The Char Dham Yatra witnessed a record turnout this year, probably as recoil from the Covid years. Associated activity also saw a rise. All this underlines, once again, that Tourism (including pilgrimage) is the most crucial income and employment generator for Uttarakhand’s economy. Unfortunately, too often, it has been treated as just any other government department. Many in government are incapable of understanding the intricacies of this highly demanding sector.
Tourism requires extremely sophisticated handling. Irrespective of how remote or well endowed an area, it has to function according to global standards. This requires professional knowledge and experience. Politicians and bureaucrats may have an instinctive understanding of the subject, but managing the protocols required to meet the basic standards is very difficult, particularly as it is a wide-ranging field.
Uttarakhand’s tourism sector has managed to grow, albeit chaotically, owing to its enormous potential and USP. The pilgrims have had to come for the Char Dham and mandatory rituals in Haridwar. The hill resorts of Mussoorie and Nainital were well established by the British and have had a loyal following. Unfortunately, Uttarakhandis have not only rested on their laurels, but sorely neglected the fundamentals. As such, when catastrophe has struck, only the most pious of pilgrims make their way here, while leisure and other forms of tourism get grievously damaged. The tourism culture of the state has not built up the cachet necessary to attract tourists, particularly high-end ones.
It becomes necessary, therefore, for the government – in collaboration with the private sector associations – to utilise the services of high level consultants in each area of tourism expertise. Brand promotion and development, for instance, has to be entrusted to someone with actual experience of it at the international level. The same goes for every other specialisation.
Anybody who wishes to boost the state’s tourism would be concerned about first impressions, but nobody cares about the standards the industry must absolutely insist on if it has to become competitive at any level, for any segment.
The Indian tourist is becoming more prosperous and, with foreign exchange readily available, has many more choices. Singapore, Dubai, Thailand, Bali, etc., are becoming entry level destinations for those wishing to see the world. The next step is Australia, Europe and the US. What has Uttarakhand to offer in the way of services in comparison? Mere chauvinistic insistence on the ‘beauty’ of ‘Devbhumi’ is an ostrich like approach that has no future. If Uttarakhand wishes to compete with the best – and there is no doubt about the potential – it must be coached and mentored by the best.