Focus on mega destinations
K Chiranjeevi has played many roles in his acting career. But the role he is playing in real life is tougher: that of a minister. He has managed to bring a whiff of fresh air into the stuffy corridors of power. The tourism ministry he heads has been on a high of late with increasing foreign tourist arrivals in the last few months.
Excerpts from an interview:
1. Foreign tourist arrivals have increased in the recent months by 2.3 per cent. What accounts for this growth?
Ans: We have still not analysed the increase. But there has been growth, as was reported by the media.
2. What are the future plans of Incredible India?
Ans: We want to intensify the ad campaign. Apart from the visuals in the media, we want to make use of online, which will happen soon. We are planning a toll-free helpline that will provide information related to tourism, culture and medical queries.
3. You have recently got the visa-on-arrival facilities for many countries. How did that happen?
Ans: Recently, I visited Spain, Vietnam and Laos. The feedback I got was that tourists from these countries were going elsewhere because our visa regime was very rigid. These countries requested that we ease our visa policy. The other thing that came up was direct air connectivity, because tourists [from these countries] might prefer going to Colombo or Nepal. We are pursuing this with the civil aviation ministry.
At present, the visa-on-arrival facility is available for 11 countries including Japan, Fiji, Luxembourg and Singapore. I sought the help of [Home Minister Sushilkumar] Shinde, who agreed to accept six more countries.
4. What is happening on the Buddhist circuits?
Ans: We have Buddhist circuits in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and are trying to develop them in south India. We will promote this along with our Clean India campaign.
People want to visit Buddhist sites in India, but what lacks here is cleanliness. When pilgrims go to Bodh Gaya, they want to preserve the soil in their prayer halls, but the area is used as an outdoor toilet, which is heartbreaking.
I recently asked the chairman of ONGC if they could adopt some monuments [to ensure] cleanliness, under their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] scheme. He agreed to take on six monuments. They wanted us to provide feedback and guidance on how to do it. We hope to extend this to other companies.
5. The tourism ministry is planning many festivals, like the Kashmir Festival.
Ans: We hope that Kashmir will be a big draw. We are also planning a Festival of South India (FOSI), which is handled by the CII [Confederation of Indian Industry] of south India. We are the co-sponsors for the event and are giving 145 lakh. All the four southern states and Puducherry will together organise a week-long festival, showcasing their culture. This will be held in one state each year. This year it is in Hyderabad in November. We hope to attract both foreign and domestic tourists. It will happen the same day every year, so that tourists can plan accordingly.
6. You have decided to make film shootings easier. How do you plan to go about it?
Ans: This is my wish, as I am from the industry. Shooting abroad is so much easier than shooting in India. We have to coordinate with different departments—defence, police and cultural authorities like the ASI [Archaeological Survey of India]. It is not easy. We plan to constitute a committee with all the stakeholders, who can give the permission [to shoot]. I hope to convene a meeting with the Hindi, Telugu and Tamil film industries.
The other area we want to concentrate on is MICE [meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions]. I went to the finance minister before the budget session and told him we wanted to create convention centres worth Rs250 crore. He said it could not happen this time as no land was available from state governments. But unless he accepts our proposal, how can they give the land first?
Somewhere we have to strike a balance. So far 10 new places and some smaller destinations have been accepted for MICE, including Dehradun, Vizag and Bhopal.
7. The ministry has been advocating tourism police for a long time. What is the status of that proposal?
Ans: I have written letters to the chief ministers to discuss the measures to be taken to protect foreign tourists. We will address the issue in a month.
8. There is a perception that women are unsafe in India. Have advisories been issued?
Ans: There is no specific advisory. However, we are open to ideas. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister [Shivraj Singh Chauhan] suggested that tourists who want to camp in remote places should inform the nearest police station.
9. What are you doing to develop tourism in states?
Ans: We are focusing on mega destinations and mega circuits.
The mega destinations will be funded with 125 crore and mega circuits with 150 crore. Every state will be entitled to one mega circuit and one destination in a financial year. Not two. However, in extraordinary cases, a state can have an additional mega destination or circuit. This will help tourist spots develop infrastructure and basic amenities.
10. How does the 'Hunar Se Rozgar Tak' scheme work?
Ans: This year 60,000 people have been trained in the hospitality sector in jobs like drivers, masons and caddies. This is our most successful scheme, leading to a lot of employment.
We have also recently introduced a scheme of skill recognition. Employers tend to prefer people who are trained under the scheme. So, we have decided to issue a certificate to [the trained] people, after testing their skills.
The ministry of tourism is also getting associated with the mid-day meal programme.
11. How does that work?
Ans: We have 24 lakh cooks who are unskilled in hygiene or nutrition. The tourism ministry will train them. The ministry runs hotel management institutes. So, each IHM [Institute of Hotel Management] will train 100 cooks.
We have also fast-tracked the idea of setting up a culinary institute. Our country has numerous cuisine recipes from our ancestors. But there is no scientific documentation. We would like to protect this [heritage] for the future generations.
Our main office will be in Tirupati. We have acquired 20 acres and will soon set up some hotels and restaurants. The regional offices will be in Kolkata, Noida and Panchkula. It will happen.