that the Western Region is blessed with major entry and exit points such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Panjim, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. Such entry/exit points can do wonders for a state as it facilitates inbound arrivals.
Noting the possibilities, Goa took the first step in this direction in 2010 when it organised the Goa International Travel Mart and brought in top heads from other respective states to discuss and finalise its plan to collectively promote tourism along the Western Coast of India. Goa also signed up with states such as Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, Sikkim and Meghalaya to promote inter-state tourism. With the second edition of the Goa International Travel Mart 2011 here, the stage is once again set to carry the initiative forward.
Shyam Satardekar, Chairman, GTDC said, “Goa International Travel Mart 2011 will be a big opportunity for all states to come under one roof and discuss the possibilities for boosting the West Coast circuit. The idea of coming together to promote the whole of the Western Region is viable, as all these states are blessed with a vast coastline which could be used to promote Cruise Tourism. Earlier, we had signed an MoU with Karnataka for jointly promoting tourism. Around the same time, we also forwarded MoUs to other states, but not many showed much interest. Therefore, discussing this at GITM with the Chairmen and Managing Directors of other states will definitely pave the way for creating a West Coast Tourism circuit.”
But is the concept of so many states sharing a single platform feasible? Jay Bhatia, Chairman, TAAI – Western Region, felt that the idea is not only feasible, but is also a necessity for the five states. “India Tourism should take an initiative and direct the state tourism boards to come up and support the development and promotion of activities on the Coastal belt. A council of private players in the tourism sector should be set-up along with officials from the tourism ministries and departments,” he stated.
Shubhada Joshi, Director, Girikand Travels said, “If there is a chain of destinations coming together, it has always done wonders for the region. Bangkok, Singapore and Malaysia could be the best example for this, as they belong to South East Asian countries and have put in much effort to promote themselves in India, and now one can easily notify that these short-haul destinations have become the favourite among Indian tourists.”States’ Offerings
Kerala and Karnataka both offer a large variety of tourism products and destinations for national and international tourists. Kerala offers Ayurveda, Backwater, Spa and Wellness, Beach and Pilgrimage Tourism products; while Karnataka primarily offers heritage sites like Hampi, soft adventures activities, hill stations, rich wildlife and beaches.
Maharashtra attracts tourists with its forts, beaches, heritage sites, wildlife sanctuaries, adventure activities and pilgrimage destinations. The state is home to many famous historical and religious architectural sites. Maharashtra even has Wildlife sanctuaries such as Melghat, Tadoba, Bandhavgarh and Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai beside its famous hill stations such as Mahableshwar, Lonavala-Khandala, Panshet, Panchgani, etc.
Maharashtra and Karnataka can float packages for Adventure and Leisure Tourism as both have many wildlife sanctuaries and leisure facilities. Karnataka for instance, has 18 wildlife sanctuaries including famous ones such as the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, Anshi National Park, and the Bannerghatta National Park. Much of these virgin sanctuaries can be promoted through the joint promotion initiative.
According to Vishwanatha Reddy, Director - Tourism, Kerala, “Both South Indian states could promote some of their tourism circuits jointly, the Malabar circuit, for instance. However, I also believe that the idea of promoting Kerala and Karnataka together is not good because both Kerala and Karnataka have different tourism products and destinations. Each state has its own unique selling points (USPs), and that is why I feel better a marketing strategy would be to promote tourism segments in each state separately at targeted markets. He further added that Kerala and Karnataka could promote some of their mega-tourism circuits together”
If the states decide to go ahead with the plan to jointly promote tourism along the West Coast, there are not many issues to overcome. Connectivity certainly is not a big constraint in this region as there is lots of inter-state movement. Every major airline has flights to or from various entry/exit points in each of the states. Besides this, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka also have luxury trains on which the state tourism boards can bank on. These luxury trains hold the potential to bring in a lot of tourists. Trains run by the Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) are also quite important as they already connect most of these states and can attract budget tourists too.West ‘Cost’ factor
However, there are several challenges that the state governments will face if they decide to go ahead with the plan. For instance, selling the region’s biggest USP, Beach and Coastal Tourism, would pose quite a problem, as except Goa and Kerala, all the other states face a lot of constraints due to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) guidelines of the Tourism Ministry. Further, inter-state taxes also increase package costs. State governments could come up with some strategies to lower taxes as money is a major hurdle for the budget tourist.
Listing some of the challenges that could come up, Joshi said, “The only constraint for linking these states together is infrastructure such as roads and good accommodation facilities. The government should look into the various taxes which tourists pay while moving from one to another state. Inter-state taxes are costly and since they eventually affect tourists, they should either be reduced or done away with.”
“If there is a plan for cooperation or a combined strategy for promoting states together, state governments should look into eliminating the inter-state tax system. Because inter-state taxes are one of the major costs included in any tourist package, this should be reduced at least, if not abolished,” agreed Prashanth Shenoy, Branch Manager, Dravidian Trails.
“There are not as many challenges as there are opportunities to promote this region. One can promote joint itineraries based on themes such as pilgrim, beach, wildlife, heritage, eco-tours, etc. There is also a possibility for common itineraries encompassing more than one state for experiencing the highlights of each state. A joint tourism body should be set up with joint-budget allocation. It should have offices across India and abroad to promote the entire West Coast region for its tourism potential,” stated Bhavin Shah, Chairman – Gujarat Chapter, TAFI.
(With inputs from Anish V Punnackattu)
- Cruise itinerary covering Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. Smaller itineraries can also be designed by covering two to three states by rail, road or sea. Major destination which can be covered could be from Jamnagar (Industrial, Dwarka temple and marine sanctuary), Veraval (Somnath temple, Chorwad beach and Gir forest with the Asian lion), Kandla (port and free trade zone, white desert, Dhola Vira civilization, handicrafts), Bhavnagar (Alang ship breaking yard) Daman & Diu (beach), Surat (Diamond trade), Khambhat (culture). Mumbai, Ganapatipule, Alibag, Goa, Karnataka, Cochin, Thiruvananthapuram, Kovalam, Alleppy, Kanyakumari.
- Kutch-Mandvi, Jamnagar, Dwarka, Porbandar, Daman & Dui, even the Gir forests, Gulf of Khambat, Valsad, Vapi, Mumbai, Kashid, Murud, Alibaug, Ganpatiphule, Harihareshwar, Bhandarwada, Ratnagiri, Malvan, Chiplun, Jaigardh, Vijaydurg, Goa, Karvaar, Kasarkod, Gokarna, Udipi, Mangalore, Kasaragod, Bekal, Calicut, Kadalundi, Kochi, Wellington, Kumarakom, Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram, Poovar and Kanyakumari are other prominent places from GMGKK which can be connected and sell to the customers.