Tourism in Odisha : All set for take off

J K Mohanty J K Mohanty

The recently held 3rd edition of the Odisha Tourism Conclave organised by Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha (HRAO) supported by Government of Odisha, at Swosti Premium, Bhubaneswar, witnessed a meeting of minds to relook, redefine, learn and unlearn policies and programmes that can get Odisha on a path of tourism progress

Odisha is a state waiting in the wings to offer its tourism wealth to the world. The department of tourism along with the private sector is working toward a mission to give Odisha the tourism positioning it deserves. However, the team is also looking at a focused and prudent approach to send out the right message about the state’s tourism potential. The Odisha Tourism Conclave, which was inaugurated by Professor Ganeshi Lalji, governor of Odisha, along with other dignitaries namely Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, MP; Asit Kumar Tripathy, addl chief secretary, Home Dept; Vishal Dev, commissioner-cum-secretary (Tourism & Sports); Nitin Jawale, director tourism, Government of Odisha and other industry thought leaders was aimed at addressing the challenges and the tough questions on what should be the best way forward toward a tourism awakening in the state.

Nitin jawale

Nitin jawale

The keynote address was given by J K Mohanty, MHCIMA, chairman, HRAO & IATO, eastern region, member State Tourism Promotion Council & Tourism Advisory Committee, Govt. of Odisha. He spoke about the challenges, bottlenecks and the way forward for the state to achieve it’s much deserving tourism success story. Team HRAO stated that during the 1st Tourism Conclave they were thankful to the Government of Odisha for accepting their recommendations and incorporating the same in the new Tourism Policy 2016. During the 2nd Odisha Tourism Conclave, recommendations, such as creation of the land bank for tourism projects in all tourist locations, relaxations in the norms of foreign tourists visit to the tribal areas, more advertisements in the national and international television networks, more thrust on eco tourism, more international air connectivity, opening up of airports at Rourkela, Jharsuguda and Jeypore were taken seriously by the government. So much work is yet to be done to achieve the tourism dream as some of the key issues are yet to be resolved. For instance, changes in the guidelines for approval of hotels under the (planning & development authorities) PKDA and the Amnesty Scheme, making fire safety rules implementable through alternate modern technologies, cleanliness of the beaches at Gopalpur, Puri and Chandipur, cleanliness around the temples and other cultural heritage sites, providing adequate hygienic toilet facilities near the cultural sites, and other unresolved issues.

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The conclave had experts on the panel to brainstorm from various sectors such as airlines, tour operators, eco tourism sector, tourists’ safety, branding, marketing tourism as a product, media professionals to suggest the apt formula that can reduce the tourism bottlenecks in the state. The recommendations were then compiled and presented to the government for consideration. The main focus of the conclave was to suggest an action plan recommended by experts for a long term and short term approach for increasing tourist footfalls to the state.

hrao

The conclave touched upon a wide range of topics, such as identifying the right brand campaign and logo for the state, security and safety concerns, promoting the state with its neighbouring partners, airline connectivity issues and focusing on niche sectors like sports and adventure and more. It also addressed the need for a focused advertising campaign on the digital platform and also studying and mapping the kind of tourists who are visiting and who should be visiting the state through a sample survey and through technology. Mohanty added, “Today there is a marked shift from the older generation traditional travellers visiting pilgrim centres, temples, architectural sites to millennials and millennially-aligned travellers opting for adventure travel, nature activities, entertainment, biking, community based tourism, etc. We also need to change our supply system as per market shift now. Most of the millennial travellers spend more than 50 per cent of their time online looking at the content on their mobile phones,” he said.
Social media platforms are a powerful tool in the tourism sector. HRAO suggested that the Odisha Tourism Dept should allocate at least 20 per cent of its budget on technology. Tourism today is on mobile handsets of people and the growth speed is completely on aeroplane mode. Odisha Tourism can be marketed globally using social media platforms by developing a world class content strategy which would help users to share reviews, comments, etc. Attractive tourist destinations of Odisha can be marketed globally through blog posts, podcasts, videos, e-newsletters in social media. “Our neighbouring states have gone far beyond us in promoting and we have absolutely no time to wait and watch. Odisha Tourism
Department must appoint a separate digital marketing team to sell Odisha,” remarked Mohanty.

Focus for Odisha Tourism

  • Convention destination: Ministry of home affairs is introducing Conference Visa for foreign nationals to attract more number of international conferences to India. The Odisha Government should also take advantage of this to attract more international conferences/seminars and workshops to Odisha. Also take a decision to print a special MICE brochure.
  •  Medical tourism: Odisha is well equipped with high medical professions with super specialty treatments, the state can be a major attraction for medical/wellness tourism destination.
  • Tourism investment: As per the report of World Travel & Tourism Council’s Economic Impact 2018, India’s tourism sector attracted capital investments of US$ 47.8 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach US$ 95.30 billion by 2028. Many international hotel chains are increasing their presence in the country, but unfortunately there is not much investment in Odisha’s tourism sector.
  • Promotion of MICE sector: The Union Govt. has set a target for MICE India to achieve 2 per cent of the global MICE market share by 2025 from an insignificant current share of 0.5 per cent. Various initiatives have been initiated by MoT to promote MICE tourism. Developing more world-class exhibition/convention centers can enable Odisha to attract global conventions and meetings in tourism as well as other sectors. The decision of the government to start the World Trade Center should be implemented fast.
  • Promotion of adventure tourism: Adventure tourism is going to be a one trillion industry in the next 10 years (currently it is a 490 billion dollar industry worldwide). Odisha has a huge scope for adventure tourism. The Biju Patnaik Park situated near Chilika Lake in Ganjam District can be developed by beautifying and putting up a water sports training complex with boating facilities, Aqua Marine Museum which would generate employment and revenue for that area in particular and the state in general. This can become a major attraction of Eastern India and can attract large number of domestic as well as foreign tourists to the state.
  • Explore new destinations : Odisha needs to promote newer destinations with good quality tourist infrastructure, and target younger generation travellers. The nine circuits that were identified and approved by the Department of Tourism will definitely boost Odisha as a 21 night tourist destination.
  • Air connectivity : Withdrawal of Air India flights from Bhubaneswar to Bangkok badly affected the tourism sector of Odisha. The Odisha Government has written to the Civil Aviation Ministry in this regard.
  • Infrastructure development : Good quality accommodation, roads, railways and airports are required to make destinations accessible to tourists. The state government should monitor that the resources earmarked for infrastructure creation are channelised properly. Also tourist facilitation centres and kiosks must be developed at airports and railway stations by the tourism department for a sustainable development. Subsidies declared in the tourism policy is valid upto 2020 but the new guidelines to implement the subsidies have made the policy un-implementabl.e The policy expires in 2020 and not a single hotel will get any subsidy.
    HARO strongly recommends the government extends the policy for another five years, upto 2025, to allow hotels to come up in the state. The state need to add at least 5000 more star category hotel rooms in important tourist locations to attract good quality tourists to help the state economy.
  • Skill development : Odisha lacks good quality tourist guides, specially in foreign languages like French, German, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. A well trained and knowledgeable workforce will lead to improved service standards in the tourism sector.

    Branding Odisha right
    The perception of the people in India is that Odisha is a poor state, one of the reasons is the media showing poverty and lack of infrastructure in the state. Concludes Mohanty, “The state must understand its Unique Selling Points (USPs). If Odisha is rich with its mineral resources below the soil, it has a much richer tourism potential above the soil with its art, craft, culture, cuisine, architecture, temples, mountains, beaches, lakes, which no other state in the country can boast of. We need to market Odisha as a product for travellers, young and old, where we create happiness.”