BHUBANESWAR: Even though Odisha is a paradise for tourists, neighbouring Chhattisgarh draws more visitors.
As per a report on tourist footfall in India in 2013 released by the market research division of the Ministry of Tourism recently, the ‘Scenic, Serene and Sublime’ Odisha does not figure in the Top-10 list of either domestic tourist footfall or international tourist footfall. This despite Odisha Government’s claim of undertaking aggressive marketing through road shows, exhibitions and tourism marts, both within and outside India.
The top five States in terms of number of domestic tourist arrivals (in millions) during 2013 were Tamil Nadu (244.2), Uttar Pradesh (226.5) and Andhra Pradesh (152.1), Karnataka (98.0) and Maharashtra (82.7). While Chhattisgarh bagged 10th rank with 22.8 million tourists, Odisha drew just 9.8 million tourists of which 66,675 were foreigners, much less than its young neighbour. The Ministry even had a word of appreciation for Chhattisgarh as it climbed to 10th rank from 16th in 2012. Odisha maintained its 19th rank in 2013 and 2012.
Apparently, eco-tourism has been the biggest selling point of Chhattisgarh. The neighbouring State, though hit by Maoism like in Odisha, is emerging as the new eco-tourism destination in India. “Maximum tourist traffic last year was for Sirpur-Kodar-Raipur-Tandula eco-tourism circuit, besides tribal and rural tourism. This year, we got `113.5 crore from the Ministry and a major chunk of this amount will be used in eco-tourism projects,” said Managing Director of Chhattisgarh Tourism Board Santosh Kumar Mishra.
Odisha, on the other hand, has been depending on the age-old Puri-Konark and Diamond Triangle circuits. Its eco-tourism sector comprising Similipal, Bhitarkanika, Tikarpada, Chilika, Chandaka-Damapara, Nandankanan, Debrigarh and Kuldiha lacks heavily on infrastructure. None of these sites has proper accommodation units. Its vast coastline of 480 km fails to attract tourists.
“There is a need for shift of focus. Though eco-tourism in Odisha can be the biggest crowd puller, the department is not doing anything about it. Besides, after the ban on tribal tourism in 2012-13, tourist footfall has drastically reduced,” said J K Mohanty, Chairman, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha. He added that the association has urged the State Government to provide them land in eco-tourism sites to build infrastructure.
Tourism Minister Ashok Panda said after implementation of the Odisha Tourism Policy last year, the department has received 68 proposals of which 66 are related to hotel sector and two eco-tourism.
“Considering the popularity of eco-tourism, we have urged the Forest department to hand over their accommodation units to the Odisha Forest Development Corporation that can enter into an MoU with Odisha Tourism Development Corporation to operate these for general tourists. Most of these units are not being put to use now,” he said.