Bringing Tourism in Rajasthan Back on its Feet

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tells us about his government's New Tourism Policy and how he plans to revive the tourism sector in the state
A stunning view of Lake City Udaipur
A stunning view of Lake City Udaipur

As industries across the country strive to get back on their feet, state governments too are leaving no stone unturned to help them in these unprecedented times. The desert state of Rajasthan is one of India&rsquos leading tourist destinations. To revive the tourism economy of the state, the Rajasthan government has taken several measures, including a new tourism policy.

Karan Kaushik interviewed Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to find out his government&rsquos plans for tourism in Rajasthan.

Excerpts from the interview

How badly has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the tourism industry in Rajasthan
The impact of the pandemic has been widespread and has affected all sectors of the economy adversely. The tourism sector had to bear the maximum brunt as activities related to it such as hotels, restaurants, handicrafts purchases, airlines and rail services all came to a grinding halt. As we have to learn to live with this, we are trying to revive tourism. The state government has issued SOPs for hotels, restaurants and film shootings, as a result of which we are witnessing the return of traction to the tourism industry. The inflow of tourists is gradually picking up, especially on weekends for destinations which are easily accessible by personal vehicles. As operations of airlines and railways expand, I expect tourist movement to increase further.  

How does the Rajasthan government plan to revive tourism in the state
Since Rajasthan is one of the most visited places in India, our government was proactive in extending a helping hand to the tourism industry almost immediately after the pandemic outbreak in March. We announced reimbursement of State GST (SGST) to hotels and restaurants. We provided relief in terms of waiver of road tax. We have also included tourism as one of the thrust areas under the Rajasthan Investment Promotion Scheme. Recently, the state&rsquos new tourism policy was announced and we are hopeful that with its timely implementation, the tourism industry will revive and stand back on its feet. Though the new tourism policy provides for fiscal benefits and incentives to the travel trade stakeholders, a separate Tourism Development Fund of Rs 100 crores is being created for overall promotion of tourism in the state.

Can you tell us about the New Tourism Policy 2020 rolled out by your government
We had given a mandate for preparing the new tourism policy in our manifesto. I am glad that Rajasthan Tourism Policy, 2020 has been announced with a vision to reposition Rajasthan as a preferred tourism destination for both domestic as well as international tourists. We plan to achieve this by offering tourists a high quality experience, and through responsible and sustainable policies ensuring conservation of the natural, historical and cultural heritage of the state. We also want to accelerate socioeconomic development by improving livelihood opportunities for the local population.

What is the main objective of the policy and what are the focus areas
The main objective is to promote Rajasthan as a leading tourism brand in national and international markets. We also seek to strengthen and diversify existing tourism products and provide innovative tourism products and services with a focus on experiential tourism. We want to promote lesser-known destinations, especially in rural areas. For that, we plan to improve the road, rail and air connectivity of tourist destinations and expand tourist accommodation infrastructure.

We aim to impart tourism-specific skill development to create gainful self-employment. The new tourism policy is quite comprehensive in its coverage and a genuine effort has been made to offer more and varied tourism products and to enrich the experience of tourists coming to our state. We also plan to establish a single-window mechanism to attract investment in the sector.

How do you plan to increase investments in the tourism sector and increase tourism activities across the state
Under the new tourism policy, all existing incentives and benefits as provided in Rajasthan Tourism Unit Policy 2015 will continue to be available. All tourism units as defined in the previous policy will also continue to be eligible for benefits under Rajasthan Investment Promotion Scheme 2019. A single-window service will be introduced in the department which will synergise schemes of the Tourism Department and single-window system of Industries Department. It will also act as a one-stop interface for obtaining various online approvals, permissions and renewals.

Efforts will be made to sign MOUs with prominent overseas tourism boards, prominent international airlines, especially those having operations in Rajasthan to promote tourism in Rajasthan. We also plan to establish collaborations with UNWTO, WTTC, PATA and other important international bodies for knowledge sharing and exchange of best practices prevailing in other countries.

Tourism start-ups will be promoted and a Special Tourism Zone will be identified for attracting investments. For easy access to tourist destinations, appropriate infrastructure will be developed. Through the Roots Tourism concept, non-resident Rajasthanis will be attracted to the state for investment in the tourism sector.

