Synergising West Coast tourism

Features, Hospitality Trends

The states on the west coast of India make an attempt at leveraging each other’s strengths in tourism, says Elizabeth Thomas

A unique synergy of sorts was mooted at the Goa ITM 2010 as officials representing the west coast states came together to broach the concept of West Coast tourism. Representatives of the state tourism boards of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala charted out ways to combine strengths and blot out the weaknesses.

The idea to promote the entire coastal region in western India with a holistic plan for tourism which has been on the minds of bureaucrats for some time. Every state supports and validates the need for concerted action in bringing together the west coast onto a single platform, yet no concrete steps or action plan are initiated.

Karnataka and Goa have already signed a MoU. Kerala tourism officials say that their state already has well-developed inshore and mainland tourism and that it will be difficult for them to get into the bandwagon without convincing the stakeholders.

Goa Tourism Development Corporation with Nikhil Desai at its helm as managing director has initiatied the process. GTDC has sent MoUs to all the states on the west coast and is awaiting approval from Kerala, Gujarat and Maharashtra. It has already signed MoUs with five other states – Meghalaya, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka and Sikkim. The MoU will ensure revenue sharing by both states on the basis of bookings clocked in a financial year. According to Desai, tapping inter-state synergies is the best way to boost tourism activity in India. “Tourism industry pundits have called for creating mega tourism circuits rather than promote tourism individually in states. We have to put our best foot forward and join our strengths to sell tourism in our respective states. The spin-offs will be very different and would benefit each state.

States like Gujarat and Karnataka, whose beach tourism scene is not as developed as it is in Kerala or Goa, are keen to leverage on the knowledge of these states. “The government’s role in Gujarat is to act as a facilitator for the private sector to come up and take over the available avenues of tourism in Gujarat. The government’s role is to provide good infrastructure to attract investors and it does not intend to set up hotels or restaurants,” says Kingshuk Biswas, manager, Investment, Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited. “Regarding synergies among the west coast states, I am not worried because, I believe that once you provide basic infrastructure facilities in your state, the private sector will take over,” he adds.

“Synergy among coastal states need not be restricted to beach tourism,” said Vinay Luthra, MD, Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation. “We have to move beyond that and when we come together as states, it should be across sectors. I believe this kind of synergy is already happening if you look at the chartered flights coming into Goa. Many of the tourists who come to Goa visit Karnataka as well,” he added.

Karnataka already has a luxury train, The Golden Chariot that links most of the south Indian states like Goa, Tamilnadu, Pondicherry and Kerala. A synergy similar to the South India Tourism Council, which has already been deliberated over is what Luthra sees as a way forward. “Foreign tourists would not like to restrict themselves to one particular place or destination. That is where we should complement each other; to at least provide seamless travel across states and jointly promote activities at marts within India and abroad,” Luthra added.

Kiran Kurundkar, MD, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation said, “We should not transfer our problems to the private sector. We should, instead, come together, discuss and list our problems and find solutions on how to attract more investors across states.”

Coastal concerns

One of the major concerns voiced by the West coast states were the issues that could arise from the draft notification of centre’s coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms, which could affect the tourism prospects of Maharashtra and Karnataka. “While Kerala and Goa are given a few relaxations and exceptions, the states which earlier did not think of developing coastal tourism, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, are now caught in the new CRZ regulations,” said Kurundkar.

“The regulations are primarily aimed to conserve environment. But all these rules and regulations have become rituals. The actual spirit of the CRZ regulation is not followed,” says Luthra. “We should let tourism happen along the coasts, if the guidelines are followed rather than stick to some rituals.”

“We have been making continuous efforts to convince the Central Ministry of Tourism that when it comes to developing tourism across coastal areas, the CRZ regulations should be amended appropriately,” says Kurundkar. “All concerned states should come together and ask the government to reconsider the coastal regulation zone rules, at least from the tourism point of view.”

The CRZ draft notification entails giving protection to traditional dwellings along the coasts, while strictly banning any development near the high tide line or sensitive marine habitats.

Winning over stakeholders

Another pertinent issue that has to be tackled when it comes to west coast tourism is how to convince the stakeholders in each state of the rewards of working synergistically, especially when two states (Kerala and Goa) are highly evolved and the rest catching up.

“Any synergy that evolves should be beneficial to all the stakeholders. You cannot have one state gaining at the cost of another. Because if that happens, the stakeholders in each of the states will oppose any such move on the part of the government and policy makers to create such a synergy,” says Desai.

“Kerala, being a much developed tourist spot and with a number of entrepreneurs to convince, it will definitely take some time before we get people to come and sit at the same table to discuss about synergies,” said S Swaminathan, committee member, Kerala Travel Mart and director, Dravidian Trails.

Representing the tourism industry of Kerala, Swaminathan said, “It’ll definitely be some time before we can get our entrepreneurs to collaborate with the rest of the states, as most of us in Kerala already think that we have gone international and much beyond, when compared to other states. But, I feel that it must be done with sustainable management plans, socio-economic and environmental commitment.”

One way of doing it, he says, was to talk about West Coast Tourism and not about Kerala or Karnataka or Goa tourism.
Nikhil Desai cited international examples like Thailand, which is co-operating with countries like Laos and Cambodia to fetch tourists and the strong campaigns put forward by Singapore, co-branding itself with Malaysia to create a very unique international circuit.

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