A state paving its way for the prime agenda; ‘development’, tourism policies and infrastructure that can attract its people back to their native land.
It was almost two decades ago when the state of Uttarakhand was carved out, stocked with things nobody could detach; untouched nature, the warmest and hospitable people and heritage. One would always mention the state as one of the newest addition to India’s demography but on the contrary, the state finds its mention in ancient mythology as a part of the Kuru and the Panchal kingdoms (mahajanpads) during the Vedic age. In Hindu mythology also, Uttarakhand has been recognised as a part of the famed Kedarkhand (Now Garhwal) and Manaskhand (Kumaon). It is also believed that the famous sage Vyas composed the epic ‘Mahabharata’ in Uttarakhand.
Development in full swing
The state is undergoing a complete overhaul, with development touching almost all the sectors and new avenues being experimented with, to attract more and more tourists. A few significant projects that will boost the tourism sectors are:
- Char Dham Railway Project: The Railway connectivity to Char Dham sites is one of the most anticipated projects not only for the locals but for millions of Hindu devotees from across the country. This will link the Char Dham by rail connectivity making the journey much safe, comfortable, economical, eco-friendly and all-weather. The Kedarnath and Badrinath railway connectivity will take off from Karnaprayag railway station, which is a part of the 125 kilometres long Rishikesh – Karnaprayag new broad gauge rail line project which is in full swing. The existing Doiwala railway station will serve as the kick-off point for railway connectivity to Gangotri and Yamunotri.
- Char Dham all-weather road: The all-weather Char Dham road would connect the four holy sites; Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The project launched in 2016, is in the final stages of completion and should be up and running for public use this year i.e., 2022. The INR 12,000 crore project would not only boost tourism in Uttarakhand but would also get the state global recognition, thus pitching Uttarakhand as a much sought-after tourist destination.
- International Terminal at Airport in Dehradun: The Airport Authority of India has passed the long-term pending proposal for the construction of an International Terminal at the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun. An International terminal was inevitably required to counter the transportation hassles faced by foreign tourists as well as for the accelerating growth of the state. The International Terminal is supposed to rake in a budget of 346.23 crores solely for its construction. Govt has also announced 18 new heli-routes to connect high-altitude areas of Uttarakhand, in addition to three new air routes on Dehradun-Pithoragarh Pithoragarh-Hindon and Pantnagar-Pithoragarh sectors.
The rumble strip
Considering the rapid economic progress of the state and a generous number of tourists being attracted to the state, some major decision-making needs to be done in terms of marketing the destination. The level of development in the state needs to be complemented by an equivalent proportion of consumers as well. Lack of marketing campaigns means lack of visibility, which is acting as a speed-breaker for the State. Since marketing is a slow process and demands continuous hammering in order to develop brand recall among the patrons, it will take a while for Uttarakhand to entice the number of travellers the state deserves. The state needs to invest and strategise in this department from the word go, especially in the current scenario when counterparts are leaving no stone unturned to entice tourists to their state.
Being the president of a pioneer tourism association which has members having their roots in Uttarakhand working in the Tourism sector, all over India, Ravi Gosain, President, UTPA (Uttarakhand Tourism Professionals Association) and VP- IATO feels, “The tourism development or investment in tourism infrastructure needs to be done simultaneously with the overall infrastructure development so that when all this work is completed there would be a ground prepped for local entrepreneurship, employment generation, receiving tourist and expecting overall growth of the region.”
With a comprehensive state tourism policy that was first formed in the year 2018, Uttarakhand aims to tap the state’s vast potential for eco-tourism, wellness as well as adventure tourism. The policy has been put to test and has yielded results in opening up newer avenues for the stakeholders to come and invest in the state infrastructure. The Investors Summit which was held in Dehradun in the year 2018 witnessed about 140 memorandum of understanding (MoU’s) worth Rs 15,000 crore with the state government. The summit saw huge participation of foreign and Indian investors and was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Uttarakhand’s single-window clearance system, which is an online integrated enabling platform for new and existing industries to avail required licenses/approvals and NOC’s during their respective stage of investment lifecycle i.e., intent to invest, pre-establishment, pre-operations and post-operation stages.
The same tourism policy which has helped the state to reinforce its tourism sector is also shouldering the responsibility for facilitating reverse migration. The idea was to get its people back to their land and create ample entrepreneurship avenues for the local youth in the tourism sector. Vikal Kulshreshtha, Director, Hotel Kailash Residency, Guptkashi, Rudraprayag asks, “If the major population is residing out of state, then for whom this development is being done? He further adds, “Moving to the cities is neither a long-term nor a sustainable solution for the people of Uttarakhand. There has been recent evidence that those who migrated for employment to nearby towns and cities are slowly looking to make their way back to their hometowns or villages.Covid-19 era has also forced them to return to the state, the government is trying to convince them to stay on and rebuild their lives there.”
“As it is majorly believed that youth and waters of hill states are not useful for its home state, unfortunately, that’s true with Uttarakhand too,” believes Abhishek Ahluwalia, Founder & CEO, Diamond Hospitalities, Haridwar. He further shares, “As migration is one the major problem due to this some villages are turning into ghost villages. This situation can definitely be reversed, as there are not many issues with human skills, and Uttarakhand state is blessed with immense natural beauty and hub of pilgrimage, adventure activities, ample forest area. The main lacking part is infrastructure, if govt with some sincere long vision improves on infrastructure, then surely we would be able to address the serious issue of migration.
As there are innumerable opportunities in the form of nature-based tourism including wildlife tourism, camping, rafting, trekking, hiking, mountaineering etc, thus, a lot o opportunities can be explore in this sector. “At present most of these activities are restricted to a few destinations such as Corbett National Park and Valley of Flowers though there is unlimited scope for its expansion to other areas, particularly in the hill districts, where it would boost socio-economic development and generate livelihoods for the local people, thus helping in mitigating out-migration,” believes Hari Singh, Managing Director, Banyan Retreat, Corbett National Park.
Uttarakhand is home to some of the most spectacular yet humble homestays for travellers, but what it requires along with homestays is the presence of varied hospitality brands. Hospitality brands add to the aura of a destination and also aids in attracting HNI’s, which are generally inclined towards reputed hospitality brands for their vacation accommodation preferences and the absence of brands deter them from opting for such destination.
Sustainability is the ‘Key”
The frequency and intensity of natural disasters are rising at an alarming rate in the state. As much as there is a need for development, it has to be carried out in the most sustainable manner so the basic conservation principles are not disrupted. Be it forest fires during peak summer months, or landslides and floods during the monsoons, frequent disasters like these act as negative publicity for the destination resulting in dissuading tourists from choosing the destination for their vacations. Thus, sustainable development and conservation need to be adopted as a thumb rule for any development policy being introduced.