Dialogue July-September, 2012, Volume 14 No.1
Role of Tourism in the Socio-Economic Development of Assam
Moon Moon Hussain
Tourism is a major social phenomenon of modern society. Today tourism is not just about sightseeing and entertainment but also an agent of economic development of the country. Tourism as an industry is the largest in terms of revenue generation as well as an employer in the world. It plays a very significant role in accelerating the pace of economic development by generating employment opportunities, enhancing social progress and strengthening communities, encouraging the protection of environment and contributing actively to conservation. As such if proper infrastructures are built and access to the State is thrown open, then tourism can bring millions of people to the region.
Role of Tourism in the economic development of Assam
Tourism can play a very significant role for leveraging scarce foreign exchange earnings for not only the developing countries of the third world but for many developed countries of the world. It offers employment to millions of both semi skilled and unskilled people. As such its role in the development of Assam with immense tourism potential cannot be ruled out. The benefits that accrue to Assam because of tourism are immense in the sense that it leads to a rise in the per capita income in the area where tourist visit and therefore gives tremendous thrust in the State with relevant to natural beauty and bounty. If tourism is developed through careful planning, it is sure to bring revolutionary transformation in the whole economy. Tourism is job oriented and provides more employment opportunities in comparison to normal manufacturing industries in Assam without disturbing the environment. Several types of business such as hotels, restaurants, tour operators, handicrafts, transporters, travel agents, etc, can get benefit from it. Other allied businesses such as cab drivers, photographers, adventure sports organizers, food and beverage suppliers can also have profitable earnings. Employment in tourism sector is very much important for Assam as it is basically an agrarian economy where industries have not much developed.
Tourism gives an impetus to State income. International, national as well as domestic tourists contribute a significant share as it constitutes a demand for goods and services that would otherwise not be produced before such as demand for accommodation, modern airports, hotels, lodges, etc. This would not only contributes to the revenue of the government but shall also encourages investment.
Current Challenges of the Tourism promotion in Assam
Despite immense tourism potential that the region shows, it has not been able to cash in on the same failing even in the domestic market. While in case of India, many States have shown the required urgency to promote tourism as a major industry, Assam seems to take a backseat and is unaware of its enormous tourism potential bestowed by nature and harness it in a sustainable manner. There are, however several reasons for this
Hilly and inhospitable terrains, porous borders, highly inadequate road links, extremely poor transport connectivity, limited air services, inadequate rail links and weak telecommunication infrastructure, etc has restricted the growth of tourism in the State. Most of the places of tourist attraction are not by the side of the national highways, and approach roads are in bad condition. This is a strong discouraging factor, which works against a good inflow of the tourist. Apart from the infrastructural bottleneck, inferior food quality, lack of well arranged package tour, polluted environment, poor service at the hotels and tourist guest houses, lack of facilities like good hotels and tourist lodges, affordable and reliable communication network, etc have been hampering the expected development and promotion of tourism in the state.
The media often tends to focus on the ethnic conflicts and under development of the State neglecting the pioneering development efforts made in the region. It has been engraved in the minds of the general populace by the media that nothing significant is happening in the region other than violence, bomb-blasts, kidnappings, extortions, etc. The foreign and the domestic tourists consider it risky to visit this part of the country, in view of the prevailing law and order situation. The general impression has been that any foreign or domestic tourist could be a soft target of the insurgents. On the top of this, Manas sanctuary, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural parks in the country, has been virtually under the control of the Bodo militants for which it is still not considered safe to visit the place. Recently, Manas has been opened for the tourists, but it will take time to ward off the long-standing impression of the tourists about the sanctuary. The most effective way of removing this negative impression is to make the tourists visit the region by providing them protection from insurgents and local thugs and explore this unexplored paradise.
Absence of Tourist Guides
Assam virtually does not have any trained guides placed in important places of tourist attraction. Consequently, as the tourists arrive at such a place there is hardly anyone to satisfy the inquisitiveness of the tourists. The Department of Tourism initiated a programme to train tourist guides. The effort did not yield good result as most of the trainees left the job. Some of them found other means of livelihood while others found it to be less paying because of the poor inflow of the tourists to the state.
Lack of Coordinated Efforts
There is a palpable lack of coordination among several agencies like Department of Tourism and Department of Archaeology in handling the demands of the tourists in places of both historic and religious importance. There is virtually no coordination between various public industries and private sectors like tea industry, oil and coal on one hand, and the Department of Tourism or Assam Tourist Development Corporation (ATDC), on the other .This is definitely a major bottleneck on the way of tourism industry.
