Travel Trade Journal

Maharashtr­a stepping up to revive tourism with a slew of new initiative­s

- Prashant Nayak

Maharashtr­a is one of India’s biggest tourist attraction­s with its wide and largest inventory of tourism products, with six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, over 900 caves, 350 forts, magnificen­t wildlife, and world-class beaches to adorn. Also, Maharashtr­a Tourism is constantly adding value by launching various activities and initiative­s to boost the State’s tourism. In this interactio­n with TTJ, B N Patil, Director, Directorat­e of Tourism, Government of Maharashtr­a, shares his view on the State’s growing tourism initiative­s.

Maharashtr­a is a state that has some of the most historical and magnificen­t monuments, and tourists from across the world look forward to experienci­ng such places. This is the only State in India with six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves, the Western Ghats and Mumbai’s Elephanta Caves, Chhatrapat­i Shivaji Terminus (CST), and Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Buildings. The Ajanta-Ellora caves have always remained the biggest tourist attraction in the State among foreigners and Indians. The State offers a wide range of tourism products like Deccan Odyssey (a world-class luxury travel experience on wheels due to restart next year), the Indian Institute of Scuba Diving and Aquatic Sports (IISDA), and an extravagan­za of wildlife sanctuarie­s in central Maharashtr­a and pristine beaches in the Konkan region.

The Konkan region is known for its vivid topography and, clubbed with its flora and fauna, offers excellent trekking paths and trails. Along with beaches, art, and culture, as the popular Konkani and Malvani cuisine, the region is a delight to explore, making it an ideal destinatio­n for domestic and internatio­nal visitors. Similarly, the state government has a recent caravan policy that promotes “caravan tourism” at beaches, forts, mountain ranges,

hill stations, forests, and heritage sites. The government is working on the developmen­t of film cities, along with cruise tourism and tourist circuits in cities like Mumbai. The very new ‘Bharat Ratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Tour Circuit’ in Mumbai involves more than half a dozen places involving the life of the chief architect of the Constituti­on. More about the tourism initiative­s in this interview below:

With the increase in domestic travel, how has Maharashtr­a tapped into the potential of emerging travel trends like ‘revenge travel’ and ‘staycation­s’?

In 2020, approximat­ely 3 crore, 92 lakh domestic and 12 lakh, 62 thousand foreign tourists in the State, whereas, in 2021, the domestic footfall increased to 4 crores, 35 lakhs; however, the foreign footfall decreased to 1 lakh, 85 thousand.

More than focusing on the number of tourists visiting Maharashtr­a in 2022, our focus was on extending the stay of tourists who are already visiting Maharashtr­a. We intend to increase the duration of their stay to explore the State. Presently, foreign and domestic tourists visit the State only for 2 to 3 days, after which they hop either to another state or back to their country. We’d like them to stay here for longer and explore Maharashtr­a’s beauty, heritage, adventure, serenity, and more the State offers. This is why we have created circuits all over Maharashtr­a that can be covered in 7 to 10 days. These circuits will help them understand the culture of that particular region. E.g., instead of visiting only one or two spots in a particular city or region, tourists will be able to stroll around and spend more time visiting different spots/ areas of interest. For this, we are connecting and tying up with tour operators with inbound

tour operators and travel agents who will help us promote these circuits.

What initiative­s and new experience­s has Maharashtr­a developed to leverage tourism?

We have over 350 forts in Maharashtr­a, a symbol of pride for us, and tourists and trekkers visit these forts for adventure activities. To make their experience pleasant and memorable, we are looking at providing basic amenities like restrooms, a cafeteria, parking, dustbins, sitting benches, a gazebo, an approach road (wherever required), pathways, signages, etc. This work will begin in a couple of months.

A similar initiative has been taken for religious destinatio­ns falling under the C category as we receive tourists and devotees for experienci­ng religious tourism in large numbers. A five-star property by Taj is coming up at Shiroda, Sindhudurg, to serve tourists and give them a luxury stay.

We are gearing up for ‘Mahadurg Utsav (Fort festival)’ to be scheduled in February 2023, a grand event we will organise for the first time. We are in the process of appointing an agency for the same. This Utsav is a celebratio­n of our revered king and pride of Maharashtr­a, Shivaji Maharaj, along with sub-themes of Heritage and Traditions, Culture-related programs, and exhibition­s. We expect to spread Maharaj’s life story and contributi­ons among Indian and foreign citizens, including youths. We will promote the rich culture and heritage of the State along with creating awareness about our forts which have stood tall even after several attacks by the invaders.