How do you think heritage and crafts villages can attract visitors in current times
With easing of restrictions, we have seen that people have started visiting Rajasthan. We have also observed that tourists coming here are preferring to stay at places which are a bit far from the city.

Tourists feel safer in secluded and less crowded places. Heritage and crafts villages offer unique experiential tourism options. Villages are less crowded and also offer a break from city life. The department is already working with UNESCO to integrate many villages of the state having rich cultural traditions with the travel trade.

How is your government planning to boost eco-tourism, tribal tourism, cultural tourism and craft and cuisine tourism
In view of the growing interest in wildlife and eco-tourism, new sites will be promoted jointly by the Departments of Tourism, Forest and Environment. A Joint Management Committee comprising representatives of the concerned departments will be formed to suggest measures for sustainable development and promotion of these sites. The committee may involve NGOs and environment specialists in this endeavour. Further plying of pollution-free modes of transport in ecological and wildlife areas will be promoted for which suitable incentives will be given. A certification scheme for hotels, restaurants, and similar tourism-related establishments will be formed in collaboration with the Department of Environment.

To showcase the tribal culture and attract people to travel to these areas, adequate tourism infrastructure and facilities will be developed. A marketing and promotion plan for tribal areas will also be prepared.

To promote cultural tourism, we will make efforts to develop heritage sites and monuments as cultural centres by way of incentivising and organising departmental and state programmes and evening concerts at these places. A Museum Grant Scheme will be brought out to promote private museums showcasing Rajasthan&rsquos cultural heritage. We will focus on select fairs and festivals and reinvent them to make them more tourist friendly and engaging.

For craft and cuisine, the rich tradition of handicrafts in the state will be promoted and direct marketing platforms will be provided on the lines of Dilli Haat in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Bikaner with the help of the Department of Industries.

We also plan to organise food festivals and gourmet cuisine trails to promote Rajasthani cuisine.

How can adventure sports in the desert regions help in boosting tourism in Rajasthan
As you know, we have one of the most beautiful stretches of a very lively and kaleidoscopic desert landscape in the world. The region is already popular and has been featured in Indian and foreign feature films as well as TV commercials and documentaries. Tourism activity in this desert region is limited to visits of monuments or camel or jeep safaris. There is very little adventure taking place at present.

We all know that the desert landscape provides ample opportunity for various sports activities such as quad biking, ATVs and dirt racing, etc. The objective behind promoting adventure sports is to create new attractions in this region and attract not only repeat tourists but also target youth and millennials. This will also help local youth in getting employment in a climatically harsh region with low industrialisation and farming.

Tell us about the Adopt-a-Monument Scheme being introduced under the revised policy.
Rajasthan is richly endowed with grand forts, palaces, temples and other heritage properties. Our government intends to conserve and develop these heritage properties with the support of private stakeholders. The State Archaeology and Museum Department will bring out guidelines for Monument Mitra (private stakeholders). Post conservation and development, these monuments will be promoted as a new tourist product. 

How has the response been ever since tourism spots in Rajasthan were reopened after the lockdown What have been some of the emerging trends
The response has been very encouraging to say the least. Our monuments and tourist places have been receiving steady numbers ever since we opened up in June. Border towns and areas, especially Mount Abu and Udaipur, have witnessed good numbers. Heritage hotels and resorts outside main cities are seeing good business especially over weekends and extended weekends.

This is also due to the fact that the state government has been able to contain the pandemic to a large extent and is following safety protocols at all public places including monuments and museums. People are also getting cheaper rates for high-end hotels, which is motivating them to travel to Rajasthan.

What are your expectations from the rest of 2020 in terms of tourism
2020 has been very hard for everyone, and especially for travel and hospitality. Tourism is the backbone of the state. We fully realise the challenges the pandemic has posed for the sector. Taking pragmatic decisions, we were one of the first states to open up to tourists in June. Likewise, intercity movement was also eased out much prior to other states. We are providing whatever support we can to the sector within limited resources at present. We want the trade to trust that in these trying times, the state government is with the industry. I expect normalcy to return by next year.  

Which is your personal favourite destination in Rajasthan
This is not a fair question to ask me. For me, all of Rajasthan is my favourite destination and I find equal joy in going to any place in the state.

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