“The feet of the wanderer are like the flower, his soul is growing and reaping the fruit; and all his sins are destroyed by his fatigues in wandering. Therefore, wander!” – Rig Veda.
This article examines how the tourism and hospitality sector provides an opportunity for sustainable economic growth. Using examples from the government and private sector in the state of Assam, this article throws light on how the tourism sector holds immense potential to synergize with the government’s overall developmental agenda.
In the last couple of years, the state of Assam has witnessed substantial public and private investments in the tourism sector. A noteworthy mention here is the Gorukhuti farm project being developed in the fertile riverine tracts in Darrang district. As the area gets submerged during the rainy season, the government is cultivating of rabi crops, setting up fisheries and undertaking afforestation in the elevated parts by employing local youth. This writer wishes to highlight how the government’s plans to develop the area are in sync with the natural features of the area, and therefore sustainable in the long run. The project holds enormous potential in the rural tourism sector. Denizens of towns and cities from Assam as well outside the state will certainly look forward to visiting the place as a welcome break from their mundane city lives.
Along the same lines, 40 miles away, in a different district called Nalbari, a couple of enterprising young men have started a resort on the bank of the Pagladia river. Conceived as an agro-based tourism project, the resort is decked with bamboo sheds, stilt-houses and a bamboo bridge over the Pagladiya that flows down from Bhutan. In the surrounding tracts, the group of industrious youth grow mustard and pumpkins, and they have managed to sell the surplus at a profitable price, besides employing local youth in housekeeping and catering services.
An important spillover effect of the resort is that it has increased the value of land in and around the area. The road is motorable and in a good state and has helped the local farmers in accessing the market in Nalbari town easily.
There is another type of tourism that is slowly gaining popularity in Assam. The landscape of Assam is dotted with satras (Vaishnavite monasteries established by Sri Sankardeva and his followers in the medieval period), and these monastic institutions often provide habitat to rich biodiversity. For example, the Sri Sri Aniruddha Dev Naharati Satra in upper Assam’s Lakhimpur district is home to a groove of around 2000 Nahar trees. This provides a large habitat for monkeys who feed on the offerings made by devotees and therefore do not stray to nearby human habitations and croplands.
Other famous satras in the state are located in Majuli (the largest river-island in the world), Barpeta in western Assam, Sualkuchi near Guwahati city etc. A visit to these monastic institutions not only fills one with a wholesome spiritual experience but also rejuvenates his/her senses with the well-preserved bounty of nature. Satra tourism in the state can definitely be incorporated into the Union Tourism Ministry’s PRASHAD and Swadesh Darshan schemes.
Yet another type of tourism that holds immense potential in the state is adventure tourism. In a village near the picturesque Haflong town, there is a currently a great buzz around the Tongham falls. A place of breathtaking beauty, it is being developed as a community-driven sustainable ecotourism project that also offers mountain treks. What is remarkable in this project is the involvement of local villagers who have developed their homesteads as rural homestays. Trekking in the mountainous terrain is conducted by local youth who hitherto had been involved in agriculture. Now the flow of tourists (including foreign tourists) to the region has opened up new avenues of productive employment, helping them become self-reliant in their own villages without making a beeline for work in the unorganized sector in urban centres.
Amid all the gung-ho around the tourism sector, a question might crop up in skeptical minds: what is special about the tourism sector? Why has it been given so much sector in policy circles? The answer lies in the fact that the tourism is a labour-intensive service industry. A major problem that plagues our country is jobless growth. From 2016 onwards, India has been growing at a healthy rate of 6-8% but the growth trajectory is somewhat held back by the lack of increase in employment opportunities. However, NITI Aayog has pointed out it is not so much the lack of jobs as much as the paucity of well-paying jobs that is the main problem. In such a situation, the tourism sector holds great promise in helping us alleviate this festering problem.
Another unique aspect of the tourism sector is its ability to build cross-sectoral synergies and thereby generate multiplier effects in society and economy. For instance, training youths under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) in housekeeping and catering services would equip them with the necessary skills to seek employment in hotels and resorts. Further, the virtues of hygiene and sanitation that are being promoted by the Swachh Bharat Mission certainly go a long way in attracting people from near and far to make trips to cities and villages that look clean.
The current time is ripe for the tourism industry to develop on a firm footing in our country. The NITI Aayog is reportedly working on a tourism index that would rank the states on the basis of their tourism infrastructure. This would certainly boost India’s position in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, and instill healthy competition among the states to tap the multi-dimensional potential that tourism holds.
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