KARNATAKA has the second highest number of protected monuments in India 507 protected by the Central government and 750 protected by the State. Hampi and Pattadakal, the two World Heritage sites, are the preferred tourist destinations. It became the first State in the south to have a luxury train, called Golden Chariot after the Stone Chariot in the Vithala temple in Hampi. Karnataka has a 320-km-long coastline dotted with unspoilt beaches and pilgrimage spots. Its verdant forests and hills provide the best ecotourism experience and its mighty rivers give adventure-seeking tourists some good options. Karnataka is the fourth most popular tourist destination in India. While there were 3.85 crore tourist arrivals in 2010, the footfalls rose to 8.46 crore in 2011.
At GIM 2012, the State Tourism Department will showcase the wide spectrum of opportunities for investors in all types of tourism. With the State hopeful of attracting $5.2 billion in private investments in all sectors of the economy, it can surely become one of the top two tourist destinations in India.
G. Latha Krishna Rao, Principal Secretary, Tourism, says: We believe in tourism that is sustainable and responsible, one that helps both the entrepreneur and the tourist. Under her guidance, the Tourism Department has offered a number of exemptions, concessions and subsidies to investors in a bid to invite investments in tourism infrastructure, heritage zones, home stays, health and wellness centres, cineplexes, ecotourism hot spots and convention centres.
She told Frontline that the government was planning to set up a water-based theme park at Tanir Bavi near Mangalore on the banks of the Gurpur river. She said the bidding process had started and the response so far was good. The department has also received a proposal from a landowner to set up a heritage park at Bidadi, on his land. An adventure park at Anekal on the outskirts of Bangalore will serve as a weekend getaway.
The Tourism Department is keen to create good and clean accommodation for the paying traveller. Having realised the huge tourist inflow and popularity of destinations, we have created a demand-supply gap in the availability of rooms both in the luxury and budget segments. We are making available government lands for the construction of budget hotels, Latha Krishna said. The department has around 15 parcels of land totalling 250 acres. Recently, it called for expression of intent (EoI) letters from potential investors. Latha Krishna said the response was overwhelming, with 104 proposals coming from 36 parties, including one from Jammu and Kashmir. It is also looking to build convention centres in Mysore and Mangalore.
A number of leading hotel chains are looking to increase their presence in Karnataka. Latha Krishna said: The Hyatt is coming, and the Taj Group, which has the largest number of properties in Karnataka, is looking to set up more hotels. Hampi and Pattadakal are set to get quality hotels. GIM 2012 is an excellent opportunity for potential investors to invest in the State's hospitality industry right from star hotels to budget and wayside amenities.
The Principal Secretary is of the opinion that chartered air services should be run between Mumbai and Hampi or even Panaji and Hampi. This, she says, will give tourists visiting Mumbai or Goa an opportunity to fly directly to the heritage site. There is a proposal from an air services company to run a seaplane between Mumbai, Karwar and Mangalore. The Tourism Department is keen to promote the Bidar-Bijapur-Mangalore-Mysore wellness (mainly Ayurvedic) circuit, and Buddhist/Jain circuits.
With regard to wildlife/ecotourism, besides well-known spots such as Kabini, Bandipur, Dandeli and Nagarhole, the department is looking to showcase the black buck sanctuary in Bidar and the sloth bear sanctuary in Hampi. There are also plans to offer river cruises on the Gurpur and in the Brahavaram and Maravante backwaters.
Even as the department strives to attract investors, it is careful not to destabilise the ecology or disturb local communities. Wherever we have our properties or tourist attractions, we strive to teach the local people and create more opportunities for them. We also make sure that the locals are employed in the projects, Latha Krishna said.Ravi Sharma