Unleashing the potential of the tourism industry in Odisha
The tourism sector is gearing towards a very exciting time in Odisha. The scenic beauty, temples, monuments, craftsmanship, wildlife sanctuaries, natural landscapes and pristine beaches make the state an ultimate tourism destination. As on March 2019, 358 places were identified as tourist centers in Odisha. There has been a steady increase in the arrival rate of tourists in the state. During 2018-19, the tourist arrivals in Odisha was around 15.6 million as compared to 14.3 million in 2017-18, indicating a growth rate of 8.76% . Despite the numerous offerings in the state, the opportunities within the tourism industry are yet to be captured. The untapped potential of tourism in Odisha will require committed and sustained support from all stakeholders, especially the government and the private sector, for the state to give a boost to the tourism sector.
Tourism sector is an industry that is government-led and private sector-driven. The government acts as a facilitator where it formulates policies and programs for tourism development and the private sector invests money into opportunities within the sector. The current Odisha Tourism Policy, launched in the year 2016, aims to create an atmosphere which will attract more investment through liberalized incentives and benefits . The infrastructure of tourism development falls into two categories, basic infrastructure and tourist infrastructure. The basic facilities are provided by the government which include road, electricity, water, transport, postal & tele-communication, and medical care. The touristic facilities invite investments from the private sector which include accommodation, restaurant, public convenience, tours, and recreation services. Therefore, facilitated by the public sector, the private sector should play a lead in the development of the tourism industry.
There have been recent efforts made by the state that have the potential to transform the face of tourism in Odisha. The state has launched the country’s first glamping festival, the Marine Drive Eco Retreat near the Konark Sun Temple. The state government has also introduced ‘Eco-trails Odisha’, a trekking and hiking program, to promote eco-tourism and educate tourists on flora and fauna of these destinations . The program has been launched by the Forest and Environment department at different eco-tourism destinations in 20 districts covering forest areas, valleys, meadows, hills, rivers and streams.
During the Union Budget, there were 17 sites identified as iconic sites in 11 states and 1 Union Territory by the Union Ministry of Tourism under Iconic Tourist Sites Development Project. These sites are being developed in a holistic manner with a focus on connectivity, infrastructure, skilling, community building, promotion and branding by bringing in private investment. The sites included Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Qutub Minar in New Delhi . Odisha has many such destinations, such as the Sun Temple at Konark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Ramsar site at Bhitarkanika; Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon Chilika lake, that can match the tourism potential of the identified iconic sites. The Hon'ble Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Minister Prahlad Singh Patel has mentioned that the Sun Temple of Konark in Odisha will be added to the list of ‘iconic sites’. This will allow Odisha to become competitive in the global and domestic travel marketplace.
There are various challenges faced by the tourism sector which have not allowed the sector to reach its complete potential. One of the major challenges for Odisha is the unavailability of adequate accommodation in the state. As per Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha, there is an investment opportunity of Rs. 2,500 crores in the tourism sector in the state in the next five years to bring it at par with the other major Indian states. The room requirement across the state was around 5,500 by 2017, of which, 4,000 rooms are required in 3-star hotel category.
Moreover, the state currently has only two five-star hotels and four three-star hotels. There is an increasing need of good hotels at domestic tourist locations to enable the Indian hospitality sector to compete with neighbouring countries. Furthermore, considering Odisha is a growing industrial hub, it would be beneficial to invest in medium-spending group hotels and high spending group hotels in order to attract business tourism. Another challenge faced by the tourism sector in Odisha is the lack of marketing and promotional efforts by the state to showcase their numerous offerings. There is strategic guidance required for brand positioning to make the state more visible on the global map where the state should be marketed responsibly to highlight the country’s distinctive and multiple offerings. Therefore, the collective efforts of the public and the private sector can help this marvellous state reach its full potential and thereby gain a prominent position in the global and domestic marketplace.