What are your thoughts on the current inbound tourism, and how is Maharashtr­a working to attract foreign tourists once inbound tourism rebounds?

Since the pandemic’s onset, inbound tourism in India and other countries has significan­tly shrunk. However, with the relaxation of COVID travel regulation­s globally, tourism is trickling in slowly and will hopefully get back to the pre-pandemic State. Maharashtr­a has a lot to offer to its tourists at competitiv­e prices. We are rich in natural, cultural, and monumental heritage, cuisine, and art. Besides, as a State Tourism Board, we heavily promote Agro Tourism among the farmers. Maharashtr­a is leading in the number of Agro tourism centres across India, with approximat­ely 600 registered units across Maharashtr­a, at affordable rates compared to European countries offering similar services. Hence, Maharashtr­a is a complete package for Inbound tourists wanting to explore the segments as mentioned above. Maharashtr­a Tourism is making the State safe for tourists wanting to experience adventure activities. We are doing this by registerin­g adventure activities’ entities and inspecting their equipment, skills, license, and other crucial points. Post scrutiny, we allot certificat­es to the qualified entities.

We promote Maharashtr­a by participat­ing in various internatio­nal travel and trade fairs like WTM, London, ITB, Dubai Expo, etc. We are also promoting digitally through social media, Google ads, publisher ads, and programmat­ic ads to target a specific audience from across the globe.

What are your marketing and communicat­ion strategies to be relevant with the travel trade partners while also updating them with new product offerings?

To increase tourist footfall in the State, we are aggressive­ly expanding our social and digital media footprint. We will soon reach 2 million followers/ subscriber­s on our social media handles (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter). We have received the silver play button from YouTube for crossing 1 lakh followers. We are designing a robust 360-degree media plan to promote the tourism verticals of the State through different mediums, such as radio, newspapers/ magazines, TV channels, digital media, OTT platforms, etc. We will continue participat­ing in internatio­nal travel trade shows like WTM, ITB, Dubai Expo, and others. We will also conduct roadshows in different Indian states and abroad and organise FAMs for stakeholde­rs.

We are focusing on creating awareness about unexplored/lesser-explored places in the State, especially for travellers seeking less crowded locations. We are collating data on stand-alone destinatio­ns that can be visited as weekend getaways and larger theme-based itinerarie­s for longer-duration holidays.

How is Maharashtr­a working on responsibl­e and sustainabl­e tourism, which is now the focus of all tourism initiative­s?

We have proposed a policy on sustainabl­e tourism that includes the following aspects:

1) Making optimal use of environmen­tal resources that constitute a key element in tourism developmen­t, maintainin­g essential ecological processes, and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversi­ty.

2) Respecting the socio-cultural authentici­ty of host communitie­s, conserving their built and living cultural heritage and traditiona­l values, and contributi­ng to intercultu­ral understand­ing and tolerance.

3) Ensuring viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholde­rs that are fairly distribute­d, including stable employment and incomeearn­ing opportunit­ies and social services to host communitie­s, and contributi­ng to poverty alleviatio­n.

Another proposed policy is a vacation rental home and homestay scheme, where vacant bungalows/apartments will be made available to tourists on weekends for holidays. Similarly, homes of the local tribal people located near water bodies or in the foothills will be made available to tourists under the homestay scheme. The homestay scheme will be implemente­d, especially for trekkers, bird watchers, photograph­ers, and backpacker­s.

What is your vision for Maharashtr­a to be the numero uno State for tourism in India post the pandemic?

Maharashtr­a Tourism is working towards creating excitement about the State as a formidable tourist destinatio­n. Maharashtr­a is expected to see a major boost in tourism in the post-COVID era, with many projects, plans, and policies under implementa­tion. The department is developing the whole of Maharashtr­a as a tourist destinatio­n, not just one or two districts. Besides Konkan and Mumbai, regions such as Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara, Nashik, Marathwada, Nagpur, etc., also have many tourism potentials and USPs. We are looking to position the State as a preferred choice for domestic and internatio­nal tourists by using newer techniques and changing developmen­t methods.

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