With efforts focused at realizing the true potential of tourism, the State Government was endeavouring to harness the tourism potential in a planned and sustainable manner to achieve the objectives. This was stated by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh while presiding over the 3rd International Tourism conclave and Travel Events Awards held on the occasion of the World Tourism Day here today.
He said State Government had formulated a Sustainable Development Policy-2013 which was serving as a blue print for all present and future tourism related activities in the State.
Chief Minister said that tourism was poised to become a principal industry of the State and the State Government, had put in place a framework of rules, policies and laws to ensure that all tourism related activities were ‘tourist centric’ with visitors interest of paramount importance. He said that to meet the infrastructure gaps in the tourism sector, resources of related departments were also being converged for better outcome.
Tourism sector was not only vital for creating employment opportunities but it also contributes a lot in promoting the culture and adding to the economy of the State, he said, admitting that the efforts of the State were promising but not sufficient enough. He said that the State Government was working hard in this direction to pursue the goals and was keen to extend invitation to the entrepreneurs in tourism and hospitality industry to arrive and invest in Himachal.
Chief Minister said that at present tourism was contributing about 9.75 percent to the State Domestic Product (GDP) and there had been consistent increase in inflow of tourists to the State with an average annual growth rate of 11.80 percent in the last couple of years. The Government was providing a budgetary support of Rs 6.5 crore annually to the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation and the department through International and National Travel Marts was promoting Himachal on a sustained basis as an ideal tourist destination.
He said that for up-gradation of tourists infrastructure Rs 600 crore project funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB), was being implemented and apart from this, with the technical assistance from the World Bank the districts of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur would be provided a facelift and developed as a favourite tourist destinations.
He said that the hotel units being set up in tribal and hard areas and in backward panchayats were exempted from payment of luxury tax for a period of ten years and a similar concession had also been extended to the tourism units coming up in rural areas applicable from April, 2014. The home-units in rural areas were also exempted from payment of luxury tax for a period of five years.
“It was only after persuasion from the State Government that the GoI extended its capital investment subsidy scheme for the hotel industry in the State” he said adding further that to take our tourism industry ahead, we were keen to invite the private sector investment in the areas of rope-ways, resorts, amusement parks, film cities, mega tourist destination, civil aviation sector, adventure activities like paragliding, water sports etc.
Chief Minister said that Government was endeavouring to expand airstrips at Shimla, Kullu and Kangra to facilitate the high-end tourists and the matter had been taken up with the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism.
He said that the State was keen to develop a new airport to cater to heavy duty passenger aircrafts and the process to identify a site near Kandaghat in Solan district was underway. The Government was also mulling to develop helipads in the far-flung and interior areas of the State and commence heli-taxi service with private sector so that the areas unexplored could be made open for tourists.
He said that rationalization of inter-State road taxes and similar related issues were likely to be taken up with the Governments of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttrakhand, which would go a long way in promoting Tourism activities in the State.
To impose curb on fleecing of tourists visiting the State and to ensure their safety and security, trained police personnel were being deployed in major tourist destinations, he said.
The Chief Minister said that tourism cannot prosper without the private participation and requires contribution from all the stakeholders concerned and at the same time it was important that the word of mouth be spread amongst the fraternity which will be the last mile effort to spread Himachal’s tourism potential far and wide.
The Chief Minister also released a website of tourism department on the occasion and distributed prizes to the stakeholders who excelled in promoting and popularizing tourism.
A sum of Rs 53 thousand was also presented to the Chief Minister towards Chief Minister Relief Fund on the occasion by Tourism Department.
Major Vijay Singh Mankotia, Vice-Chairman of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Board said that tourism was a large Job creator industry in the world and was the most vital sector that helps in economic growth and prosperity.
He stressed on the re-establishing and re-vitalizing the bond between Man and Nature, which was possible in exquisite natural beauty of the State. He said that the bond between Man and Planet life, the bond between Man and God and the endless search for peace and tranquility which is broken in race towards materialism can be found nowhere except in Himachal Pradesh which was bestowed with immaculate natural beauty.
Mankotia said the matter regarding linking of interior area with suitable road network had been taken up with Government of India and the Chief Minister himself has persuaded linking of interior and far-flung areas with roads and also the talks with the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttrakhand, Punjab and Haryana were in the offing to take up a joint representation with GoI so as to ensure that all the yardsticks and measures for funding for hill States differ from those of other States.
Guldeep Singh Sahni, President Outbound Tour Operators Association of India and Jyoti Kapur, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators appreciated the efforts of the State Government in developing the tourism sector.
Dr Gulshan Sharma CEO, International Chamber for service Industry stressed for developing cinematic tourism and medical tourism in the State. He said the medicinal tourism have a great scope in the State as Himachal was a home to number of herbal medicines. He proposed for 100 crore domestic project for development of tourism by International chamber of Service Industry in the State entirely sponsored by GoI and also proposed to hold a conference of all the North Indian States for Integrated Tourism development of entire North India and to make it as the leading tourism destination in the occasion.
Earlier, Mohan Chauhan, Director Tourism and Civil Aviation said Himachal Pradesh was a front runner in tourism sector and there was a vast scope of expanding the tourism activities in the State. He attributed the development in tourism sector to the Chief Minister and said that the enlightened spirit and conviction of Virbhadra Singh had made impossible the possible in the development of tourism sector in the State.
Vice Chairman, Tourism Development Corporation Harish Janartha was also present on the occasion.