Immediately after briefing a gathering of investors at Tehri Lake on the occasion of Tehri Cultural Festival and Investors Meet, State Tourism Secretary Shailesh Bagauli spoke with TourismFirst underlining the strategic importance of developing Tehri region as a new tourism destination. He also commented on the broader objectives of Uttarakhand Tourism in the medium run which, among other things, also include doubling the arrival base in the coming years. Excerpts from the conversation:
1. The sheer scale of this project which entails turning areas around Tehri dam into a noted international destination seems to be massive. Is it the biggest project which you have embarked upon in the recent times?
Ans: Yes. As far as Uttarakhand tourism is concerned, it is the most important project which we have launched recently. We are still working on it, giving it finishing touches in consultation with different stakeholders. The ultimate objective is to put Tehri region in the global tourism map. We will be investing about Rs 200 crore in this project in the near run. We have already put in some money in tourism development in the region and another Rs 100-150 crore of funds will be pumped in soon. As you are aware, we are working on a master plan and according to the preliminary details of this plan, we will need to invest about Rs 500 crore in improving roads and other basic infrastructure in the next few years to give a push to our tourism drive in this unique region.
2. Some of the highlights of the proposed master plan which you have shared today makes it amply clear that this project is going to be a long-haul story. Something that will take 10-15 years to fructify completely.
Ans: Absolutely. For building total infrastructure which is part of the master plan, it will take anything between 5-10 years. But the key components of the proposed infrastructure like roads and sewage treatment plan, we will pursue them on a war footing.
3. When do you envisage your master plan to get ready?
Ans: I think, it will be ready in three-four months’ time. We have prepared the draft master plan which has been circulated in the market. We are seeking opinion from tourism industry stakeholders as well as other sections of the society. Once we get it, we will examine their suggestions and give a final shape to the master plan.
4. Uttarakhand already has a number of destinations which are unique and popular for various reasons. In that sense, does this emphasis on developing Tehri and its surroundings entail adding one more unique destination to your portfolio?
Ans: It is true that we have many well- known destinations in our portfolio. And yes, Tehri has now become a big focus for us in the tourism sense. But we are also focusing on initiating various activities. Like for paragliding, Uttarakhand can be one of the best destinations in the world. We are promoting that and we are equally keen to promote mountain trail biking very aggressively. Plus, water sports activities is another key focus area for us.
5. Since the draft master plan which you shared with us does not specifically underline the level of investments which will be required to lay the basic infrastructure in this long-haul project, is there any guesstimate which you can share with me?
Ans: If I look at next five years’ time frame, my feeling is: it will need something close to Rs 1000 crore investment in developing Tehri as a major destination.
6. Let me draw your attention to some other aspects of Uttarakhand tourism. You have this Ardh Kumbh starting next month which I am sure will draw a big chunk of religious tourists from all over the world. What kind of preparations have been made on the ground?
Ans: The Ardh Kumbh festival is being looked upon by the state Urban Development Ministry. But from the government side, we are ready to host a large number of tourists in Uttarakhand. We are ready to welcome them. We have made very sound preparations and like in the past, it is going to be a grand show. From the tourism department side, we would specially organise Yoga Kumbh sessions. Visitors coming to Uttarakhand for Kumbh this time can also indulge in basic yoga practices if they want. This is a major initiative from Uttarakhand Tourism this time for the Ardh Kumbh festival.
7. What is the kind of footfall you are expecting this time?
Ans: It is difficult to say at this stage. But it will be quite large. That’s what we are expecting.
8. What is your overall arrival base trends currently, especially the religious tourism segment?
Ans: As far as religious tourism is concerned, about 10 lakh tourists visited Char Dham this year and a lot more came to other religious destinations which we have. On an overall basis, we are getting a footfall of three crore domestic tourists and about two lakh international tourists.
9. Despite being a prominent destination among states, your international arrivals still remain very weak. Some observers even say you are losing out in a major way here. What are you doing to change the trends on this front?
Ans: That is true. We know it and that is what we have to focus right now. We are receiving two lakh international visitors and it can go up by ten times, at least, from the present base in the coming years. While aggressive promotion abroad would be a key pillar of our drive to get more international footfall, it would also entail creating different kind of activities, different kinds of events linked with segments like paragliding, water sports, mountain trekking, etc. We need to create some attraction. Uttarakhand undoubtedly has pristine beauty but it has to be supplemented with activities which foreign tourists like. We are working on this front.
10. The massive natural calamity which you had suffered two years back was a serious setback to your tourism sector. It had undoubtedly created a fear factor. What is the scene now? Do you think that fear factor has been neutralised to a considerable extent?
Ans: My opinion is: that fear has completely gone now. And that is testified by the recent arrival trends. This year we have seen about 10 lakh tourists visiting Char Dham which is about 50 percent of what we used to get before the tragedy had struck. I am very sure that with the efforts of the state government to redevelop Kedarnath, the confidence in tourists is coming back in the tourists fraternity and from the next year onwards, we will have the full crowd at Kedarnath which we used to get earlier.
11. In your presentation to investors, you said that the target of Uttarakhand government is to double the existing arrival base. Is there any particular time line which you have set to achieve this milestone?
Ans: I think, it will take three-four years to double our arrival base. It is quite possible.