Assam seeks private participation to create niche products

Even as the tag of ‘paradise unexplored’ continues to hold its ground for the country’s north-eastern states, Assam, the fulcrum of this region’s tourism, has seen a consistent rise in domestic arrivals thanks to its wildlife, river-based and also religious assets. In fact, a close analysis of the trends and statistics of past one decade clearly point out that with nearly four-fold increase in tourists footfall, the state’s tourism has been on the move. According to V S Bhaskar, Additional Chief Secretary- Tourism & Transport Development, Assam government, state tourism’s report card has plenty of brownie points today.  And having created a strong base for its nature endowed products, the state tourism is now keen to widen its portfolio by joining hands with the private players.

Aiming to develop strength in star resorts, golf tourism

VS Bhasker
V S Bhaskar

The state has recently floated an Expression of Interest (EoI) seeking a Transaction Advisor which will supervise the involvement of private parties in developing specified niche products. “We want a transparent regime for inviting private parties to work with us in the development of niche products and as part of this process, we have floated an Expression of Interest (EoI) to select a transaction advisor. The advisor will be asked to prepare the Request for Proposal (RFP) memorandum on the basis of which private parties will be invited to pitch in,” Bhaskar told TourismFirst on the sidelines of a seminar held last month in Delhi. Transaction advisors are usually roped in for all PPP projects and they mostly indulge in preparing a feasibility report to get the project sponsor.

The plan is to develop specified projects in star resorts, wayside amenities and Golf Tourism segments. This includes creating five-star category resorts at the five national parks in Assam, namely, Kaziranga National Park, Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, Nameri National Park, Manas National Park, Dibru-Soikhowa National Park and two wayside amenities on NH 37 between Guwahati and Dibrugarh. The government has also zeroed upon developing a river cruise with on-shore infrastructure on river Brahamputra and it also intends to build a 9-hole Golf Course cum 5-star category Resort and Convention Center along with other commercial institutional infrastructure at Chandarpur, near the state capital. “Considering the growing tourists footfall in the state, we believe it makes sense to develop some strength in segments like golf tourism which particularly appeal to high-end and corporate visitors,” he emphasised.

A critical component of the private participation may also include upgrading the lodges and cottages operated by Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC). As per river cruises which already exist in some form in the state, the broader idea seems to be taking it to the next level since the state is endowed with a pretty long Brahamputra stretch of 896 km.

Bhaskar, however, refused to divulge any further details on the projects which the state government intends to set afoot in the niche category saying the process will take a concrete shape after the appointment of the transaction advisor. But he asserted that once the feasibility report is ready, private players in the tourism fray will find it attractive.

Connectivity Scenario Improving

Meanwhile, Assam tourism department is convinced that the positive growth trajectory in the tourist influx will continue unabated in the near to medium run. Last year, the state had reported arrival of nearly 4.5 million domestic tourists which marks over four times growth vis-à-vis the figure of one million arrivals ten years ago. The foreign tourist arrival figure at nearly 20,000 was low but then this is typical of the entire north-eastern region. Bhaskar made no bones in pointing out that the state tourism department considers domestic footfall as the main pillar of its tourism growth story and it is this segment which will be harnessed further with new attractions. And a major push indeed is coming from the improving air  connectivity scenario – something that was looked upon as a major stumbling block. “The trends of past one decade clearly testify that tourists are increasingly finding our tourism products more attractive. This has also been supported by our consistent efforts on infrastructure development front coupled with improved connectivity. Our domestic arrival growth in next couple of years will continue to remain robust,” he claimed.

Assam Tourism is hopeful that connectivity scenario will further improve with the new entrants in the Indian aviation business – Vistara and Air Asia India- now also reaching out to Guwahati. Vistara started a service to Assam state capital early April while Air Asia India which has recently decided to make Delhi as its North Indian hub has announced commencing its service to Guwahati on 21st May. Guwahati, in recent years, has emerged as one of the busiest tier- I airports in the country with the daily frequency of around 90-100 flights.

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