ODISHA: Odisha is one of the most important tourist circuits of India. Be it the beaches, temples, architecture, handicrafts, handlooms, mangrove forests, wildlife, sand art, silver filigree or the largest lake of the Northern Hemisphere ‘Chilika Lagoon’ and the large number of tribes that attract foreign tourists to the State, the potential is limitless.
If it is rich with its mineral resources below the soil, the State is much richer with its tourism potential above it. Many suggestions were given by experts who participated in the last Odisha Tourism Conclave and we are happy the State Government incorporated much of the suggestions. But focused attention on quality tourism is the need of the hour and a target should be set for the Tourism Department to increase tourist footfalls to the State as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been allocating more financial resources year on year to the Department.
Short-term planning for three years and long term for 6-7 years should be done by the Tourism Department in consultation and association with stakeholders to increase tourist traffic to Odisha. The report of the Parliamentary Working Group on Tourism for the 12th Five Year Plan highlighted an acute shortage of hotel rooms in India and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism & Culture suggested the need to significantly augment hotel room capacity.
At the Odisha Tourism Conclave, we had also urged the State Government to increase the hotel room capacity to at least 5,000 in tourist places that nature has created beautifully for Odisha. However, due to the lack of good quality hotel rooms, tourists cannot stay in those places. For this, it is necessary to give Infrastructure Status to the hotel industry. Infrastructure Status to hotels under Section 801/A of the Income Tax Act will enable the hotel industry to get 100 per cent deduction of profits for a period of 10 years.
Infrastructure status also entitles the hospitality sectors to avail fiscal benefits such as (1) Viability Gap Funding (2) Infrastructure Lending (3) External Credit Borrowings (4) Deduction up to 40 per cent of income derived by Financial Institutions from investment in equity shares and debentures issued for infrastructure facility and (5) Exemption allowed on dividends and interest from long term gains earned by infrastructure Funds. Further, Incredible India needs to add the most attractive tourist destinations of Odisha in its campaign for tourism promotion. The Buddhist Circuit of Odisha as well as Bihar and Jharkhand doesn’t figure prominently in the Buddhist Circuits promoted by India Tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism may kindly build basic infrastructure in all the Buddhist Circuits in Odisha and Jharkhand. Direct flight connectivity to Bodh Gaya, Pune, Udaipur and Ahmedabad is badly needed by Odisha. Similarly important is the Shree Jagannath International Airport at Puri. We are sure the State Government would create the infrastructure for the next century with the most modern state-of-the-art technology. The international airport at Puri will attract a large number of Hindus well established in various foreign countries besides a large number of Indians to have direct flight access to the land of the Lord Jagannath. This vision of CM Naveen Patnaik in making Puri an International Hub, not only for pilgrims but also for tourists as well is a masterstroke to develop the Pilgrim Town as a major attraction in Eastern India.
In the international sector, we need connectivity with Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nepal etc., for a better connection with all the tourism circuits. An international convention centre with all modern amenities and state-of-the-art facilities is required to attract MICE tourism in Odisha.
The airport of Jeypore in Koraput district needs to be connected under the Udaan scheme of the Government of India. I would suggest the Government of India to prepare short-term and long-term plans for next two to four years for investment in the tourism and hospitality sector. The private sector is more than capable of extending its expertise but long-term funding at a cheaper rate of interest is required to build the sector. The private sector will definitely invest in the hospitality and tourism sector if the Government considers a few things such as soft loans, long-term financing and infrastructure status to the hotel industry.
Besides making available land at a special rate, quick clearances (through the Single Window system) as hotels require more than 32 clearances from various departments which is time taking will come as a huge boost to the industry and bring in private capital. Similarly, capital investment subsidies both from Central and State Governments must be considered as they will attract huge investment from the private sector. Although the Chief Minister has constituted a Tourism Advisory Committee and State Tourism Promotion Council, meetings have not been held in the last two years, and decisions taken earlier are yet to be implemented. These two bodies must meet regularly and take things forward.
The writer is Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Swosti Group.