West Bengal turns to tourism

West Bengal state government ... tapping into the tourism industry

THOUGH its tourism sector was inherent with good money-spinning potential, the West Bengal government had not done much in the past to strategically exploit this latent potential as other Indian states such as Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa and others had been doing.

But things are changing and there is a strong realisation among West Bengal’s planners and strategists that tourism could not only bring in a steady inflow of foreign exchange but also create a large number of jobs in this sector and other segments dependent on it.

Leading a delegation of the state’s tour operators, hoteliers and government officials, Manish Gupta, minister of Power and Non-Conventional Energy Sources Department of West Bengal, made a strong pitch for the tourism sector of his state at the ITB Berlin 2013 show in March in the German capital where a large contingent of Indian exhibitors along with tourism representatives of various states in India were showcasing their products and services.

Tourism is an important component of West Bengal’s economy, Gupta said in an interview with Travel and Tourism News (TTN). He referred to the new international terminal at Bose International Airport of Kolkata as a “showpiece” of West Bengal’s economic development. The state-of-the-art integrated terminal has been built at a cost of Rs 2,325 crores (approximately $394 million). It can handle 25 million passengers annually, a big leap from the current capacity of 4.8 million passengers a year; the new facility also offers modern taxiways and extension of a runway, so that it can handle bigger aircraft such as the Airbus A-380.

According to Gupta, there is “great interest” from foreign airlines to operate to the new Kolkata airport. “Turkish Airlines has expressed an interest in flying to Kolkata airport, as well as Lufthansa.  Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Bangladesh Biman Air, etc. are already operating to Kolkata,” the minister explained.

Outlining the West Bengal government’s strategy, he said that the state was evolving a “Look East policy” which meant developing greater business and economic ties with eastern countries such as Myanmar and farther with the other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries. “Opening up such an economic corridor to the east would also augment the flow of tourism traffic from these countries. The underlying interest in tourism is not just to travel from one place to another but to also discover,” he said.

Besides trying to attract leisure and business travel, West Bengal is also courting Bollywood film producers to shoot films in the state.  The Bengal state government has created a single-window system to simplify the process of obtaining permissions from various agencies for film shootings.  It will also prepare a list of prospective film locations, including popular tourist destinations.  This will eliminate the cumbersome paperwork and procedures that include visits to and clearances from police departments and other agencies. Popular tourist sites like Darjeeling and Dooars, and beaches such as Mandarmoni, Digha, Sankarpur, Tajpur and Talsari have already been used as background settings in films since many years. But now the state intends to promote these attractions in a “strategic manner”.

West Bengal’s tourism sector was formally declared as an industry in 1972; Gupta said that the basic objective of the state’s tourism policy was to improve its market share in the inbound international tourism segment and also increase its share of the domestic tourism market, including promotion of responsible and sustainable tourism.

By Manik Mehta