We, the Citizens
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Minister Satpal Maharaj has done Indian Tourism a great favour. He has struck a blow to sundry netas pontificating about how they have created “tourism attractions”. Everything from building a bridge to constructing a public toilet, to erecting a monstrous statue is passed off as a powerful magnet which will attract tourists. In this day when most children have smart phones and Internet usage has spread much faster than Covid across the globe, politicians must be blindly self-obsessed to believe that they can peddle such illusions. It is clear to most of our fellow citizens that such claims are patently false and that the real motivation is the self-promotion of the neta who hopes that the “attraction” has nothing to do with tourism and much to do with the neta’s obsession with self promotion.
So what has Minister Satpal Maharaj got to do with our netas’ myopic view of Tourism? Plenty. In a recent statement our Tourism Minister has described Tourism as a many-faceted activity. That is exactly what it is. In fact, Transportation, Travel and Tourism are Triplet activities which have driven our human civilisation ever since, according to the Leakey school of human progress, the first humans followed an unknown leader out of Africa’s Rift Valley.
Leaving such theories behind, however, we were relieved to read that Minister Satpal Maharaj sees many types of Tourism: Tea Tourism, Home-stay Tourism and Caravan Tourism. He has not mentioned giant statues of political figures becoming tourist attractions. They never have!
Tea Tourism was a thriving industry in Sri Lanka, our now beleaguered neighbour paralysed by greedy High Commanders. We lived in a tea factory, converted into an up-market hotel in Kandapola. Tea Tourism is based on the carefully cultivated mystique of the many types and grades of tea. Do your advisers, Mr Minister, know anything about teas classified as Orthodox, CTC, Golden Tips, Orange Pekoe, BOP, Dust, Fannings? Are they aware of the pivotal role played by the Chowfin family of Pauri, and others like them, invited by the East India Company? Have they ever tasted the soup-like Tibetan Tea enriched with Yak butter and flavoured with saltpetre skimmed from the wet-lands of the Nubra Valley, our own Central Asian plains beyond the Himalayas? Yes, tea tourism is a great idea but does our Ministry have the expertise to meet the challenge?
Caravan Tourism was also mentioned. This is a popular form of travel in Europe and the USA. We were invited by a Caravan Tour company to try out their services. We were very enthusiastic at first but on further enquiry, we had second thoughts. We do not have Caravan Parks. In such Parks, caravans draw up in to an appointed spot, connect their water, electric and waste disposal systems to park outlets. In our state, apparently, the caravan’s human waste storage tanks have to be emptied in the countryside. This is not only uncivic, it is disgusting and a likely spreader of disease. We refused to take the caravan trip and the Tourism Ministry should either ensure the safe disposal of human waste from caravans or ban Caravan Tours.
Another proposal was the encouragement of Homestays. Our Homestay experiences in Goa and Auckland, New Zealand, were superb. One of our two Homestays in Malaysia was disgusting and we told our hosts, the Malayasian Government, about it. A near equivalent is the, so-called, Village Tourism. Both our Village Tourism experiences in Madhya Pradesh were disasters although all our other tourism experiences in MP were superb and we have a published book to certify to it. Village Tourism can be a very iffy experience and it is best for the state to be very careful when promoting it.
We are surprised that our Minister has not latched on to the growing market of Two Wheeler Tours, particularly Motor Cycle Tourism. This popular activity has the support of the powerful Motor Cycle companies. Essentially, what the enthusiasts need are secure and sheltered garage facilities and, as an added attraction, updated road connection information. If provided with a list of local attractions and festivals, their closely-knit networks will give the destination more credible publicity than full-page ads in national dailies.
Finally, Mr Minister, prepare a Concordance of Village Festivals. Concordance expresses the dates of the festivals into the modern international calendar. If such a Concordance is freely available, it will encourage visitors to either extend their stay or take in the festival, or adjust their visit so that they can attend the festival. Every day added to a tourist’s itinerary will add to the income of our state. This would also provide a good yardstick to judge the popularity of the festival and help to attract commercial interest.
Switzerland is the world’s iconic tourism destination. It is also the banker to the world. There is no ethnic strife in diverse Switzerland. Everyone’s too busy ensuring peace and prosperity in that little, land-locked, mountainous state and Tourism drives it all.
You do get the message, Mr Minister?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 firstperson 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 was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)