Decentralization of state tourism boards to promote leisure tourism
The tourism industry is undergoing significant change due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Unlike previously where travelers had multiple domestic and international destinations available to explore, with the imposed lockdown, tourism is only expected to be driven by domestic tourism. In the first wave of the revival of domestic tourism, staycations and weekend getaways have picked up pace and urban tourism around the metro, tier-I and tier-II cities have seen the early trend of revival for the tourism industry.
A recent initiative taken by the Maharashtra government is the revival of the “RORO ferry” between Mumbai and Alibaug. Irrespective of the reduction in travel time between the two cities, the experience of traveling with your car on the ferry is new for many. The initiative taken by the government to promote local tourism at Alibaug has resulted in a new revenue model for them. The limited-service started as a test model is now set to witness an increase in services due to high demand from local people within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. As a result of the infrastructure created for the region, opportunist entrepreneurs have already started targeting the region and Noesis Capital Advisors is working on two feasibility studies within the region.
Countries like Thailand have already successfully implemented the decentralization method to promote a niche destination like Pai Town in Mae Hong Son. The responsibility of the smaller entity is to focus on targeted marketing, increase tourism, and in turn create livelihood opportunities for the local population. The decentralization of the region happened in 1999. By 2006, there were 1.2 lakh tourists both domestic and international combined, and generated an income of THB 478 million for the region.
Additionally to the decentralization of tourist destinations, the involvement of private players for the restoration of heritage sites, smaller projects are also required to ensure the maintenance of these sites to continue tourism inflow for the region. An example of the same is the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. The private company was authorized to restore the temple in 1992. During that time, an average of 7,500 tourists visited the site every year. In 2018, the tourist inflow for the same temple increased to 2.6 million a year and generated revenue from tickets to the range of USD 100 million. Similar steps can be taken for sites at Khajuraho where average daily footfall is as less as 150-200 people. The involvement of private players for these sites will lead to restoration, maintenance, revenue generation, extensive marketing, and creating long term employment opportunities for many.
In the context of niche leisure destinations gaining prominence, the state governments of India need to enact on it and re-look at the state level tourism policies and tourism boards. The government needs to promote niche leisure destinations to create awareness. It will not only increase the visibility of the destination but will also open up new employment opportunities in the region in the medium to long term.
To achieve the desired result, the state governments need to decentralize the tourism boards and create smaller entities just like the urban local bodies (municipal corporations) with given responsibilities to maintain and promote those destinations. These nuclear entities should be run by technocrats who understand the basic technicality behind tourism. The state’s tourism board should take the responsibility of creating/upgrading policies related to the upliftment of tourism and these smaller entities should be given the responsibility to maximize the revenue from these destinations. For example, a state like Maharashtra, there should be smaller tourism-focused entities under the tourism board for cities/districts like Aurangabad, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Alibaug, etc. These entities should not only be responsible for promotions of the destination but understand the infrastructure requirements of the region as well.
These small initiatives if taken appropriately can result in increasing the popularity of many tourist destinations across the country and further strengthen the economic contribution of tourism in India’s GDP.