We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Dear Mr Satpal Maharaj:
Congratulations for seeking the advice of those who have elected you. (GP 7-5-20). By responding to your voters, you have acquired the authority to implement “an effective plan” for the rejuvenation of tourism in Uttarakhand. That is why We, the Government, elected you and the CM made you a Minister.
Confident of your independence, we have addressed this letter to you. We have drawn on our many decades of advising our states (including undivided UP, the GMVN and KMVN), and well over twenty independent countries around the world, on how to use their tourism resources, effectively.
To start with, Mr Minister, no one knows when the pandemic will end. Till it does, Travel, and its variant, Tourism, will take a beating. Travelism, to coin a portmanteau word, is the world’s largest and oldest industry. It started when humans climbed out of the Rift Valley into the savannahs of Africa; extended through the international race for Indian spices; and led to our 21st Century’s international trade and cultural links pulsating across the World Wide Web. Scientists have now established that Travelism is a basic human compulsion driven by our gene DRD4 7R. That biological programmer releases dopamine, giving an emotional high whenever something new is discovered. It is the gene of pioneers and travellers.
While Travelism is driven by the Restless Gene, it also depends on another factor: Disposable Income. No one can travel without the means to survive during travelling. Such finances were once available with our burgeoning Middle Class and, for them, visiting a foreign country had morphed into a status symbol! Today, however, the Middle Class is preoccupied with its survival at home and with ensuring a good future for its children. Travelism has been relegated to the backburner.
So, how do we get Travelism to revive? Whom do we target?
Clearly, our dollar-millionaires. Based on a Credit Suisse estimate, there are at least two lakh millionaire families in India! They have the reserves and their children have the status-fuelled drive to get away. What started as an economic activity has become a major craving for their families. Before the Second World War, our Rajas, Maharajas and Nawabs flocked to Europe every summer because it was socially-enhancing to do so. When the 39-45 War made such vacations impossible, they turned to our hill-stations, particularly our very informal Mussoorie. We were the only major mountain resort free of the starch and protocol of a Raj-era Summer Capital.
Having said that, we realise that you, Mr Minister, have neither the public finances nor the bureaucratic resources to do a survey of whom, among the myriad millionaire Indians would want to holiday in our Himalayas. Your Ministry has no idea of what such affluent young tourists would want in their holiday destination, apart from crowd-free, wide open spaces.
Our popular hill-stations are over-crowded. The success of JW Marriott’s Walnut Grove Hotel is largely due to its beautiful and remote setting in our Himalayas, far from the teeming tourists in Mussoorie!
We must cater to this compulsion. The infrastructure for this exists but needs upgrading.
We have a number of sarkari hotels, PWD inspection bungalows, circuit houses and forest lodges dotted in some of the most beautiful and remote places in Uttarakhand. These public facilities are grossly under-utilised and thus neglected. We also have teams of young and enthusiastic film-makers. Have a competition, with professionals and not politicians as judges, to film these places. Before that, launch a Hygiene and Hospitality Campaign to sanitise and upgrade the services in such accommodation. You will have opposition from the PWD and the Forest Department who believe that these are their personal properties. The CM, or even the PM, may have to intervene. To recover from the economic blow of Covid-19 we need to muster all our resources, reject all hindering, Raj-era, mindsets.
After sanitising, upgrading and publicising our little-used sarkari facilities, sit back and let market forces take over. The most appealing destinations will grow. The others will have to compete.
Travelism led to the recovery of Austria after the devastation of WWII. It can do the same for us, Uttarakhandis, post Covid-19.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)