Lack of international flights roadblock for Odisha tourism

In post-Covid scenario, domestic tourism has showed signs of bouncing back but not the international arrivals
File photo of Biju Patnaik International Airport
File photo of Biju Patnaik International Airport

BHUBANESWAR: Going by the current tourist bookings, domestic tourism seems to have got back on its feet post-Covid but that has not been the case with international arrivals in Odisha yet. Stakeholders attribute this to lack of direct international flights to Bhubaneswar.

The state has seen a meagre number of international tourist footfalls this year so far and the number of such visitors was just 2,269 last year against 37.4 lakh domestic arrivals, as per a report of Ministry of Tourism. Interestingly, the foreign tourist footfalls were better in 2020 when 10,206 travellers from other countries arrived in Odisha despite the lockdowns at many intervals of the year. That year, 46.2 lakh domestic tourists had visited the state.

Pre-Covid, 1.15 lakh foreign tourists arrived in the state and the number was 1 crore for the domestic tourism sector in 2019. During this period, Odisha used to get the majority of international travellers (opting for organised tours) from Western Europe and Malaysia.

“Of the total bookings for organised tours between October this year and March-end next year, foreign arrivals in Odisha are only 10 per cent. Blame it on the lack of direct international flights. Prior to Covid, we at least had direct flights to Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia,” said chairman of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) Odisha chapter, Gagan Sarangi.

He added that most of the foreign tourists coming to the state opt for eco-tourism (community based), culture, rural and ethnic tourism. The travel and hospitality sectors have their hopes pinned on the possibility of direct flights to Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok (these countries have been large air hubs) from Bhubaneswar. Two months back, the state government had invited a request for quotation (RFQ) for selection of airlines to have a direct flight between Bhubaneswar and international destinations, the above-mentioned three countries being the first in the line.

Only one airline - Indigo - has evinced interest in operating direct flights from Bhubaneswar to the three countries, with three flights a week including the weekends. Officials in the Transport department said Indigo’s proposal has been sent to the state government for consideration. “For any international flight service, there is a need for continuity. We are hoping that if one airline begins its direct flights from Bhubaneswar to different countries and is provided all the facilities to continue the service, other airlines will follow,” said principal secretary of the department Usha Padhee.

In the Odisha Travel Bazaar that was organised earlier this year by FICCI, foreign tour operators of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and other South Asian countries had evinced interest in tourism partnership with the state, provided there is direct flight connectivity.

Chairman of Hotel & Restaurant Association of Odisha and IATO (eastern region) JK Mohanty said international tourism can be revived if there is direct air connectivity to Thailand, Dubai, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal besides, flights between Bhubaneswar and Bodh Gaya. “Because, a lot of international tourists come to Bodh Gaya through Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai for Buddhist tourism. HRAO also suggests that international flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai can be diverted to Bhubaneswar for lessening the congestion,” he said.

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