Offbeat Locales Hold Immense Tourism Potential

By Jhuma Biswas

India is a land of immense tourism potential, which is manifested through its myriad natural splendours, immensely popular and lesser known historical legacies, fascinating wildlife and adventure tourism options. However, it is true that a great deal of India’s tourism appeal is still relatively unexplored by the tourists at large. 

Despite abundance of awesome natural splendours, adventure options and historical legacies, according to World Tourism rankings, which are compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as part of their World Tourism Barometer publication, India attracted only 15.5 million  international tourist arrivals in 2017, which is quite poor as compared to 60.7 million of China and 35.4 million of Thailand. 

According to World Tourism rankings, India attracted only 14.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2016, as compared to 59.3 million by China. It doesn’t deserve a mention that as far World Tourism rankings, India could feature nowhere among the top ten countries in terms of international tourist arrivals in 2017 and 2016. But India deserves to feature among the top ten countries in terms of international tourist arrivals.

According to the figures of the Ministry of Tourism, foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) during the period January-November 2018 were 93,67,424 as compared to 88,67,963 in January-November 2017; registering a growth of 5.6 percent over the same period. Less than a crore foreign tourist arrivals in the first 11 months of 2018 for a country like India? It is a discouraging figure. According to the Ministry of Tourism, there were 10035803 foreign tourist arrivals to India during 2017 and only 8804411 foreign tourist arrivals to India during 2016. Figures speak of huge unexplored potential. 

The domestic tourism of India doesn’t fare much better. According to the Ministry of Tourism, during 2017, the number of domestic tourist visits to the states/UTs was 1652.5 million as compared to 1615.4 million in 2016, showing growth of 2.3 percent in 2017 over 2016.

One of the many reasons behind India not being able to fully or better tap its awesome tourism potential is the fact that many of its wonderful destinations are not being explored properly by our tourism and hospitality industry. Many of the wonderful and enchanting tourist destinations of India with great natural beauty and/or historical appeal are still unknown among many domestic and inbound tourists of the country.

India has an impressive array of tourist locales which deserve more recognition than they are getting. One can enjoy azure blue sea with exploration of spirituality at the coastal town of Ganapatipule in Maharashtra, located just 375 km south from Mumbai; one can visit monasteries and marvel at the serene natural beauty in the hilly town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh; one can enjoy the thrill-inspiring adventure sports at Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh; one can savour an ethereal sunrise at Ponmudi in Kerala, and also visit Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary, Echo Point and trek through the destination’s various trekking spots; one can seep in the wild beauty of Sunderbans in West Bengal… introspect on the neo-Vaishnavite cultural legacy, get acquainted with the fascinating biodiversity and get impressed by the vast beauty of Brahmaputra in Majuli — the largest fresh water mid-river deltaic island in the world … in fact there are huge numbers of offbeat and relatively less crowded tourist options in India, waiting to be explored by our hospitality industry in a more vigorous manner. 

Promotion, Marketing and Infrastructure

These and many other lesser known but fascinating tourist destinations should be creatively marketed to generate awareness among tourists about them, and these marketing endeavours should be supplemented with more high-end hotels and resorts with state-of-the-art banqueting and MICE facilities, better roads and transportation facilities, and sprucing of other facets of hospitality infrastructure in these offbeat locales of India.

For example, the three-day-long rass festival in Majuli, in which almost all the people in the river island take part, should be more vigorously promoted by the Assam government to the domestic tourists outside Assam and also to the inbound tourists. 

In this regard, the work of Majuli Sustainable Tourism Development Project,  an initiative of Root Bridge Foundation supported by Assam Tourism Development Corporation, to promote cycle tourism in Majuli, is a praiseworthy endeavour.  Conducting of student expeditions to this paradise of biodiversity, specially designed island tours for women with women storytellers, conducting of family trips to Majuli are other praiseworthy initiatives for which Assam Tourism Development Corporation must get credit. But more initiatives are needed to give Majuli its global fame, which it deserves.

For example, the introduction of a helicopter service from Jorhat to Majuli, with aerial view of the mighty Brahamputra can greatly enhance Majuli’s demand among many well-heeled NRIs and other inbound tourists.

