Preoccupied Karnataka CM Leaves Tourism in The Lurch

4 April 2012
 
Bangalore, Suparna Goswami Bhattacharya:
 
This senior government official’s chamber is tell-tale. The man is in his 40s and bored out of his wits. Yet, he perks up when asked about the state of tourism affairs in Karnataka. His spirits lift up because he gets a chance to step out of his ennui.
 
The man in question has a story to tell, “My seniors have always perceived me as someone who is too lazy to do anything, which is why they placed me high up in the tourism department.” The official is bored primarily because of the callous and step-motherly treatment being meted out by the government to the department.
The official is glad that someone has finally approached him to talk about the plight of tourism in the state. He says that most of his ideas to promote tourism have been shot down by the state government because of budgetary constraints.
 
Chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda had taken up the tourism portfolio himself after the arrest of the earlier incumbent G Janardhana Reddy following his involvement in the mining scam.
 
However, how much time Gowda is able to devote towards the sector is anybody’s guess. “It is futile to expect the chief minister to devote sufficient time to tourism. He has enough on his plate already. The state’s attitude needs to be changed. We can’t hope to be the No.1 tourist destination in the country if there is no full-time tourism minister taking care of the sector,” said an expert on conditions of anonymity.
 
Currently, Karnataka ranks No.5 among the country’s hot spots. Besides promoting Mysore and Hampi, the state government hasn’t done much to increase tourism revenue.
 
This year, the government has allocated `247 crores for the tourism sector, a mere `2-crore increase over last year. “The scenario has changed only with respect to the distant past. Ten years back, the sum was less than `20 crores,” said K Shiva Shanmugham, senior vice-president, Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI).
 
There has been some progress. “However, more needs to be done to create awareness. The sector has massive employment generation capacity and hence it should be made a priority sector. For instance, just one hotel room can generate around 78 jobs,” he said.
 
Critics point out that tourism often fails to go beyond “improving infrastructure.”
 
As a result, time and again funds are allocated primarily for improving / building roads. Although the importance of infrastructure is not being undermined, the fact that tourism is more than just building or improving roads needs to be understood by our leaders, experts argue. Of the `247 crores allocated for the sector, `100 crores has been earmarked towards developing infrastructure, besides `50 crores for the development of roads relevant for tourism activities.
 
Raghunandan Hegde, a researcher at research and advocacy organisation Equations, however, offers a different take. “Tourism is an interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, complex and a sensitive subject. As a starting point, this needs to be acknowledged, respected and taken into account while planning and implementing tourism projects. It is unfortunate and disturbing that the department views itself as a promotion agency, and often absolves itself from the monitoring and regulatory role, that it should be playing more forcefully.”
 
A lot depends on the mindset and attitude. For instance, despite being the IT capital of the country, the state till date has done little to promote tourism online or through any other mode for that matter. While an ordinary citizen can easily recall ‘God’s own country’ (the campaign for Kerala) or Amitabh Bachchan campaigning Khushboo Gujarat Ki, nobody ever talks about Karnataka. The state now needs to think beyond infrastructure.
 
“Once we have the infrastructure in place, we should go all out in terms of marketing Karnataka as a world-class tourist destination. Our state’s potential is second to none. It’s just the right marketing and brand awareness that will get us going,” said Vineet Verma, chairman, expert committee on tourism, Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC).
 
“I feel Karnataka needs to market itself well. This is one state which has coastal region, hill stations, temples and historical sites. The first step is to have a full-time tourism minister in place,” Shanmugham remarked.