All Roads Lead To Odisha

Dr Nitin Bhanudas Jawale, director, tourism, Odisha government, explains how the administration is tapping the state’s unexplored tourism potential

By team hotelier india

Odisha has many unchartered travel experiences for visitors to discover, and enjoy. And that is exactly what its tourism department would like to ensure.

Over the past few months, the state has witnessed a growth in the number of visitors – both domestic and international. Dr Nitin Bhanudas Jawale, director, tourism, Odisha government said that this was largely due to the government’s effort to improve connectivity, infrastructure, and hospitality facilities, which in turn has led to the state emerging as one of the preferred tourist destinations in the country.

The first Odisha Travel Bazaar (OTB) 2017 was recently organised by the Odisha Tourism along with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The inauguration of the three-day event was held at Hotel Mayfair Convention, Bhubaneshwar, and it saw the congregation of officials from Tourism Ministry, and Odisha’s Department of Tourism along with tour and airline operators, hoteliers, investors from various sectors, media people and general public.

The key objectives of the event were to create a platform to aggressively promote Odisha’s tourist destinations within India and globally, and campaign for its tourism. It also sought to highlight the investment opportunities to its target investors and arranged for B2B meetings between foreign buyers and Indian sellers and hoteliers at the event.

During the event, we spoke to Dr Jawale to understand the various initiatives that the state government is undertaking to create new tourism-oriented programmes and also to boost investment for hospitality players:

What are your views on where Odisha tourism is headed?
Off late, Odisha tourism has picked up and is now at a perfect launching point. Over the last few years, we have seen tremendous growth in this tourism. There has also been a lot of focus from the government as well as the private sector in this sector with a will and process to identify tourism as an important driver for the economy.

What initiatives are you undertaking to attract tourists to Odisha?
Well, lots of things that we did recently helped us to reach this stage. The most important was the augmentation of air connectivity. Over 40% growth was seen in this domain in the last couple of years as many new cities were targeted and covered. Earlier, Odisha was only connected to the major metros; now it is also connected to many other cities in the country. As of now, about 10 to 12 destinations are directly connected in the domestic aviation circuit and internationally we have direct flight connectivity from Bhubaneshwar to Kuala Lumpur by Air Asia. In the hub and spoke system, we are connected by Air India to many global destinations, so we are fairly well connected now.

Odisha’s Department of Tourism has been doing some interesting packaging to enhance a guest’s travel experience in the state. Can you give some insights into these initiatives?
Despite having plenty of good assets around, what we realised is that we needed to build products around these, and create value addition by adding experiences to highlight these assets. So recently, we came up with some very successful products like the ‘Ekamra Heritage Walk’, which we do in old town Bhubaneshwar. That has become a major product. Then we are already doing the light and sound show in Dhauli and another light and sound show was recently inaugurated in Konark this September.
By creating these kinds of value-additional experiences, we want to ensure that Tourism Odisha does not remain just a passive affair where tourists merely visit a monument. There are a lot of things where they can get an immersive and unforgettable experience, based on how we build products around the many assets we have on our hands.

You were also mentioning about a mega project that the Odisha Tourism department is undertaking. Can you please share some details about it?
This is an interesting thing, which will be of huge interest to investors in the tourism sector, particularly hoteliers. We are coming up with a mega-tourism project called Shamuka project, which is about 1,000 acres adjacent to Puri. Our plan is to have a huge 18-hole golf course, a number of five-star hotels, villas, condominiums, artist villages, and so on. As you can imagine, this will be a huge project.
We are in the final stages of getting clearance for this from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and we plan to put out bids in the next calendar year. This is something that hoteliers and other investors should look forward to, as it is going to be a big thing for Odisha tourism.

What was some feedback you received panelists during OTB about the hospitality segment?
We got some interesting feedback from key industry people who participated in the event. For instance, Rajan Sehgal, chairman of TAAI, Air Arrivals suggested that the government build budget hotels around lakes to attract foreign as well as domestic tourists.
Similarly, Benjamine Simon, MD of Travel Link pointed out that we need to invite reputed hotel chains to market our destinations and promote cruise tourism. Since we have excellent ports, Simon suggested that we capitalise on that. Also, we need experienced tour operators and to attract tourists.
We are taking this feedback seriously as we want to develop Odisha into the next leading travel destination in the country.

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