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Twist in the triangle

No doubt there are various picture perfect facets of India waiting to be explored, but there are always two sides of a story; on one hand where the trend for circuit tourism is gaining momentum, on the other there are limitations like inadequate infrastructure and different state taxes which continue to be the roadblocks in promoting this potential tourism product. By Kahini Chakraborty

Often described by historians and avid travellers as a continent and not just a country, India, blessed with its breathtaking diversity only demands a fair discovery of its offerings in clusters or circuits, combining destinations for a more holistic experience. Quintessentially when speaking about circuits, it has always been the famous Golden Triangle circuit (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) which has received a lot of attention in the past and still does in the present.

But as the saying goes, 'change is the only constant', it is high time that the other hidden treasures be found and explored, as each destination has been home to unique enchanting historical facts. Providing statistics of the number of tourists opting for circuit tours which draw majority of travellers generating revenues, Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice chairman, Mercury Travels highlights, “Out of the total inbound tourists, the Golden Triangle continues to enjoy 50 per cent share, the north India and Nepal consists of 20 per cent and the Buddhist circuits draw 10 per cent while the other circuits take 20 per cent.” And acknowledging this fact, the only silver lining has been the good news of the ministry of tourism, at union and state level, becoming proactive in identifying several new tourist circuits to be developed across the country integrating all sects - Sufi, Buddhist and Jain, Christian, Sikh, Hinduism and Sarva Dharma, Ramayana circuits, etc.

Ashwini Kakkar

Generating enough curiosity among travellers already through these circuits to explore beyond the obvious, according to recent reports, the Sufi circuit would include Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Bijapur, Shirdi, Aurangabad and the Awadh region, besides the dargahs in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand. The Christian circuit will have the churches of Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Sarva Dharma circuit, to promote national integration, will be aligned along Tirupathi-Chennai-Velankanni-Nagoor and Vaishnodevi - Golden Temple - Sacred Heart Church (Delhi) - Nizamuddin.

For the Ramayana circuit presently, Janaki Sthan, Punaura and Haleshwar Sthan at Sitamarhi, Girija Sthan, Phulhar at Madhubani and Ahilya Sthan, Kamtaual at Darbhanga, Ram Rekha Ghat at Buxar are some of the places that have been sanctioned by the Bihar government. Few places in Madhubani and Darbhanga districts such as Girija Sthan, Phulhar and Ahilya Sthan, Kamtaul, Darbhanga have also been identified and projects have been sanctioned.

Hari Nair

As information is critical for smart holiday planning, giving a perspective on the interesting travel booking patterns seen among travellers, Hari Nair, founder and CEO, HolidayIQ opines, “The most important travel pattern of Indians is their deep interest and passion in discovering India (i.e. domestic travel). We find that an overwhelming majority of urban Indians are keen to take multiple holidays each year. The primary focus of most of these domestic holidays are weekend breaks to tourism destinations within 300 kilometres of the city of residence.”

Demands and trends

Surinder Sodhi

As per industry experts, travellers today are constantly looking at experiential travel through different wellness and spa treatments, gourmet experiences, Ayurveda treatments, heritage walks, rural experiences or soft adventure activities wherever possible. Hence, it has become imperative that all decision makers, both private and public, work together on definite timelines to develop and promote a product. Surinder Sodhi, senior vice president - Leisure Travel (Inbound), Thomas Cook (India) opines, “Circuit tours can be developed within a state or between two or three states. For a successful inter-state circuit, MoUs must be drawn and implemented for effective connectivity. Learning from the success story of individual states like Rajasthan, Kerala and Goa, other states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttarkhand and West Bengal have also realised the importance of circuit tours and have started promoting tourism offerings.”

Taking into consideration trade industry analysis on which circuits are well received among travellers, they include, Kochi-Periyar-Kumarakom, Bengaluru-Mysore-Ooty and Chennai-Kanchipuram-Mahabalipuram-Pondicherry; Andaman Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Gangtok-Darjeeling, Mysore-Coorg, Ooty-Kodaikanal, Jaipur-Jodhpur-Udaipur, Kashmir, Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, Nainital-Corbett-Mussorie; Bhubhaneshwar-Puri, Leh. Talking about certain interesting trends or new trails chosen by travellers, Sodhi says, “We have been seeing an increase in demand for soft trek programmes and cycling tours in Kerala; The Sufi circuit covering Fatehpur Sikri, Ajmer Sharif, Bijapur, Shirdi, Aurangabad and Deva Sharif, and The Ganges circuit covering Allahabad, Varanasi, Chunar and Garhmukhteshwar are the most sort after.” Another interesting trend seen in recent years have been the number of international tourists visiting India to experience fairs and festivals of India such as Diwali, Holi, Dahi Handi, Pushkar fair (Rajasthan), Rann Mahotsav (Kutch in Gujarat).

