Despite all the hype around Gujarat tourism and its famous campaign with Amitabh Bachchan, figures tell a different story. When the tourist inflow growth in Gujarat is compared with that of its neighbouring states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh seem to have done far better.
According to the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for the year ended March, 31, 2014, when comparing growth rates of tourist inflow with the all-India level, Gujarat manages to do only marginally better. Growth of tourist footfall as on 2013 over 2009 at the all-India level is 70.55 per cent, while that of Gujarat is 72.5 per cent. What’s more, the CAG report also highlights that In comparison, neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have actually fared much better. Tourist footfall in Maharashtra in 2013 was up by 162.5 per cent over 2009, and that of Madhya Pradesh was up 172.1 per cent.
From 16 million tourists in 2009, Gujarat witnessed a steady growth in tourist inflow touching 19 million (in 2010), 21.2 million (2011), 24.6 million (2012) and 27.6 million (2013), according to data compiled by the Ministry of Tourism, government of India. A senior official in the state tourism department said that the state government is keen to promote tourism here and has been taking several steps to ensure that the industry flourishes. “We have been workin on strengthening the existing tourist attractions, besides promoting and developing newer ones. We are also trying to create new attractions like focussing on cultural fairs etc,” he said adding that once the ambitious Statue of Unity project comes through it would be a major boost for tourism industry in the state.
The government indeed had been spending on promoting tourism; as per the CAG report, he expenditure by the state government on publicity and advertisements between 2009-10 to 2013-14 stood at Rs 258.23 crore. It has also spent about Rs 506.90 crore for destination development, Rs 155.29 crore on fairs and festivals, and a meagre Rs 1.17 crore on tourist facilities.
A leading tour operator in the state, however, said on grounds of anonymity that prohibition plays a critical role, when attracting tourists into Gujarat. “Especially, during the winter months, states like Rajasthan, Goa and Maharashtra manage to get the chunk of the foreign tourists, while Gujarat misses out due to its prohibition norms. The state government indeed has taken some steps to relax the regulations pertaining to obtaining a permit for travellers, but the fact remains that most feel uncomfortable in this kind of a ‘permit-raj’,” he said wishing not to be quoted.
Turning to some of the other states that have done well on the tourism front, Madhya Pradesh is equally keen to promote its state as a sought after tourist destination. It has decided to observe 2015 as the ‘Year of Toursim’. Apart from planning to develop tourism infrastructure through public-private-partnership and private sector participation, the state has also amended its Tourism Policy and decided to not levy luxury tax on hotels charging room rent of Rs 3,000 (or less) per night.
Industry insiders feel that this would encourage investments in the sector. Garish Oberoi, joint honorary secretary, the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India said, “Multiplicity of taxes is always a deterrent. With the GST kicking in there should be some relief. However, moves like the one Madhya Pradesh has taken, it is likely to boost the state’s tourism in a big way.” He added that some of the other tourism focussed states like Rajasthan and Goa also have tried similar things, like having two tax slabs depending on the season etc.
For that matter, the Gujarat government too had introduced a an incentive scheme in 2006 (exemption from payment of electricity duty and luxury tax for five years and exemption from payment of stamp duty for purchase of land) for hotels started during the two years of the policy period. However, the incentive was able to attract only five private hotels through this scheme.