Wednesday, April 25, 2007

359 lions to see, 40 AC rooms to stay


The Times of India - Himanshu Kaushik


SASAN: Gujarat has never tried to woo tourists with its most unique attraction — the Asiatic lion. Unbelievable as it may seem, there are just 40 air-conditioned rooms in Sasan and other places on the periphery of the Gir sanctuary.


Of these, 15 are air-conditioned tents. The seven hotels around Gir have altogether 88 rooms and none of them qualify even for three-star status. The best property — The Taj Gir Lodge — has been closed since 1995.


While the Gujarat government would like to believe that this hotel has been shut for 12 long years for 'renovation', it appears that Taj group has lost interest in Gir.


As a result, Gir at best gets the day tourist, who heads elsewhere for a night's stay. Hardly five per cent of the 30,000 tourists who visit the sanctuary every year actually stay overnight.


Since three star status is the minimum required for a hotel to get a licence to sell liquor to permit holders, you can't get an alcoholic drink in any of these hotels.


The government has also been casual in selling the idea of tourism in Gir. During the recent Vibrant Gujarat investors' summit, 34 MoUs were signed in the tourism sector.


None of these projects are located in Gir. It can, of course, be argued that there is a clash of interest between conservation and tourism because a heavy flow of tourist can disturb the peace of the wildlife.


But experience all over the world has shown that regulated tourism can in fact generate revenue for better conservation.


Minister of state for Tourism C D Patel said "Development in and around Gir is restricted because of norms laid down for protection of environment and forests."


That is surprising because other states have exploited the tourism potential of their sanctuaries by encouraging private investment in hotel projects on the periphery of the protected areas.

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