Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bachchan casts a spell on Gujarat’s tourism sector

Bachchan casts a spell on Gujarat's tourism sector
Khaleejtimes By Mahesh Trivedi

The Gujarat government, with Amitabh Bachchan in tow, is inching towards its goal to prove to its critics that the land of Mahatma Gandhi, or rather Narendra Modi, can attract tourists even without the bubbly flowing freely in the dry state.

With the arrival of rains, the famous Gir wildlife sanctuary, the only abode of Asiatic lions, near Junagadh shut its doors on holidayers on June 16 for four months but tourism officials will not be twiddling their thumbs.

Egged on by the just-announced Rs1.5-billion Central aid for developing the state's three tourist spots, hectic preparations are now on for the third visit of the Hindi film superstar next month to shoot for short films to promote tourism in Champaner, Pavagadh, Ambaji and Saputara, a picturesque hill station, where the department is also organising a four-week monsoon festival.

Bachchan, who first came to Somnath, Girnar, and Bhuj and then shot at Ahmedabad, Porbandar and Dwarka during his second trip, has not been charging any fee from the Modi government and has proved to be a boon for debt-ridden Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited.

Corporation bosses, indeed, admit that the tourist arrivals to Gujarat have increased by at least by 15 per cent after gripping television promos featuring the Bollywood legend were released last year.

Union Tourism Minister Subodhkant Sahai's announcement last week to offer Rs500 million each for Dwarka (a pilgrim centre), Porbandar (Mahatma Gandhi's birthplace) and Bharuch's Kabir Vad (a 300-year-old gigantic single banyan tree spread over 2.5 acres) has also administered a shot in the arm of the dormant tourism industry.

In order to bring in tourists to Gujarat, and to market its sight-seeing places, the state tourism department has also entered into a pact with Rajasthan, Karnataka and Punjab for inter-state tourism.

While Gujarat is desperate to woo tourists visiting Rajasthan, the neighbouring state is targeting the non-resident Gujaratis who return to their home towns in Gujarat during the winter.

While Gujarat wants foreign tourists from Rajasthan, it is trying to woo religious tourists from Punjab. And if Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra tourism department, too, tie up, Gujarat will be able to offer the entire western part of India to any tourist as one single destination.

The next in line is Goa, where Gujarat wants to promote its wildlife and religious tourism along with beach tourism on its 1,600-km coastline, the longest in the country.

According to Tourism Minister J N Vyas, his department has selected 16 'ill-equipped' beaches, many of them virgin, for promoting 'beach tourism' with a view to attracting domestic and foreign tourists to the state.

A master plan has been prepared for each of these beaches, including levelling along a three-kilometre stretch of each beach, landscaping, benches, kiosks, toilets, lighting and caravan facilities, etc.

For a novel project, Rs60 million has been sanctioned by the Gujarat government to upgrade the Balasinor Dinosaur Fossil Park in Raioli, home to the one of the largest dinosaur fossils sites in the world and where you can touch dinosaur remains and hold a 65-million-year-old egg in your hands.

Aaliya Sultana Babi, the former princess of Balasinor and owner of a heritage hotel, is an enthusiastic promoter and protector of the dinosaur legacy and conducts tours to the site, in an effort to boost heritage tourism in the state.

Wankaner Palace's Digvijay Singh, yet another family member of royal families of erstwhile princely states in Gujarat, also takes tourists on a memorable visit to the state's 1935-built step-well in the middle of a river.

The 30-odd heritage hotel owners, not happy with the incentives being offered now, are meeting Modi on June 19 in the hope of receiving better sops for their eye-catching properties on the lines of ones given in Rajasthan.

Well, with ambitious plans for intra-state budget flights, 11 new airports, whale shark tourism, medical tourism was well as Sardar Patel tours and a Sufi circuit, Gujarat is sure to go places even without lifting the age-old liquor ban despite losing excise revenues worth Rs25 billion a year.

After all, following the promotional advertisments videographed with the Bollywood megastar Big B, the state has seen an increase in tourist flow by nearly 1.3 million in the five months ending December last what with the number of foreign tourists also shooting up by 65 per cent — from mere 84,442 in 2009 to 1,42,175 now.

Over to Amitabh!

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