By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
My morning newspaper today says that our State Budget does not have much funds earmarked to boost tourism except for a very modest allocation to promote it in the North and the Coastal belt. Yes, the Northern reaches of our State do have some of the finest places of tourist interest worth promoting which have not received much attention by way of improved amenities and access so far. The news that Sudha Murty of Infosys Foundation has been appointed as the Chairperson of our Tourism Task Force comes like a breath of very fresh air.
Being a much travelled person and a lady with much concern for the well-being of our State and our environment, I feel she is eminently qualified to counsel our Government about what is right and what is wrong with the way we have been handling or rather mishandling the rich tourism potential of our State. I’m sure that if our Government starts following her advice instead of just listening to it with deaf ears we may be able to showcase our State better and even earn much revenue from it instead of experimenting with outlandish and unfruitful schemes.
Talking of outlandish schemes, about a month ago there was this news about our Government seriously considering the idea of starting gambling casinos of the Las Vegas kind in our State to promote tourism and generate income for itself. The report said that this would effectively counter the attraction that our neighbouring State of Goa now holds for tourists which is where the nearest casinos are located. This idea was attributed to our Tourism Minister C.T. Ravi by a loud voice from within his own Ministry.
But very soon the Minister, who incidentally hails from my own little village of Aldur, nestled atop the Western Ghats in the heart of Chikmagalur District, thankfully distanced himself from it and announced that it was only a proposal that he had received from someone somewhere. But this news certainly jarred my sensibilities because if it did have an element of truth in it, it only meant that our Government was so blind to what our State had by way of its natural beauty, heritage, history and rich culture that it was thinking of earning money by encouraging people from across the world to come here to win or lose it by State-sponsored gambling. And, this was a Government generated proposal after better sense had prevailed just a few years ago which led to the banning of all kinds of lotteries which were till then bleeding our masses and ruining homes en masse.
Although it was clarified that our proposed casinos would be open only to foreigners to prevent any adverse impact on the financial health of locals, do you think that it is right to rob Peter to pay Paul even if Peter happens to be an outsider? I think not. The principle of propriety should apply uniformly to all concerned if we consider ourselves the upholders of natural justice. When we can take pride in the fact that our State is in no way inferior to any other State in the country when it comes to what we can proudly showcase to our tourists, where is the need for us to harbour any inferiority complex about how good we are as hosts to them?
Every tiny nook and corner of our State has something of interest to practically every kind of tourist. We have attractions for the naturalists, the culture hunters, the history buffs, the archaeologists, the anthropologists, the health freaks, the Nirvana seekers and the plain drifters who just want to ogle in amazement at what is happening on the street they are walking on at any given moment! Yes, you name it and we have it!
Then why do we need to feel a little ashamed of all that we already have and therefore think of inventing new and some certainly very seedy ways of attracting tourists? Does it not amount to admitting that what we have is just not enough? I feel that instead of resorting to all such obviously shameful measures if we just undertake a soul-searching exercise to understand what we are doing wrong when it comes to tourism we will certainly understand our lapses. Yes, there is much that we are doing wrong and it is only when we begin to see our faults that we can also begin to correct them.
Not many of our tourist attractions are connected by good and well-maintained roads all through the year. For instance, the roads that lead to our so-called monsoon destinations are in a shambles right in the middle of our monsoon! The quaint, hidden nuggets that can become a goldmine for our State continue to remain off our tourism maps and brochures. Even the most well-known and, therefore, most frequented tourist spots suffer from a dismal lack of really clean and well-maintained civic amenities.
I will not be wrong if I say that the rarest thing in our State is a really clean public toilet when in fact that is the first thing that any tourist looks for as soon as he or she reaches his or her destination! It is only when this need is fully and fairly met that they can focus their eyes on what they have really come to see. And, when this need is not met they will only depart in disgust!
Providing good and clean amenities is not a difficult accomplishment if our Tourism Ministry minds and makes it a priority issue. The comfort level is what attracts tourists to any place, small or big. Most of us naturally prefer to visit places which are clean, comfortable and easily accessible. These are the main attributes that determine re-visits which make up more than a third of the footfalls to any place.
I have myself come away from some very beautiful and attractive tourist spots with the determination never to go back there because I was badly deterred by the poor upkeep of those places. Most of our popular tourist spots have become dens of touts and dishonest traders who swindle unsuspecting tourists more than any casino can! So instead of establishing casinos we would do well to pull up our act and clean up our stables first!
e-mail: [email protected]