Amal Purandare

Amal Purandare, head- Operations, Arzoo.com mentions that apart from the Golden Triangle circuit in India, there are several other established tour circuits in the country such as the Char Dham Yatra which takes pilgrims to some of the holiest places in India like Gangotri-Yamunotri-Kedarnath-Badrinath. The Puri-Konark-Bhubaneshwar is popularly known as Orissa’s Golden Triangle Circuit. Darjeeling-Gangtok-Kalimpong allows you to witness the snowy mountains, forested hillsides, ancient monasteries. The Desert Triangle that covers Jodhpur-Bikaner-Jaisalmer offers tourists an opportunity to explore the beautiful palaces and monuments of India. Another popular circuit is the Shimla-Kullu-Manali tour which attracts numerous honeymoon couples and families who wish to spend time among serene beauty. Anil Rai, business head-Holidays of India, Tour Operating, Kuoni India says, “By developing infrastructure in offbeat destinations tourism circuit as a travel product can be promoted further.”

Anil Rai

However, given the growing trend towards experiential travel, the travel trade has been proactive in developing tour packages as per requests by travellers since customising programmes is now a given- and covers almost every second request among bookings. Arzoo.com, for example, provides packages such as desert triangle with Bishnoi Village Jeep Safari. Bishnois are well known for their love for nature and animals and they have over the years managed to preserve their cultural as well as natural heritage. “About 70-75 per cent of our tourists opt for circuit tours, which are customised by us and these are our best selling programmes. Our customers are increasing their demand for unique tailor-made itineraries tuned to their specific interest and preferences and sophisticated palates; this is also based on a growing keenness to discover and explore the diverse facets of India. Innovative ideas and well developed circuits always help us to stay ahead with competition and generate revenues for the business,” says Sodhi.

Official agenda

Arup Sen

According to authorities in the travel industry, the governments need to continue identifying places of tourist interest, developing the right infrastructure and promoting the destination aggressively while highlighting its USPs. Arup Sen, director, special projects, Cox & Kings adds, “Circuit tourism is of two kinds. Firstly, which is typically inter-nations such as Continental Europe or intra-nation such as India and China, where tourists can spend 14-21 days visiting important sites which have cultural heritage/scenic wonders and icons. India typically falls in the second category. Since the development of organised tourism after the Second World War, India remained a Golden Triangle and Rajasthan circuit. This was somewhat supplemented by an extension to Kashmir that was marketed as Switzerland of the East. In the late 70s, various states and regions realised the potential of tourism for its own economic development and welfare.”

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The ministry of Tourism has paid heed to the recommendations by state governments and travel trade experts, which has encouraged them to identify 35 destinations for Phase I, while cover the other 89 in Phase II. Consultants engaged by the ministry are said to also help in identifying gaps in infrastructure and amenities, assess investment requirement and possible source of funds and also evolve business models for investment and operations. The ministry has also proposed to bear the cost of preparing a detailed project report by state governments as well as the cost of setting up project monitoring units for undertaking all activities related to a particular circuit. The ministry has proposed a required outlay plan of Rs 9,450 crore for the 12th Plan and hopes to draw in private investment close to Rs 28,000 crore for such projects.

Mohit Gupta

As the travel industry is constantly looking at ways to provide best-value deals and services to customers, Mohit Gupta, chief business officer – Holidays, MakeMyTrip says, “With greater tourist influx and robust feedback channels, many niche categories are emerging and being encouraged by local stakeholders. The Uttar Pradesh government recently announced the promotion of Sufi tourism, while the Bihar government earlier announced setting up of Ramayan and Sufi tourism circuits in the state, aimed at attracting domestic tourists. It will be interesting to see how these pick up in the near future. We are always on the look-out for emerging areas of opportunity and keen to respond to market demands.”

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Corrective initiatives

While the government is taking measures to identify these areas, yet there are certain limitations in promoting circuit tourism in the country which calls for immediate action from the Centre. For example, some of the destinations in the circuit fall in different states, hence there is no single state promoting them and the state taxes also differ, making it a little more expensive for the tourist. Also, the distance between various points in a circuit is sometimes long making it a bit challenging to build a package around it and sell it. Purandare points out, “Many circuits in Maharashtra were identified, but the projects did not take off due to inactivity and lack of efforts. If a tourism circuit has to be developed, it needs to be aggressively promoted and well developed. A perfect example of proactive state for tourism development is Kerala, the state aggressively promoted itself as 'Gods Own Country’. The backwaters now attract numerous travellers from around the world every year who seek a holiday experience that is unique.

Since tourism is a growing industry, the industry continues to keep reiterating on these facts to the government for it to promote tourism in India with the help of aggressive advertising and innovative marketing strategies. Purandare adds, “State governments can also reduce the taxes which will allow travel agencies to promote the destinations in a better way. Also, well known faces can be taken as brand ambassadors, Amitabh Bachchan is the brand ambassador of Gujarat tourism, and the tourism in the state has benefited greatly by leveraging his name and image.”

As the industry has the multiplier effect which can lead to an overall development of the state and consumers, tourism as an industry should be given more preference over others. Hence once a product or circuit has been identified, it must have a time bound approach with full support of various government bodies, within the state.

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