Maharashtra to have ten ropeways in next ten years

Tourism can be a great employment generator, only if supported with right policies. In an interview, Dilip Gawade, IAS, Director, Directorate of Tourism and Dhananjay D Sawalkar, Joint Director, Directorate Tourism, Maharashtra talk to Free Press Journal’s Jescilia Karayamparambil and R N Bhaskar, about the policies and initiatives that are being introduced to promote Maharashtra Tourism.

Which destinations in Maharashtra is Directorate Tourism promoting?

Sawalkar: In Maharashtra, we are promoting around 125 beaches in five districts, 350 forts, six national parks, 49 wildlife sanctuaries and five tiger reserves, five heritage sites, 800 caves and more than 100 religious places. Maharahtra has many trekking sites as well.

Gawade: We are trying to promote all of them.

What is your budget for promotion this year?

Sawalkar: This year the government had approved Rs 80 crore. Of that, Rs 48 crore is released from the budget and the rest of the amount will be released in one and a half months’ time.

What is happening in ecotourism and agri-tourism?

Sawalkar: Just recently, we met the tourism minister and briefed him about the agri-tourism policy (draft). We have got sanctions from seven departments. So, we are hopeful that the policy will be finalised soon (within the coming months).

Will you face any manpower challenge or any other challenges after this agri-policy is implemented?

Sawalkar: We have six regional offices already. In the policy, it is requested that these offices should be given power to carry out registration of the locations approved or to be approved. We have received a suggestion that an online portal should be dedicated for this registration process. We are working towards setting up the website.

But the existing website of MTDC is not active. How do you plan on keeping existing websites active?

Sawalkar: We understand this. That is the reason why we plan to start a different website that will promote all the destinations in Maharashtra. MTDC, as the name itself suggests, will promote its own properties and those properties which it has a relationship. In that sense our mandate is a lot vaster. It covers all existing and potential locations in the state.

Do you have an approved list of hotel and restaurant partners?

Sawalkar: No, we only have an approved list of Bed and Breakfast (B&B) partners. Under ‘Mahabhraman’, we have 133 approved places. Under B&B, there are about 1,350 approved stays.

Tourism Minister, Aditya Thackeray kept saying that night life is important. But if moral policing comes in place would it not hurt the whole concept of promoting nightlife. How does tourism department look at dealing with this?

Sawalkar: We have introduced the concept of tourism police in the draft tourism policy. In that, the issue of safety and security is taken care of. But in case of moral policing, we have not looked at it closely.

Gawade: When a tourist is moving around in a tourist destination, they are not asked to show their papers. But if they choose to stay in a hotel, they will have to share identification details.

Sawalkar: One should not forget Maharashtra like any other region has two sets of people. One set is forward looking and other set does not agree with some of the liberal ideas. For instance in case of beach policy, we had taken suggestions from excise department. We asked them their view on selling liquor on the beaches. So they suggested that we should not allow hard liquor. Beer and wines could however be sold there. But when we put this policy up for suggestions, people residing in Konkan said ‘do not allow any liquor in the region’.

Gawade: It will take some time to change the mindset of people. Our culture which is centuries old cannot change in a day or two. It will take time but it will happen.

At what rate is tourism in Maharashtra growing?

Sawalkar: As per 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 figures, in domestic tourism we are number five. In international tourism, we are number one in case of people arriving in India. Maharashtra accounts for 20 per cent of foreign arrivals in the country.

Would you know the number of tourists that stayed in Maharashtra for over two days or more?

Sawalkar: As of now, we do not have that data. But we are looking at hiring an agency that will help us with such data collection.

Gawade: We are considering using such data to improve Maharashtra’s tourism. We have submitted the proposal to the secretary to allow us to appoint an agency. We have set aside Rs 50 lakh for the same.

For tourism policing, will you’ll deploy police or other authorities?

Sawalkar: For this, we will take the help of police forces. We will be asking the police to deploy their forces in the special tourist destinations. We have conveyed our requirement in writing to them.

Does the Directorate of Tourism have any tie-ups with tour operators?

Sawalkar: These tie-ups are not directly with Directorate of Tourism but with MTDC. The partnership is with 225 tour operators. When we go to other countries or states to represent Maharashtra, we take select tour operators with us. This is only limited to operators who run packages specifically for Maharashtra.

What are the other activities that you have planned to promote rural tourism?

Gawade: We are proposing to offer home dining experience to tourists. Within a few days, we will float the request for proposal (RFP) for this scheme. Under this programme, any family which wants to give a home dining experience to tourists can participate.

Sawalkar: There will an online platform. Through that platform, there will be a registration and verification process undertaken. After the completion of verification process, these partners will join us. We are expecting around 10,000 homes in Maharashtra to join us.

Permission was recently given to Mumbai Shops and Establishments to operate 24x7. How do you expect it to boost tourism in the city?

Sawalkar: The tourism minister always wanted to introduce this. The minister had started working on this already. In the past, he met the home ministry and BMC (Mumbai Municipal Corporation) several times for the same. But that decision is finally made. This will give a major boost to the city.

Not just for the population residing in the city, but the travellers who come to Mumbai late at night will be able to enjoy the benefits of this 24X7 operation. We do not have any data to understand the economic value of this decision. But there is no doubt that it will boost tourism.

What kind of plan is on for water transport connectivity and tourism?

Sawalkar: There is no development in the introduction of jetties. The task of appointment of jetties is with the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB). But, MMB informed us that the introduction of jetties falls under the Bharatmala project. As per the scheme, the state and central government will put 50 per cent each. MMB is asking the tourism department to shell out that 50 per cent completely. But we do not have funds to support that. We will have to spend around Rs 1-2 crore for these jetties. But we will not let the idea to introduce jetties fade away. After a while, we will talk to the minister for this as well.

What is your progress in ropeway?

Sawalkar: For ropeways, we have received some proposals from private players. This is under consideration. For ropeways in forts, we have received many proposals. We have received proposal for Pratapgad (proposal already approved) and Sinhagad (in process). Raigad ropeway is already functional.

In Nashik, we have started the first funicular trolley of India (capacity of 60 people) too. In Nanded, the central government has approved a ropeway too.

In ten years’ time, we will have 10 fully-functioning ropeways.

While many states and other countries value Bollywood, why is Maharashtra not giving it the attention it deserves?

Gawade: We are actively working with them. But it is usually for the films which have a synergy with the state. We have made a 30-second TVC around the movie ‘Tanhaji’. We have promoted three-four forts with these TVC. This TVC is aired across 15 channels in the country and 500 screens (in the metro). We are promoting the TVC in social media platforms too.

Sawalkar: Another initiative will be with small Bollywood studios. In Mumbai, we will interact with all studios and request them to open up their studios to small tourist groups. These groups can watch the shoot which can be an amazing experience for the tourists. This will not just bring in extra income to the studios, but also the crazy fans of Bollywood will have a memory of their lifetime.

At present, the Maharashtra government has partnered with Film City for the same. In an individual capacity, Nitin Desai studio in Karjat is also welcoming tourism. But now, we want to bag in small studios to take up this activity.

Why is Maharashtra Tourism not very active on social media like other states which promote tourism?

Gawade: For so long, the social media activity was with MTDC. For the first time, we hired an agency (through a tendering process).

Sawalkar: For the past few months, we promoted it organically. Now, we are doing paid activity and we have got good response to it. In the last 15 days, there has been an increase of 40,000 followers in the Facebook page. This is mainly due to the TVC and also photography contest organised by us. Our numbers are still low but we will work towards strengthening our social media presence.

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