Under-developed Human Resource
The tour operators, hoteliers, transporters, tourist guides etc are not trained enough to provide detailed information to the tourists regarding the region which obviously is a barrier in the path of development of tourism industry in Assam.
Thus despite abundance of natural beauty, the flow of incoming tourist has been marginal for the reasons of the lack of infrastructural and other related facilities in various tourist spots in the region.
Strategies for promoting Tourism in Assam
Projecting this State as a tourist haven, the Union Tourism Ministry has been releasing enhanced Central assistance for tourism development. The Government has also encouraged the youths to enter this sector. However, the Government’s repeated claim to convert State into a visitor’s paradise has not been realized yet. The bold steps introduced by the Government from time to time have to be taken and implemented in a more systematic and organized manner. There should be transparency and accountability in the substantial budgetary grants being made to Assam Tourism sector because without accountability, there will be no responsibility and without responsibility, there will not be proper implementation of policies and programmes. Initiatives should, therefore, be taken by the government to accelerate the rate of investment in tourism facilities for building new industrial parks, special economic zones, airports, etc with all infrastructural facilities.
Role of the media
The media can also be utilized extensively for publicity through newspapers, magazines, internet, advertisements, seminars, press meets, write-ups in various national and international journals and TV channels to attract the prospective tourists. Well planned and attractive websites updated from time to time can also be of great help. It is pertinent to mention that Assam has to market tourism aggressively. One will have to go out and sell, instead of waiting for the customers to come and buy in a market of stiff competition. The Directorate of Tourism and the Assam Tourist Development Corporation should take steps even by purchasing space in the national dailies focusing on the attractive places of Assam at least once in a year just before the onset of the peak period of tourism in the state.
The basic civic amenities and infrastructure such as road networks, pure drinking water, food stuff, restaurants and knowledgeable and skilled guides must be made adequately available at tourism sights and spots. The tourist guides should be acquainted with more than one foreign language to provide adequate knowledge and information to the tourists. Adequate measures should also be taken by the government to provide tight security to the visiting tourists against terrorism and local thugs. Measures should also be undertaken by the concerned authority to provide sufficient medical facilities to handle any emergency situations along with trained para-medical staff so that patients could be taken to the nearest hospital with minimum complications.
Propagating Adventure Tourism
Eco-tourism industry also calls for adventure tourism. The adventure spirit of the tourist can be uplifted by providing facilities like boating, elephant riding, parasailing, rafting, paragliding, ballooning, bungee jumping, rock climbing ,wildlife viewing, nature walk, jungle exploration, etc. which will not only help the tourist to discover the natural heritage of the region but will also convert the region into a hub of eco-tourism or natural tourism.
Tourist entertainment is another important factor to attract the tourists and encourage them not only to revisit the region but also to visit throughout the year, not only in the main holiday season. There should be provision for musical entertainment to the tourists staying in the hotels and tourists bungalows in important tourist places like Kaziranga and Guwahati, so that their evenings become delightful and the tourists are enriched by the cultural contours of the region. Many art forms and cultural festivals like Bihu, exhibit a true picture of the ethnic and socio-cultural diversity prevailing in the region.
Improving communication network
The condition of most of the roads, including the national highways in Assam, is not satisfactory and are in deplorable condition. Absence of good roads to the places of tourist attraction is a discouraging factor. Efforts should be made to coordinate with the PWD (Roads) to improve the condition of the approach roads to the tourist spots on priority basis. Second, each tourist spot should have at least a PCO for facilitating the tourists to maintain their contact with the rest of the world. In this connection, it may be noted that the river Brahmaputra offers a scope for an eco-friendly river transport. The Techno-Economic Feasibility Study (1998-99) sponsored by the Union Ministry of Tourism confirms the viability of such a venture. The massive volume of its water may be properly used to take tourists from one place to another by luxury cruisers. The tourists may like to choose the river route to travel from Guwahati to Tezpur by luxury cruisers.
The Government may offer fiscal and other incentives to the private entrepreneurs to take up a host of tourist related services like setting up hotels and restaurants, to purchase vehicles etc. by making provisions for soft loan and reducing tax rates. It may encourage the local youths to set up tents with modern facilities and to make available other related equipments for water sports in areas selected for eco-tourism. In other words, transport, accommodation and other logistics of tourism should be left to the private sector making the way for healthy privatization of the tertiary sector associated with tourism.
