Sun 'n' sand

Print edition : October 21, 2011

Avinash Dhakne: Our beaches are unique with their silver and white sands and pristine blue waters, especially in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts in the Konkan belt. - BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Interview with Avinash Dhakne, Director, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation.

THE Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) is actively promoting the beaches that dot the State's long coastline.

Avinash Dhakne, Director, MTDC, spoke about his organisation's plans to encourage tourists to explore the beaches.

The MTDC appears to be focussing on beaches this year. What are your plans for Maharashtra's vast coastline?

Yes, we are looking at beaches closely because they have a lot of potential for tourism. Our beaches are unique with their silver and white sands and pristine blue waters, especially in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts in the Konkan belt.

In fact, in that area the beaches of Bhogve, Shiroda, Aravalli, Vengurla, Tarkali, Veleshwar, Ganpatipule and Murud-Harnai are stunning and we are trying to develop our facilities in these places.

We have also given land to the Taj group, Cidade Goa and another private entity to put up five-star resorts in the Aravalli region. So we are encouraging the tourism and hospitality industry to work along with us in developing tourism.

What makes Maharashtra's beaches so special in comparison with its other tourist attractions?

Maharashtra has a long coastline and close to 22 beaches, which can be developed.

Why would the beach-going tourist choose Maharashtra over neighbouring Goa?

People are looking for something different now. Yes, there is a culture there that we do not have. But we are offering different attractions, which will hopefully interest a more family-oriented tourist. We have noticed that the beaches towards the south of Maharashtra are already seeing a spillover of the Goa traffic. It makes sense to tap that potential.

For instance, we are planning to start snorkelling and scuba diving at our Tarkali resort. There is very good coral life near Sindhudurg, so a scuba diving centre in the area will, I am sure, be welcome. Dolphin-watching is also very easy in this region. In fact, from October to March, you can sit on the beach and see dolphins in the distance. We are looking at working out a plan for this attraction. Adventure sports is another plan. We are in the process of training and looking at good and safe companies to set up these activities.

It is not easy to access the coastline. How do you plan to overcome this?

We have been speaking to the roads authorities to improve and build good roads to the coast. The Konkan Railway has been a great boon to the region. It covers most of the coastline. But the idea is to have people from urban areas such as Mumbai to drive down. We are exploring the possibility of ferries carrying vehicles across from Mumbai to Alibaug. With the idea that people may drive down for a day's trip, we have approached the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Authority to permit us to build showers, lockers and changing rooms close to the beach. These talks are at an advanced stage.

The local people are often reluctant to allow tourists into their areas. Your comments on this.

"THE KONKAN RAILWAY has been a great boon to the region. It covers most of the coastline." Here, a rail bridge near Ratnagiri.-V. GANESAN

I agree, but we have worked with the local people and explained how they can also benefit: they can get employment or make money by offering bed-and-breakfast facilities. Additionally, we are looking at families taking holidays. They will not offend local sensibilities or spoil the culture of the area.

Beaches require emphasis on safety and hygiene. How do you plan to tackle these issues?

Both safety and hygiene are big concerns. It is a priority for us to keep not just beaches but all tourist places clean. While it is the local bodies' responsibility to ensure this, we are also involved in keeping the environment hygienic. Every beach will have safety arrangements. Lifeguards and coastal tourist patrols are in place.

Will the facilities and services be active during the monsoon months?

Actually, in some of our resorts, we had 60 per cent occupancy during the monsoon months. It may not be possible for tourists to swim, but they can walk on the beach and enjoy the greenery during the rains. The occupancy rate has encouraged us to make them year-round facilities.

Maharashtra has, among other things, safari parks, heritage sites and hill stations that are popular with tourists. Does the MTDC have any plans for these areas?

This year we have got some money to conserve many of our fabulous forts and promote them as tourist destinations. Many hikers and adventurous people have already explored these forts and enjoyed the experience. We would like to spread the word across the country.

The forts are good for adventure tourists and leisure seekers if we can provide adequate facilities.

The tiger reserves in and around Nagpur also have a lot of potential. In the Tadoba tiger reserve, you can sight this magnificent animal quite easily in summer, owing to the dryness and heat. This would be a good draw with tourists who enjoy safaris. Pench and Melghat are also becoming popular with wildlife enthusiasts.

We are working with Sanctuary magazine to bring out a book on wildlife in Maharashtra. Additionally, Discovery Channel is documenting the wildlife in the State. These should help tourist activity.

Spiritual tourism to Shirdi, and to the Ashtavinayak and Jyotirlinga temples is catching on.

The hill stations of Matheran, Khandala, Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani have historically been popular with local tourists. Hopefully, in time, people from other States will also be attracted to these areas.

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