Aditya Thackeray, Tourism and Environment Minister, Govt of Maharashtra, in a recent select media round table interaction on the eve of ‘World Tourism Day’ said his government was working to ‘create excitement’ about the state as a formidable tourist destination. Maharashtra is expected to see a major boost in tourism in the post-COVID era with many projects, plans and policies under implementation.
First and foremost, Thackeray said that the Maharashtra government was working to promote monsoon tourism in the Konkan region and that the three coastal Konkan districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Sindhudurg were the prime places for the project, further linking them with neighbouring districts. To give a boost to the segment, the department is planning a five-star resort in Sindhudurg, beach shacks, heritage tourism and local culinary cuisines, among others in the region.
Konkan is the state’s gateway and the monsoon in the region is an opportunity to attract visitors to enjoy the rains. “Rains nowadays doesn’t mean everything is shut. Places like Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar are teeming with tourists in the monsoon. Konkan’s beautiful landscape turns emerald green and the red earth and its aroma entices travellers and encourages them to explore. They can come to just walk around, or go on treks. Also, the agri-tourism projects, caravans and five-star hotels around will further help promote monsoon tourism,” stated Thackeray. He added that monsoon tourism can also be coupled with medical and wellness tourism, where people would like to recuperate with treatments like Naturopathy or Ayurveda just like they do in Kerala.
The Konkan region is known for its vivid topography, and clubbed with its flora and fauna, offers excellent trekking paths and trails. Along with beaches, art and culture, the popular Konkani and the Malvani cuisine, the region is a delight to explore, making it an ideal destination for domestic and international visitors. To boost connectivity, Chipi airport in Sindhudurg district would be commissioned in November and the road widening project on the Mumbai-Goa Highway is also underway.
Earlier in the year, in a bid to promote tourism, the government had cleared a proposal to permit beach shacks in eight beaches similar to Goa and other international seaside destinations. Thackeray noted that the beach shack policy was awaiting environmental clearance. Similarly, the state government has a recent caravan policy in place which promotes “caravan tourism” at beaches, forts, mountain ranges, hill stations, forests and heritage sites. Under the policy, recreational vehicles, camper vans or motorhomes are allowed at places where permanent construction is prohibited or where hotels and resorts are scarce.
The government can only be an enabler, Thackeray said, while stressing on more private participation in the tourism sector. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the involvement and interest of the private sector were encouraging, he said. The minister said his department’s focus was on how to maximise the tourism sector’s contribution to the state’s GDP and boost localised employment. He also noted that travel restrictions will last until COVID-19 exists. “Our focus lies on what we can do now. Tourists who are fully vaccinated, as per central government norms, are welcome to the state. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we are focusing on the non-fiscal aspect of the tourism department. We are working towards pitching our state’s tourism to international, domestic as well as inter and intra-state tourists. The long-term aim and hope are to turn this into a revenue and employment generator department,” expressed Thackeray.
Thackeray also said they were looking forward to developing the state as a cinema hub with a “single vault” for storing legendary scripts, films and related photographs. He said the government was in touch with key producers from the Hindi and Marathi cinema for creating a hub for tourists. “The government is working on the development of film cities. Netflix has even set up its production and post-production facility in Mumbai,” he added.
On promotion of cruise tourism after developing an international cruise terminal in Mumbai, Thackeray said they need to work out on what cruise tourists will explore when they come to Mumbai. Thackeray explains, “What do the tourists do after they land in Mumbai by cruise? We didn’t give it a thought earlier. We have now submitted a proposal to the Mumbai Port Trust for tourist activities in the area. Kala Ghoda area near the port is also good for tourists to explore. We are working on illuminating 20 buildings around the Oval Maidan at Churchgate, redesigning the plaza at the Gateway of India and are in talks with the state police for having a beating retreat parade every Sunday, for people to watch the beauty of the police drills. Overall, our endeavour is to ensure international travellers move around Mumbai and the rest of the state for a week, at least after they land in India.”
Elaborating further about Mumbai, which is the gateway for Maharashtra, the minister further said that storm water drainage outfalls at Walkeshwar, Worli and Dadar were being converted to viewing galleries and a “triangular circuit” was being developed around Mahim, Worli and Bandra forts for people. A cycling track was coming up from Bandra to the Mahim Fort and a cycling track was also coming up in the Powai area. The Mithi river banks were also being developed while keeping tourism prospects in mind.
Thackeray said he is in favour of developing the whole of Maharashtra as a tourist destination and not just one or two districts. Besides Konkan and Mumbai, regions like Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara, Nashik, Marathwada, Nagpur, etc, too had lots of tourism potential and their own USPs. Thackeray pointed out that despite having the best landscapes and everything needed to be called a remarkable tourist destination, the state never pitched itself so before the country and the world. “We never saw the tourism sector as a department which can increase the revenue and employment potential in Maharashtra. It is about time we start doing so,” he opined.
To conclude, Thackeray stressed on the need for sustainable inclusive growth in the tourism sector. “The need of the hour is to have the right policies by working with all sectors. We hope to create excitement about Maharashtra,” he said and expressed confidence that the tourism sector will pick up post-COVID-19.