This should be a good time for our head-in- the-clouds tourism officials to get Back to Basics.
Let us learn from the recent HOT AIR BALLOON FESTIVAL at Araku. Rs. 5,00,00,000 spent on damp squib balloon festival. Who benefited? A few reporters, some officials, the event organisers and their friends and family and a few of those who sucked up to appropriate persons in the political heirarchy in Vijayawada. We did not even sell Vizag to the foreign balloon crew. They had no idea about what Vizag or Araku was all about.
What about tourists? We got perhaps less than a hundred real extra tourists on one day at ARAKU! So what was the cost of acquisition per tourist? You work it out!
Remember the tamasha about Heli Tourism? There was so much hullabaloo about it, lots of our money spent but within a month it has gone phut!
Buddhist tourism all talk no action
With fanfare and trumpetry two "interpretation centres" were built at Thotlakonda and Bavikonda at a cost of Rs. 1,50,00,000 each in 2015. Now they are lying incomplete and unused for 3 years! There is not a single tourist amenity at these two sites. If you want to take a leak you will have to go into the bushes.
What about ARAKU, our jewel in the crown destination? It is a rubbish dump, road sides full of defecating kids and adults, tons of garbage and plastic everywhere. Low end filthy eating places. Hundreds of dogs. Each time there is a political rally the landscape is covered with plastic flags, water sachets, biryani plates and rubbish. Tourism amenities are non existent and it is touted as an attraction! Who are we fooling?
Now we are having an Yacht festival, Rs. 4,00,00,000 for a temporary jetty. Add another 3,00,00,000 for hiring the boats crew and fuel, bringing in VIPs, security. More costs because the event managers get to take themselves and their families on free rides and trips (at our cost). Favourite newspaper reporters are taken on free rides, they are grateful and write about it all in glowing terms. Not one of these reporters questions the rationale of this exercise or asks for the cost-benefit figures.
This tamasha is not for some fictional "foreign" tourists that the administration and the event manager would lead us to believe, but for us pucca local Vizagites. So it is for us and we are paying just to read about it and see it. So why are these miscellaneous folk from Delhi and elsewhere lording it over us? If you want to go for a ride you will have to cough up a "small" fee of Rs. 14,500 per day per person! Our tourism minister claims that the money collected from the tickets sold will go to fishermen. Ha. That smells fishy as hell.
Weeks before such events our administration, police, from top to bottom go into "VIP coming ... we busy" mode. Traffic is blocked and sirens wail everywhere. Meetings after meetings ensure that public related work is disrupted.
Then read the publicity for the event. Words like "luxury", "elite", "international", "exclusive" all jump out at is. Are we mad to be funding this nonsense? Give us the money we will get a thousand high spending tourists to spend where it benefits local community.
We are also being told the myth that Vizag will become some international Yachting destination. Who the hell are we kidding? Why would anyone in their right mind come to our plastic strewn, no facility beaches when you have Greece, Italy, France, Croatia, Turkey or even Thailand or Seychelles or the umpteen attractive yachting destinations with full facilities throughout Europe, New Zealand and the Americas? This is a hoax foisted on us, and we are all not only buying blindly into this crappy narration but paying for it!
This year was the year of sustainable tourism through out the world. But aha, our tourism department decided to follow their own path. Not a word about sustainability! Nero fiddling as Rome burns!
We should tell our administration that it is time now to concentrate on basic amenities. On pocket guides, guide training, public signage, information centres (any self respecting tourism destination must have at least one information centre), resting areas, top class housekeeping of every site. Incidentally we are one of the rarest of rare cities in the world that does not have a sign board on the highway pointing the direction of the airport. Our historical heritage-rich old town , with huge tourism potential, is falling apart for want of a few lakhs. We forget the existing and run behind new? Guess why?
I say, forget grandiose short term events till the basics are in place. Build tourism from ground up. Let us be modest and honest, the bounty of tourism will follow naturally. This is how successful countries have built their tourism, it didnt happen by just having a few events!