K'taka must realise its tourism potential

What differentiates tourist-friendly states from hostile ones? Destination manage-ment is the clue.

Karnataka is the first state to introduce the concept of ‘Tourist Mitras’, who are home guards, and now trained to be tourist guides. These Tourist Mitras would assist tourists to have an enjoyable visit to various destinations and handle any problems. To that extent, the concept, if implemented successfully, should support tourism in the state.

Karnataka, which is home to several forts, architectural marvels and blessed with a rich cultural heritage, has 319 tourist destinations that include temple, adventure, heritage and beach tourism sites and earns enormous revenue for both government and private sector. Despite these tourist assets, does Karnataka realise its true tourism potential? 

Today, Karnataka figures fourth on the national tourism map of the country after Kerala, Rajasthan and Goa. Clearly, high tourist inflows into these three states suggest that they are truly tourist-friendly destinations. They have evolved innovative tourism policies, strong brand management strategies and destination management practices.

Kerala has over the years come to be associated with the words “God’s Own Country” and Rajasthan “Palace on the Wheels” while Goa is a must visit destination for its beaches, pilgrimage and heritage tourism sites. In 2013, Karnataka was ranked as the fourth preferred destination for domestic tourists and third to attract tourism-related investments.

The State’s success story in tourism is the government-run Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation’s Jungle Lodges and Resorts which has gained popularity and is a money spinner. Interestingly, Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn is known to visit the Nagarhole game sanctuary in Kodagu – which speaks volumes about its value as a tourist destination.

Similarly, Gokarna in Uttara Kannada district attracts European tourists to its pristine beaches which again underlines the state’s tourism potential. Mysore, which is the “Yoga capital of India”, attracts droves of foreigners. But it sadly lacks an air link that tends to affects long-haul tourists who have flown from afar to Bengaluru.

What differentiates tourist-friendly states from tourist hostile ones? Evidently, destination management makes all the difference between the two types of states. While the Karnataka tourism policy tends to concentrate on destination marketing, it invariably ignores destination management.

The problem to be addressed in the case of tourist destinations are facilities, in terms of airline connectivity, railway network, approach roads, crime prevention, hotels, food, local transport and public toilets. Additionally, interests of multiple stakeholders or “Owners of Assets” involve destination management.

There are multiple stakeholders associated with a destination who may benefit from direct or indirect participation in tourism that generates economic activity and benefits the local community. They include private players like travel agencies, government agencies like road transport corporations, railways, state-owned luxury accommodation, tourism-oriented NGOs researching issues linked to environment, society or culture, besides the local community.
 
For instance, Nandi Hills is a popular tourist destination on the outskirts of Bengaluru managed by the state government’s Department of Horticulture which has its own priorities that may not be in tune with the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation.

Tourism Vision Group
The 2015-16 Karnataka Budget allocates an outlay of Rs 406 crore for the Department of Tourism with Rs 50 crore to implement the recommendations of the Karnataka Tourism Vision Group. The budget articulates ambitious plans to promote historical destinations like Beluru, Hampi, Pattadakal, besides create hotel management institutes at Karwar and Hampi.

The Karnataka Tourism Policy 2015-20 was launched with the vision to develop the state as a safe, sustainable and most favoured tourism destination by an increase in domestic and international visitations; offer high quality experience to visitors; facilitate and accelerate investments; and improve livelihood opportunities at the local levels. 

Tourism in Karnataka takes place through a single entry point of state capital from where tourists proceed to Mysuru, Hassan, Shravanabelagola, Gokarna and Hampi among other destinations. Instead, the government should develop multiple entry points and attract tourists from Goa directly to other destinations and obviate the need to come all the way to Bengaluru. Tourists would appreciate ease of access to various destinations within Karnataka rather than undertake tedious road journeys given the absence of airline connectivity.

The silver lining in the Karnataka Budget is a reference to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model wherein major tourism projects will be jointly developed in collaboration with the private sector in conjunction with the Karnataka Tourism Infrastructure Corporation. It would include development of coastal regions and some hint-erland areas leading to improvement local economies  here.  

While the state could improve tourist infrastructure like airline connectivity, smoother roads, electricity, besides law and order, it must encourage travel operators to step up tourist footfalls into Karnataka.

Hopefully, the PPP model would be the way forward for tourism in the state aided by the capital and human resources pooled together by both the private sector and the government. 

(The writer is an Assistant Professor of Tourism Studies, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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