By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
Just one look at the stats released by the Ministry of Tourism for the year 2016 says it all. Surprise, surprise, Tamil Nadu has emerged as the premium destination for both domestic and international tourists, beating the much-touted Uttar Pradesh with its Taj Mahal and other talked about destinations like Goa or Kerala by a huge margin.
How did this wonder happen and that too in a State which is mired in political problems? Well, the answer is simple. With a 45 percent share of “Medical tourism,” which by 2020 is estimated to become an 8 billion dollar industry, the increase of arrivals of both domestic and international tourists to that State is not surprising. Another feature of Tamil Nadu tourism is the month-long Music Festival at Chennai held in the month of November-December. nris come in hordes from all over the world.
One more reason for the success of tourism in TN is that private-public partnership (PPP) is actively flourishing. The well-oiled machinery does not depend on government for its support.
Where does our God’s gifted Karnataka figure in this list? In domestic travel business, we stand at the fifth spot and in international arrivals, Karnataka does not even figure in the first ten ! How is that Tamil Nadu, with its hot and humid weather, is able to attract so many tourists when Karnataka with its excellent weather and God’s gifted attractions is not able to increase its tourist footfalls? Simple, the tourism infrastructure in Karnataka like airports, roads, public toilets are woefully short of any standards. A premier tourist destination like Mysuru has one flight and that too to Chennai. Mysuru is not connected to any other destinations like Goa or Cochin. The roads are full of humps and potholes. The less I talk about toilets the better. Tourism officials are frequently transferred resulting in lack of continuity in the Department.
The so-called world famous Dasara festival has become a local Nada Habba, getting huge local crowds but where are the foreign/domestic tourists?
Times are changing and one has to change with times. There is no effort to upgrade the festival or the procession to international standards and make it short and crisp. The procession is a jamboree of sub-standard folk dancers and poor quality tableaux. International and yoga students are paraded by local officials to please the political masters, to trumpet to the world that the festival is a success. The attitude is “chal raha hai, chalne do.” The change of mindset has to come from the top if we want this premium festival to regain its original glory.
The administration of the Andaman Islands is going in for a ppp project to develop three of its islands at an estimated cost of Rs. 650 crore. Why not try to develop some islands in River Cauvery or the islands on the coast line of Mangaluru for similar projects? It will be a unique project and one can build with several eco-safeguards to protect the environment too. Why not try the same for our Brindavan Gardens which requires huge funding for its upgrade.
There are several small lesser known tourism destinations which needs to be developed and marketed like Melukote, Gopalaswamy Betta, Gaganachukki Falls, Talkad etc. Youngsters and well-heeled domestic gentry are on lookout for newer destinations and experiences.
I would like to again repeat that it is time the Royalty of Mysore be involved in the development of Mysuru. The government can start negotiating with the Royal family to become the Brand Ambassador of Mysuru and also to market the Private Durbar of the Royalty during Dasara. Royalty sells and that is why it is important that opinion makers come to Mysuru.
“Incredible India Campaign 2.0” is being marketed by the Ministry all over the world. Is Karnataka featured in that? The Minister for Tourism, during his brief interaction with the media at Mysuru indicated that Rishikesh is being considered as the yoga capital of India and not Mysuru in spite of Mysuru getting the Guinness Record last year. He also asked the organisers to edit the Mysuru video and give it to him. I am not sure if this request has been done?
The above points have been mentioned several times in my articles and may seem to be repetitive. But I have done so with the fervent hope that the powers, both political and officials, notice the problem and fix for the betterment of tourism of the city and State. Let us hope the next government in Karnataka realises the potential of tourism and actively promotes it to regain some lost business. Let us make a beginning.