Home is where the heart is and the heart is where is the money is. And right now the money is in the North- East.
Well, maybe not right now but soon enough, now that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), North Eastern Council (NEC) and the Ministry of Development of the North-Eastern Region (DONEAR) are acting in concert to develop tourism in the region.
At a workshop this past Tuesday, experts pitched tourism as a transformational industry for the social and economic development of the north-eastern region.
View of Nightlife Cafe at midnight in Shillong, Meghalaya, IndiaA master plan prepared by TCS in consultation with the NEC pegged the state investment required by the region's travel and tourism sector over the next 10 years at Rs 3,959.35 crore, with the private sector chipping in with Rs 2,515.15 crore.
And the reason for this drive was the north-east's dismal tourism statistics. The region accounts for 7.9 per cent of India's land area, yet only 0.9 per cent of domestic and 0.8 per cent of international tourists visit it.
The only silver lining is the 11.84 per cent growth in the number of tourists to the region between 2005 and 2010, but most of them head to Assam, Meghalaya and Sikkim.
'When most of the other states hopped onto the Incredible India bandwagon, none of the north-eastern states did so,' NEC Secretary U.K. Sangma said at the workshop.
He said tour operators are extremely important to sell campaigns, so the NEC is studying proposals to educate them about the differences between the eight states that constitute the north-east.
To increase footfalls, better connectivity and infrastructure is the key. 'The East- West corridor will be completed next year and connectivity is getting better,' Chandan Brahma, Assam's minister for tourism and transport, pointed out.
'Water taxis and catamarans are being used for conveyance as well. In addition to improvements in transportation, a lot of PPP projects are being implemented.' Brahma informed the gathering that a luxury cruise on the Brahmaputra had already taken off.
Tourists riding on elephants watch Indian rhinoceros at the Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, some 55 kilometers (31 miles) east of Gauhati, IndiaThe state government is also looking at the possibility of developing golf courses and getting ready to hosting an International tourism carnival in January.
The TCS report makes a case for looking beyond Kaziranga and Guwahati. 'Mechuka and Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh can be promoted as nature tourism spots,' Priya Varghese, Project Consultant, TCS, said.
'Majuli in Assam has potential for eco-tourism, Loktak Lake in Manipur is famous for its biodiversity and Kangla in the same state is a fortress city,' she added.
Her study also calls for the bundling of Dhaka, Agartala and Shillong as a three-in-one regional destination.
The sentiment at the workshop was clearly in favour of sustainable tourism that takes into account the sentiments of the local communities. 'People in the region must not feel like living artefacts,' Varghese said.
Amplifying her sentiments, Assam's Principal Secretary (Tourism) H.S. Das reminded the gathering that there were a number of ethnic groups in the region and they needed to be handled carefully.
He also made a plea for ecotourism. 'Tourism can become a community mobiliser, but to achieve that end, the biodiversity of the region must not be harmed by the principal players.
Only if these are sustained will the long-term interests of tourism be served,' Das added.
Though there continues to be some ambiguity on many of these recommendations, it is only a matter of time before the region gets its due on the tourism map. Head there to be the first one to share the brewing big story.