President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rural Tourism: It’s A Niche That India Can Offer

By M H Ahssan

Rural India has much to offer to the world. Rich in traditions of arts, crafts and culture, rural India can emerge as important tourist spots. Those in the developed world who have a craze for knowledge about traditional ways of life, arts and crafts will be attracted to visit rural India if the concept of rural tourism is marketed well.

It is not that the concept is not workable. In absence of any promotional activity for rural tourism, thousands of foreign tourists visit rural areas in Rajasthan, Gujarat and south India every year. This itself is the proof of viability of the concept of rural tourism.

The government, of late, has realised what the rural India can offer to the world. The Tenth Plan has identified tourism as one of the major sources for generating employment and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The Union ministry of tourism in collaboration with UNDP has launched the Endogenous Tourism Project linked to the existing rural tourism scheme of the government. The UNDP has committed $ 2.5 million for the project. UNDP will help in areas of capacity building, involvement of NGOs, local communities and artisans, forge strong community-private and public sector partnerships. The the government has decided to develop necessary infrastructure for facilitating rural tourism.

So far the government has identified 31 villages across the country as tourist spots. These are - Pochampalli in Nalgonda district and Srikalahasti in Chittor district in Andhra Pradesh, Durgapur in Golaghat district and Sualkuchi in Kamrup district in Assam, Nepura in Nalanda district in Bihar, Chitrakote and Nagarnar in Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, Hodka in Kachchh district in Gujarat, Jyotisar in Kurukshetra district in Haryana, Naggar in Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh, Banavasi in Uttar Kannada district in Karnataka, Aranmulla in Pathanamthitta district and Kumbalanghi in Kochi district in Kerala, Chaugan in Mandla district and Pranpur in Ashok Nagar district in Madhya Pradesh, Sulibhanjan-Khultabad in Aurangabad district in Maharashtra, Pipili and Raghurajpur in Puri district in Orissa, Rajasansi in Amritsar district in Punjab, Neemrana in Alwar district, Samode in Jaipur district and Haldighati in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan, Lachen in North District in Sikkim, Karaikudi in Sivaganga district and Kazhugumalai in Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu, Kamlasagar in West Tripura district in Tripura, Bhaguwala in Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, Jageshwar in Almora district and Mana in Chamoli district in Uttaranchal, Ballabhpur Danga in Birbhum district and Mukutmanipur in Bankura district in West Bengal.

This does not mean that India has only 31 potential tourist spots in rural areas. There are many more. These spots have been selected on pilot basis keeping in view available infrastructure. There are many other spots of potential tourist interest where adequate infrastructure needs to be developed.

Some state have by their own initiatives have begun promoting rural tourism. For instance the forest department of the Uttaranchal government has set up ‘Centre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Livelihoods’. This centre aims at capacity building of local communities and promotion of rural tourism.

The pilot project on endogenous tourism is rightly conceived with the involvement of central and state governments and all stakeholders. Concerned district administration and the local NGOs are partners. The central government has pledged assistance to the states amounting to Rs 0.5 million for developing a site for rural tourism.

The project conceives to establish common facility centres for craft persons and village ‘Kala Kendras’ (arts & craft centres) to showcase the arts and crafts, history and culture, nature and heritage of the identified sites. The project will facilitate construction of ‘Vishram Sthals’ (rest houses for tourists). These ‘Vishram Sthals’ will be made using locally available materials and traditional skills and knowledge of building and construction. With a view to provide services of global standards, local communities will be trained in different aspects of hospitability, lodging and cuisine.

Tourism is one of the major earner of foreign exchange for the country. Rural tourism will definitely add more to what we earn in foreign exchange. Rural tourism will hasten the process of development and give a chance to the village folks to interact with the outside world. It will also boost employment opportunities in rural areas and the products of rural artisan will find a ready market.

India resides in village and for the world to know the real spirit of India, it is essential to have a peep into the rural areas. The government had earlier conceived of a Buddhist Tourism Circuit comprising of places of pilgrim interest. This project is in progress. Rural India has a lot to offer to the world!

Pochampally - a hub of rural tourism: Pochampally, a village in Andhra Pradesh is today renowned worldwide for its beautiful weaves. The world knows this quaint town for its spectacular Ikkats. Spread over a charming part of the Deccan plateau, Pochampally is the largest centre for Ikkat. Tucked amid the beautiful hills, this is a result of the Bhoodan movement by Acharya Vinoba Bhave(1951) wherein land was donated by the erstwhile zamindars towards community welfare. Hence the name 'Bhoodan Pochampally', which is in fact the first village to be created by this movement. The place has been declared a Model Village due to its cleanliness and civic amenities.

‘Rural Tourism Will Succeed With Local Community Participation’
Jose Dominic, chairman, CGH Earth Group of Hotels speaks to HNN about his expansion plans and the concept of rural tourism.

CGH Earth has properties in Kerala and is now venturing into Karnataka too. Which other states are you looking at?
Jose Dominic: We are planning a 16-room heritage hotel in Karaikudi in Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. This will be our foray into Tamil Nadu. We have taken a Chettiyar palace in a village, which will be converted into a heritage property celebrating the Chettiyar culture, their cuisine and architecture. CGH Earth believes in rural tourism, which is more authentic, more experiential and less touristic. When I say less touristic, I mean, nothing is made for the tourist. Whatever is perceived to be a tourist’s demand or need, be it architecture, food or lifestyle, is negated from the rural tourism concept. It is totally self-sufficient with the rural resources, its ideas and its character. We are also looking at Thanjavur and Madurai for expansion in Tamil Nadu.

What are your expansion strategies and investment plans?
Our strategy is to have about 12 properties in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala in the next 2-3 years. Most of them will be small properties with about 16-20 rooms. The investment towards our Karaikudi property would be about Rs 3.5 crore. For the upcoming projects, the scale could be different. A property could also cost about Rs 10-15 crore. We are in discussions with private equity funds and if it materialises, the scale will go up.

What about Andhra Pradesh?
I am yet to study the Andhra Pradesh market. If we go for a property in the state, it would definitely be near the coastline.

CGH Earth has been following the rural tourism path. What makes this segment unique?
The concept of rural tourism is not about escaping but that of fulfillment. Rural tourism has to be in small numbers because rural infrastructure cannot handle large numbers, which will end up in ruining the character of the place. The main factor for the success of rural tourism is the complete involvement of the local community. Until and unless there is total participation by the rural community along with their strong acceptance, the concept cannot survive. The entire concept has to reflect the local ethos and this is the unique bit of rural tourism.

What could be the estimated size of rural tourism in the country?
If one takes the pure leisure component leaving the MICE, VFR or business travel, then I feel, the rural tourism comprises about 60% of travellers.
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