World Travel and Tourism Council in 2017, stated that the tourism industry generated around Rs. 15.24 lakhs crore ($230 billion) or 9.4% of India’s GDP and provided around 41.62 million jobs (8% of total employment). West Bengal, a state in eastern India, is quite unique and different in terms of tourism as it is the only state in India which contains almost all the vital ingredients of nature – lively sea beaches, picturesque mountains, lush forests and scenic river deltas. According to the Indian Tourism Index, 74460250 domestic tourists and 1528700 foreign tourists (4.6% & 6.2% of total share in India) visited West Bengal in 2016.
Mobile applications have become essential for travellers to locate a particular place or for obtaining other travel related details. The Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal has launched a travel app named West Bengal Tourism. This app has the ability to find the catalogue of the tourist-spots in any district and provide detailed information about tour guides. The travellers can access the online booking facilities through this app and can find emergency contacts. One can also find the list of festivals and annual events of West Bengal. Many travellers that BE interacted with, stated that this app is a good initiative by the government as it provides effective information about various known and unknown places of Bengal.
Initiatives by the tourism department
The Government of West Bengal has taken various steps in order to uplift the tourism industry. It is promoting tourism by organising regular tourism fairs. At present, the government is also promoting homestays in different locations at Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Tourism centres have been established in the districts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Howrah and Hooghly. The state government is also providing various incentives to promote the tourism industry in West Bengal. The state is focusing on eco-tourism and tea tourism to further boost the state’s tourist inflow. The government has taken elaborate beautification projects in established tourist locations to encourage the sector.
The government has managaed to control the unrest in hills of northern Bengal and this has aided the tourism industry. Padyanava Santra, a nature and wildlife photographer told BE, “The beautification of places like Digha or Mondarmani or Doars or even the banks of the Hoogly River is commendable. It has definitely helped to attract more tourists to our state.”
Sourav Agarwal, Director of Diamond Tour and Travels told BE, “The presence of the airport near Kolkata helps many tourists to think of Kolkata as an ideal destination for short vacations. They visit the important places in and around the city and some of them even make a religious trip to Gangasagar and then come back to Kolkata and return by taking another flight.”
Apart from the initiatives taken by the government, the efforts of many tourism agencies and hospitality sectors are undeniable. The hotels and tourism companies provide some eye-catching facilities for the tourists. Penjo Gompus of Hotel Gompus, Kalimpong informed BE, “Apart from the ideal weather condition, places like Kalimpong give access to adventure tourism. Para-gliding and river rafting is an emerging trend among the tourists travelling to the hills of Kalimpong. We are trying to incorporate such facilities for our guests.”
According to some industry sources, the state government needs to involve itself more for the development of the tourism industry. Its efforts in this sector needs to accelerate for the state to emerge as a global tourist destination. The government needs to provide assistance to the private tourism agencies for promoting the industry. Security of the travellers is a major issue in many destinations in West Bengal. Jayanti Das, a teacher who is also an ardent traveller told BE, “If monitoring by the police at night can be increased in tourist destinations, it will benefit the tourism sector.”
The maintenance of some tourist spots is also not up to the mark according to some seasoned travelers. Santra added, “The forests of Parmadan in Bongoan or Bethuadohori in Krishnanagar and historical places like Chandraketugarh need urgent maintenance.”
Saturation Problems and their solution
There is a perennial need for new locations to sustain the tourism industry. The government has identified several new locations like Raichak, Lataguri, Jaldhaka, Hemnagar and others. Many travel agencies are also focusing on these places. But pro-active governmental involvement is needed to enhance the tourism infrastructure of these places and to ensure connectivity. The private sector can then get involved to promote these spots as tourism destinations by building hotels and homestays and other attractions. Additionally, there are many places like Shamshernagar, Surulia and Goratala that are still not being highlighted by the government but hold immense potential.
It is undeniable that problems might arise when it comes to developing the tourism industry in a state like West Bengal. But the government needs to maintain its established tourist destinations well and at the same time, look to develop newer destinations. From the enchanted beaches of Mandarmani to the exquisite hills of Darjeeling – from the one-horned rhinos of Jaldapara Reserve Forest to the Royal Bengal tigers of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve – from Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan to Nawbab Sirajdoulla’s Murshidabad – from spirituality in Mayapur to the raw rusticity of Purulia- the state has it all to be developed as a popular tourism destination for national and international tourists.