One of the sectors that has been savagely impacted most by Covid-19 is the tourism sector. However, during the lockdown period, Maharashtra ensured that it introduced policies and packages which would help attract more investments and domestic tourists. Excerpts:
In Covid-19 times, what did you do to restore the sector?
During the pandemic, the Directorate of Tourism played dual roles. In the first lockdown, the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of External Affairs (at the centre) had assigned us the responsibility to help foreign tourists stuck in the state during the lockdown. Tourists were stuck in many destinations of Maharashtra like Tadoba (Nagpur), Aurangabad etc. So, we were assigned the task to help these tourists on board the flight when their respective countries provided flights to take their citizens back. So, we helped 243 foreign tourists as lockdown restrictions were in place and travelling across the state was difficult.
There was no — or very minimal — work taking place in the tourism sector during the first wave of Covid-19. So, we decided to focus on policy-level changes for the industry. The first thing was implementing a 20-year-old policy — we gave tourism the desired industry status — making Maharashtra the first state in India to do so. After that, we ensured that agro-tourism, caravan tourism, beach shacks, and ease of doing policies got an impetus. These policies are very important for the tourism of Maharashtra. There is a change in tourist behaviour today, and travellers are avoiding crowded places.
Keeping this in mind, we introduced agro-tourism and caravan tourism policies. For the agro-tourism policy, we have received a very good response. More than 400 farmers have registered with us and have set-up their centres in the state. So, the state is training them on hospitality, marketing and so on. Caravan tourism is, however, taking time to pick up. This is mainly because there is a vehicle tax for caravans which is slightly on the higher side. The decision is taken on this. We are waiting for GR to be issued. Last year, under the beach shack policy, the Directorate recognised eight beaches where the policy could be implemented. So, the plan is ready. After Diwali, beach shacks and beach facility centres will commence.
How would you ensure that the tourists are safe from the virus?
Basic rules exist. But there is a detailed protocol in place for accommodation, open areas, transportation and so on. Along with the Indian government, we are making use of an application -- Saathi. And from Maharashtra, around 370 hotels have registered in this app. Thus ensuring that they are following Covid-19 protocols.
Where is Maharashtra today in the case of medical tourism?
At present, for international tourists, only medical tourism is permitted. Residents from the middle-east countries, east African countries and Bangladesh are mainly coming to the state for medical tourism. Maharashtra is the only state in India to have nine international-accredited medical facilities in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune. There are dedicated medical tourism wings in the state.
Patients are coming, but they are facing a lot of difficulties due to the irregularities in flights. This sector is picking up. And to boost this sector further, the Maharashtra Tourism department will organise an International Medical Tourism conference with countries from where these medical tourists are arriving. We are creating more medical tourist facilitators, and our focus is to facilitate medical tourism. By increasing the number of medical tourist facilitators, we were are trying to achieve that.
Would you have details on the number of domestic tourists Maharashtra attracts?
Before the pandemic, the domestic tourist arrival was 14 crores. It is estimated that domestic tourists for 2021 will be around 3.9 crores.
How much was invested in the sector during the pandemic?
The state has invested around Rs 300 crore.
How much investment is expected in the sector?
During the pandemic, we signed MoUs with 13 hospitality companies. This will attract Rs 3,000 crore worth of investments in the near future. The land has been purchased, and the construction activity has started. Aurangabad, Nagpur, Pune and Sindhudurg regions have attracted major investments. We have enlisted 39 properties of MTDC, which include existing resorts, open areas and so on. We have floated a tender for these properties and are expecting investments worth Rs 1,000 crore in these properties.
We are also developing two ropeways under the BOT model — Ekvira Devi Temple and Rajgad Fort. We are expecting around Rs 200 crore investment in these projects. We have finalised the DPR. These were the investments that went on during the Covid-19 period.
Going forward, are there any special packages or schemes that will help Maharashtra?
This is an area that we want to focus more on. Compared to Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, we found that concepts like packages, group tours and family tours are not quite prevalent in Maharashtra. Major tourism in Maharashtra is weekend tourism. Now, our focus is to develop an ecosystem that will focus on concepts like packages etc. We are roping in tour operators from Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, etc., and other states to ensure this happens. Currently, we have identified 25 packages. On World Tourism Day, we are launching our new website. We will promote those packages on the website.
Any other upcoming initiatives?
We are planning to organise 20 mini-festivals in the coming days. We are planning a social media activity as well to create awareness about various locations in the state. We are looking at efficient rental homes policies that will help utilise all the villas lying vacant in the outskirts of the cities.