BHUBANESWAR: The abduction of two Italians by Maoists has come as a body blow for tour operators of the State who are already reeling under the impact of restrictions imposed on tribal tourism.
There was a noticeable slump in the foreign tourist inflow after the State Government imposed restrictions on visit of foreigners to areas inhabited by primitive vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs). Photography and videography of the tribals were also prohibited. Due to just photography restriction, 20 per cent of agents abroad are now not interested in promoting Odisha, said tour operators.
The bookings further nose-dived after the hostage drama of the Italians.
Travel & Tour Operators Association of Odisha president Benjamin Simon said as many as 120 bookings by foreign tourist agents to Odisha have been cancelled since the hostage drama. “These bookings had been made for the tourism season from October to March. The situation will further worsen if there isn’t any positive message from the State Government soon,” he said. This apart, six major European tour operators were to visit the tribal-inhabited districts to study tourism infrastructure in the areas. “They too have cancelled their visits after the incident. Incidentally, 60 per cent of the foreign visitors to Odisha come from European countries, particularly Italy and France,” he said.
Benjamin said the local tour operators are now in touch with district administrations of Kandhamal, Koraput and Ganjam where some foreign tourists ventured two weeks back. “In fact, the day when the news broke out, some tourists were already on their way to the tribal districts. They are in the last lap of their visit and the district administrations have assured us of their safe return,” he said.
Foreign tourist inflow to the State had risen in the last five years due to the aggressive marketing strategy by tour operators and the Tourism Department. “One of the reasons behind increase in foreign tourist inflow was through word-of-mouth. This apart, these tourists depend on brochures of tourist places and in the last five years, international tour operators had started putting ‘Destination Odisha’ in their brochures,” said Benjamin, adding that the negative publicity after the abduction will affect tourist inflow.
Meanwhile, demanding release of the two Italians, hoteliers, students of hotel management institutes and tour operators took out a silent procession at the PMG Square on Thursday evening.
President of Hotel & Restaurant Association of Odisha J K Mohanty said the aim behind the rally was to demand immediate release of the Italians without any condition.
The two Italian nationals - Paolo Basusco and Claudio Colangelo - were abducted by Maoists after they reached Daringibadi on March 12 for trekking.