Similarly, enhancing the rail and air network in north-east region of India would facilitate to open a wonderful land full of beautiful nature, rich culture and exciting adventures to many many more domestic and inbound tourists who are looking for uncommon experiences through their travels. At present, the railway network in the north-east, except that of in Assam, is extremely poor.

Thankfully, according to the vision document of the Indian Railways, all the state capitals of the north-east India would be connected by broad-gauge rail link by 2020.

Succinctly, the offbeat tourist locales of India should not only be promoted among our domestic and inbound tourists but also among our potentially outbound tourists. If the travels of many of our habitual or potential outbound leisure travellers can be directed towards domestic destinations, they can significantly increase the revenues of our tourism and hospitality industry.  

As the outbound leisure travellers from India are likely to have more than decent disposable incomes, they are likely to spend healthy amounts on India’s tourism and hospitality industry, if their travel options are directed towards less explored domestic destinations more frequently than before.

The Case of Mandarmani 

Of course, as discussed before endeavours to promote offbeat locales of India should be supplemented by investments in infrastructure, in which both the government and the industry need to play more proactive roles.  Especially, those offbeat locations which are on their way towards gaining prominence can be the right addresses for investments from hospitality players.

One such offbeat destination in India is Mandarmani, which is gaining prominence in West Bengal’s tourism map. Located 180 km from Kolkata airport, this seaside village lies in East Midnapore district of West Bengal. It is located at the northern end of the Bay of Bengal. The village by the sea doesn’t have rail service or airport, and one needs to travel by the road to reach Mandarmani. The nearest airport is in Kolkata, and Contai has the nearest railway station to Mandarmani.

Those tourists who are looking for a busy itinerary; eager to hop from one tourist spot to the next at frantic space, are likely to get disappointed with Mandarmani. But those who are looking to have a wonderful retreat far from the madding crowd; those who are in passionate love with nature; those who travel not merely to see places but to get memorable experiences to cherish would surely love Mandarmoni.

It is widely believed that Mandarmani beach is the longest motorable beach in India. A ride on the beach can give great enjoyment to the tourists. The red crabs crawling on the 13 km long beach would heighten the enjoyment of the beach with its grey-blue waters crushing on the shore one after another… Watching the crimson sunset amidst the roaring waves at Mandarmani can give an ethereal feel. The fact that the beach is still sparsely crowded as compared to Digha and Puri beaches nearby helps one to feel the vastness of nature more strongly. Solitude here is also complemented with fun. Water sports at Mandarmani can also be enjoyed, which include jet skiing, parasailing, banana boat rides among others.

The place has already gained popularity among weekend tourists in West Bengal, but it deserves national and even international popularity. In the national tourism map, it is still an obscure destination. It is just the right time for big hospitality players to establish their presence in Mandarmani and promote the quaint destination among domestic and inbound tourists. Already many have entered this quaint seaside village, where silence is often only punctuated by the roar of the sea.

Hotels and resorts with good MICE facilities in Mandarmani can also be a sound business decision, as Mandramani can be an ideal destination for corporates’ brainstorming session. After the exhaustive business parleys, they can always relax by the sea, and resolve their differences if any in cool green coconut water. The orgainsing of excursion to the fishing village in Mandarmani and getting acquainted with the fishermen families’ day-to-day life can give rural tourism a fillip in the area. Hotels and resorts in Mandarmani can take initiative in this regard. The place with innate romanticism can also be more vigorously and creatively promoted by the India’s hospitality industry as an ideal locale for high profile destination weddings.

West Bengal Tourism can also promote Mandarmani among the Bollywood fraternity at large, which seems to be perpetually on the hunt for scenic locales, but seldom shows the imagination or the research to go beyond the obvious locales in Europe and India. 

Digha, a comparatively more well-known tourist destination of West Bengal, also located beside the Bay of Bengal, is just 30 km from Mandarmani. So tourists to Mandarmani can easily club Digha within their itinerary. The Old Digha and the New Digha beaches are also worth exploring. The Science Centre, Talsari Beach, Marine Aquarium, Snake Park, Amrabati Park are some of the other tourist attractions of Digha.        

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