Bengal eyes south & east markets
With a revamped brand identity and having ranked sixth in the foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) list and eighth in the domestic market in 2015, West Bengal is eyeing new markets to boost tourist footfall in the state, informs Surajit Bose, Additional Direct
QHow has the past year fared for tourist footfall in the state? The year 2015 was a good year for us. We welcomed 14.9 lakh foreign tourists in 2015, up from 13.75 lakh in 2014 and now rank sixth for highest FTAs. In domestic tourism, we’ve recorded the highest increase (2014-2015) of over 43 per cent in number of domestic tourist with a total of 4.9 per cent share in total domestic tourist visits. Our ranking here, has also improved to eighth position. West Bengal receives maximum of its tourists from west and north India namely Gujarat and Maharashtra. Through continued efforts, we hope to make it to the top three states for tourism.
QWhat are some of the international markets that West Bengal aims to tap?
China is one of the major markets we want to tap with its proximity and direct flight connectivity with Kunming. We organised a Fam trip earlier this year and hosted around 17-20 Chinese agents to show them Bengal’s tourism products and have another one in October. China poses some challenges as it is a restricted market and promotion is tougher. For this venture to be successful, the first necessity is to provide Mandarin speaking tour guides for which we are tying up with the Institute of Chinese Language. We will be promoting the state on local magazines & newspapers and various other mediums. Additionally, we took part in a few expos in Kunming to understand the market.
Sri Lanka is also a developing market and since direct flights to Colombo on Mihin Lanka have commenced, it has become more convenient to bring in Sri Lankan tourists. Connectivity is always a major factor when tapping any new market. Very soon, international roadshows will also commence in various markets where we want our products to be well-known.
QWhich domestic markets are you targeting? Since we receive a very small number of tourists from South India, we plan to start promotional activities there. We are looking at organising roadshows in South India to increase footfall and also understand what would appeal to the tourists from there.
QTell us about some of the major tourism projects? With assistance from the Central Government, a Coastal Circuit is being developed under the Swadesh Darshan scheme. The coastal circuit will comprise Udaipur – Digha – Shankarpur – Tajpur – Mandarmani – Fraserganj – Bakkhlai – Henry Island for which funds to the tune of around ` 85.3 crore have been sanctioned. Once it is ready, it will immensely help boost tourism. Apart from this, an eco-village in Gajoldaba (North Bengal) is being worked on while we also intend on developing Purulia as an upcoming destination. The budgetary allocation for Tourism Department has increased manifold over the years, from a meagre ` 44 crore in 2011-12 to ` 257 crore in 2015-16.
QThe Gajoldaba project has been on for quite a while. Have there been any challenges?
Yes, several projects have been delayed due to objections by National Green Tribune. We are working it out and they have asked us to prepare an Impact assessment study. Once it is ready and approved, it will take lesser time. But the project is on and work continues.
QWhat is the state doing to boost investments? The Incentive Scheme 2015 applies to investors who want to empower in properties in WB. For mega projects above ` 100 cr investment, they will be getting 75 per cent VAT refund for five years. Several private hotel chains have already shown keen interest in setting up branches in Bengal. Lemon Tree has recently started operations in Purulia while Marriott is coming up with a branch in Darjeeling. ITC is also expanding in a big way in Kolkata. Ambuja Group has invested in Makai Bari Tea Estate for tea-tourism and is also working on a project in Digha. We need renowned branded names to create a ripple effect especially in areas where there is a lack of accommodation.
QWhat efforts have been made in the digital segment? Since digital is so powerful these days, we are also trying to improve our online presence. Recently, the West Bengal Tourism mobile app was launched so that travellers can find information in the convenience of their phones and while on the go. Our official website is also looking at a complete revamp and will be re-launched in the coming days. Apart from this, we have also become extremely active on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and the likes. Plans of tying up with Google for promotion are also in the pipeline.
Sri Lanka is alsoa a developing market and since directdirec flights to Colombo on Mihin Lanka ha have commenced, it has become more c convenient to bring in Sri Lankan tou tourists. Connectivity is always a major factor when tapping any new market. Surajit Bose Joint Secretary – Tourism Govt. of West Bengal