By Devasis Sarangi
Odisha's Tourism policy is 15 years old, it was last brought out in 1997!!! Did I take you by surprise? You must be thinking an industry which is the thrust areas for most states and economies including well developed ones and known for its poverty reduction capabilities, can lie neglected, such that, even policy decisions are put off year on year. Interestingly, the media gets to hear that the draft policy is being discussed and fine-tuned every year they approach the officials.
Odisha Government either does not take tourism seriously or fails to make the link between tourism and poverty reduction– or both. Tourism department focuses on traditional style of marketing and monitoring arrival numbers; other departments undervalue an export that is not visible on the quayside and is often merged administratively with conservation. Both miss out on the potential to link state development strategies with tourism and are just happy to point out theoretically is a thrust area in the IPR 2007; if at all they are confronted!!!
While other states like Kerala have branded “Gods own country” internationally; Gujarat used Big B to showcase 'Khushboo Gujarat ki' and Karnataka’s “One State- many worlds” ensure that they regularly come out with 5 year master plans with yearly review and aggressively promotes PPP models to develop its tourism assets to attract investment in the sector and exponentially grow international tourist traffic; Odisha has been a laggard even though it boasts of some of the best Tourism assets.
Our attempt at Rural Tourism at the art village Raghurajpur, a few kilometres before the Jagannath Dham- Puri, was also half baked. The roads leading to the village continues to be narrow without any beautification and landscaping, there is no motel nearby for the tourist to rest or have food, there are no coffee shop style round tables for the artisans to sell in a better ambience, there are no interpreters for international tourists who drop in nor is there even an attempt to have innovative packaging centre and logistics support. Can the rural and poor artisans then get a better price for their hard work, if such is our effort, on our so called flagship rural project?
These are several pro-poor business opportunities at various tourist spots which can generate employment and be bankable schemes. Some can be developed by upgrading the existing products/facilities and several new innovative products can also be introduced. An example of up gradation could be “Seetala Paida” (Chilled coconut water serving machine) instead of the roadside coconut water and new products like Chalanti Souchalaya” (Mobile Toilets) could become a sustainable income source and provide mass employment opportunities to the poor but we have not even given it a thought.
We are stuck with organizing only dance festivals without any modification in formats to appeal to the wider audience and it is only occasional to see an international surfing festival organized by private players, that too because of the passion of a few enthusiastic young entrepreneurs. Not to mention hop on hop off buses( for which we won a national award) from which barely you can see the outside world and so land up being used by the star hotels for ferrying the baratis; an attempt mere cosmetic!!!
Evidence is emerging from the microeconomic level suggesting that there is a range of practical and tested steps that can be taken by tourist product owners and managers to strengthen linkages between different types of tourism operations and the local economy. These range from sophisticated partnership arrangements, involving ownership of tourism facilities and land by local communities, to employment and small, medium and micro-enterprise (MSME) linkages between tourist products and local people.
First, an important part of most successful private sector/ community partnerships is skill facilitation to broker linkages that are financially and socially viable and sustainable.
Second, pro-poor tourism is not a zero sum game, with tourism companies and local communities competing over a fixed resource: both can benefit. Involvement of the local community often enhances the tourism brand and reaps rewards in greater customer satisfaction – a ‘win-win’ situation.
Third, there is growing evidence that pro-poor initiatives can be applied in the mainstream market, not just in relatively small niche eco-tourism operations.
Finally, developing linkages can have an important impact upon the local economy. Local entrepreneurs not only gain revenue from new contracts or customers, but the business advice, scale of demand, access to new markets, and enhanced reputation that comes from working with an established operator can lead to knock-on effects enabling a small enterprise to expand further.
Tourism needs to be responsible, inclusive and sustainable to enhance value and benefit all stakeholders. It is time for a re-examination of the evidence of the potential role for tourism as part of a broader pro-poor growth strategy in Odisha. Brings me back to my question “Will Odisha have a new Tourism Policy ever and will it be pro-poor?”
(The author runs a face book page called Visit Odisha at https://www.facebook.com/visitodisha to promote Odisha as an international travel destination and is Championing the effort to make Bhubaneswar Airport an international airport. Opinions expressed are his own and does not represent that of the organizations he is associated with. He can be reached at email@example.com)