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Not a poor cousin

Print edition : Sep 07, 2007 T+T-
Hampi, in Bellary district of Karnataka, is a world heritage site.-BIJOY GHOSH

Hampi, in Bellary district of Karnataka, is a world heritage site.-BIJOY GHOSH

BEING a neighbour of Kerala and Goa, States with extremely popular tourist destinations that are aggressively marketed by their respective governments, Karnataka has long been at a distinct disadvantage. But the State has proved that it, too, can boast locales that can delight the backpacker, the budget holidaymaker, and even the fussy tourist who demands the comfort of home at every stop on the itinerary.

From stately palaces, forts and ruins to scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and beaches, Karnataka has much more to offer than just the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans, sandalwood and the fragrance of Mysore mallige. And come No vember, it will become the only South Indian State to get a luxury train on the rails. The Karnataka Luxury Tourist Train will take travellers on a trip that will combine a marvellous mix of heritage, wildlife and natural experiences in some of the States best tourist destinations. After being on the back burner for around two years, the project is now back on the priority list, and work on the trains interior is nearing completion in Chennai.

I.M. Vittala Murthy, the State Tourism Secretary, who also holds the Kannada and Culture and Information portfolios, says his Department has been promoting the States tourism appeal aggressively for the past five years. Karnataka was in a situation where even though it had some of the best tourist products and experiences to offer, most tourists didnt know about them. For them, Karnataka meant Bangalore and Mysore. Even residents of Bangalore and people living in other parts of the State thought like that. Kerala and Goa appeared to be good destinations and they flocked to those places, he said.

Murthy said that the Department has been trying to create awareness about the States tourism potential. We talked to the travellers and the facilitators of travel. Slowly, perceptions about Karnataka and its tourist destinations changed. Destinations such as Coorg and Hampi have come to the forefront. Travel into Karnataka started to increase. The tourism trade in the State became more active in promoting Karnataka. More products and experiences got onto the national tour programmes and excitement was generated, he said.

Karnataka received more than 27 million domestic and over half a million international tourists in 2006-07, an increase of over 15 per cent compared to arrivals in the last few years. Murthy said Karnataka needs to attract high-spending tourists, which would be good for the States economy, but added: Others are also welcome. The tourism industry is now capable of catering to all kinds of tourists. A new tourism policy, waiting for the Finance Departments clearance, envisages a catalyst role for tourism to create the right enabling environment for investments. Murthy said that what the States tourism industry needed most at the moment was accommodation facilities. A few leading international resort chains are about to start operations shortly. Some home-grown brands, too, have set up good facilities and a few more are starting up soon, he said.

The Tourism Department can take credit for the home stay concept, which was first introduced in 2002 under the Athithi Scheme. The concept has picked up in the coffee-growing regions of Coorg and Chikmagalur with a number of estate owners using a portion of their bungalows as guest houses. According to Murthy, the trend is fast spreading. Encouraged by the success of the home stay experiment, the government has approved a Home Stay Policy, which is expected to generate more such accommodations.

The Tourism Department has persuaded colleges to offer courses in tourism at the post-graduate level, a move aimed at encouraging youngsters take up tourism as a career.

Ravi Sharma