If tourism is to play an important role in poverty alleviation and employment creation, people’s participation in planning and benefit sharing should be evolved. It is essential to develop the concept of ‘responsible tourism’, whereby all stakeholders have the responsibility to reduce the ugly side and enhance the good side. We know that the insurgency problem here is a constraint. But then, which region is free from any problem? The fact is that people, even at the Centre, are not aware of the ground realities here and promote a wrong image on safety issues. The policymakers, therefore, need to take a hard look at the realities and, in association with the private sector, play an active role in promoting tourism – whether it’s tea tourism, botanical, cultural or wildlife tourism – in the region.
Tourist packages should be theme based like adventure tourism, heritage, eco-tourism, wild life tourism.
Role of the government
Last but not the least the role of Government in the development of tourism in the sector cannot be ruled out. The State government earns revenue in the form of direct and indirect taxes imposed on tourist entry permits and service tax on hotels, airlines, tour operators, etc. This gives sufficient reason to the government of Assam to market tourism which can be done through ATDC (Assam Tourist Development Corporation). The development of the human, social and economic conditions of a state improves greatly where there is effective and pro-people governance. The presence of the government must be felt in the positive sense and within the framework of a welfare state. There may be policies of high order, there may be strategies of unassailable quality, but if there is no good governance, goals set cannot be achieved.
Initiatives taken by State Tourism Department
However, in the recent years, the State Tourism Department which has completed 50 years of existence has witnessed a considerable success and all round development both infrastructure development and other facilities with the financial help of Government of India as well as the State Government. For the growth of tourism sector, special emphasis has been given on public and private partnership to tap the unexplored potential opportunities. Mention can be made here of the TATA’s which have decided to set up Vivanta by Taj, the north east’s first five star hotel which would undoubtedly attract huge number of foreign tourist. The Department has also undertaken ambitious employment generation schemes like "Assam Bikash Yojana" in order to provide financial assistance to local educated unemployed youths so that the youths could become self-sufficient and engage themselves in tourism promotional activities like transport, wayside amenities, food kiosk, restaurants, dhabas and cottages for accommodation, etc. The department also introduced training facilities for the drivers conducting jeep safaris within the National Parks.
Out of the total plan allocation of Rs. 21.42 crore for tourism sector in 2008-09, Rs. 9.59 crore was meant for infrastructural development, Rs. 0.60 crore was for training, stipend to students, maintenance of existing tourist lodges, etc, Rs.1.00 crore for employment generation schemes (Assam Bikash Yojana) while an amount of Rs. 2.50 crore was also provided for promotion and publicity. Infact during the period 2007-09, more domestic tourists visited Assam among the eight States. During the year 2008-09, the Assam Tourism Department has participated in various tourism fares to showcase the tourism products in the national and international markets in order to attract domestic and foreign tourists to the state. Mention may be made of IITM-Mumbai, Festival of India (Craft Mela)-Mumbai, West Bengal Tourism and Food Festival-Kolkata, TTF-Kolkata, ITAO-Bhubaneshwar, India International Fair-New Delhi, Ambubachi Mela at Kamakhya, etc. As a part of publicity campaign and to draw tourists, the Department organized Rongali Utsav, and Elephant Festival at Kaziranga. The electronic and print media were also extensively utilized for publicity campaign and a documentary has been made through internationally reputed film maker Richard Bangs, USA with an aim to increase the flow of foreign tourists to the state.
Thus, from the above analysis, it is clear that the State Government as well as the stakeholders are rendering their contributions to make the State a hot tourist destination. It is only because of their initiatives that the revenue earned from this sector has increased to a considerable extent. The total revenue earned from tourist lodges, which was just 41.03 lakhs in 2002-03, increased to Rs. 103.91 lakhs in 2008-09 speaking aloud of the developments made in this sector.
Tourism in present day does not confine itself to hotels, restaurants and sea beaches. Its broad arena touches upon rural area, health sector and environment. The new approach is to position tourism as a major engine of growth for employment generation and economic development. There is thus an urgent need to position Assam as an international brand like Kerala’s "Gods own country’ and include the State into the highly successful "Incredible India" campaign. Tourism is the most important of all resources available to man in the State of Assam. If tourism is developed through careful planning, it is sure to bring revolutionary transformation in its economy.
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