Responsible Tourism is Intrinsic to Odisha

In an interview with BW HOTELIER, Odisha Tourism's Principal Secretary, Vishal Dev, says the state is all about experiences in its impeccable blend of tradition and terrain. He adds that Odisha will soon be on top of every traveller’s bucket list

Tell us more about your plans to promote tourism in the state.

With the introduction of several niche experiences around key tourism offerings and developing it to match global standards, holidays in Odisha promise to be unprecedented in 2021. To encourage tourist footfalls in the state, we are actively working towards:

* Integrated Master Planning based development of 17 priority destinations encompassing beaches, biodiversity zones, heritage monuments and areas of religious and cultural importance with a focus on environment-friendly and low-impact tourism infrastructure.

* Introduction of new tourism products like cruises at Chilika Lake, Hirakud Reservoir, Mahanadi River and Bhitarkanika. Shacks at prominent beach destinations are also being operationalised.

Birds at Chilika Lake

* Expansion of highly successful zero-waste sustainable yet seasonal luxury glamping product, ‘Eco Retreat Odisha’ from five to six less explored exotic destinations with high tourism potential where permanent infrastructure development is not advisable. 

* Promotion of heritage tourism through development of Buddhist trails including promotion of areas having major Buddhist influence from among the 200 Buddhist sites discovered till date. Some prominent Buddhist locations being promoted include the Golden Casket containing Buddhist relics, excavated Buddhist Stupas, Monasteries and Viharas discovered at Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri that forms the Diamond Triangle Buddhist Circuit and eastern India’s largest monastery at Jirang among others.

* Boosting Ecotourism by setting up Eco-resorts, camping facilities, etc at protected areas, wetlands and forests areas after witnessing a surge in demand by tourists for offbeat experiences amidst nature like birding, wildlife safari, trekking, etc. Community-managed ecotourism in Odisha is a model template where local communities are managing ecotourism units at various locations of the state.

* Enriching events calendar based on different seasons and various cultural festivals celebrated in different parts of the state with tourism potential.

How do you plan to progress on the tourism development front while preserving Odisha’s rich cultural heritage and ecological diversity?

Responsible tourism is intrinsic to Odisha. Our key tourism offerings are community oriented and offer a peek into the state’s cultural ethos while promoting sustainability and ensuring livelihood development. Some key focus areas are:

Niche tribal tourism: Odisha’s deep ethnic roots are preserved by 62 tribal groups comprising 24 per cent of the state’s population.

Ramping up award-winning community led ecotourism model where 80 per cent annual revenue is retained by local community. Across 47 Ecotour camps located in nature destinations including protected areas, we aim to boost accommodation capacity in coming years through sustainable and environment-friendly infrastructure development.

Creation of immersive tourism products like homestays at ecotourism spots through which travellers can get unique cultural experiences in hospitality, cuisine and other local ways of life while staying in local family homes. With an aim to boost local entrepreneurship, the State Government has introduced the Odisha Homestay Establishment Scheme 2021.

Organising Eco Retreat Odisha at multiple eco-tourism destinations. This three-month glam camp is an environmentally sustainable model incorporating best practices in material utilisation and holistic waste management with zero liquid and sewerage discharge.

Development of five beach stretches, three in Puri district and two in Ganjam, similar to the standards of Golden Beach in Puri that was certified in the Blue Flag category by FEE Denmark. Sustainable and eco-friendly development will elevate beach tourism offerings to international standards and thereby attract more and more foreign tourists to the state. 

Please elaborate on the ideation of the tagline, Odisha - India’s Best Kept Secret and its marketing impact.

Odisha has been lesser known for tourism when compared to other states. But this has changed over the last two years with strategic unveiling of the tagline, India’s Best Kept Secret. Home to diverse topography teeming with wildlife, the State’s existence is defined by a 482 km coastline along with forests, mountains, rivers, valleys, gorges and waterfalls through which Odisha offers the best of experiences to Nature lovers, be it trekking, sightseeing, safari or boating. Complementing the Nature’s bounty is the State’s rich culture boasting of splendid historical monuments, vibrant art forms, numerous indigenous crafts and delicious cuisine. 

This campaign has not only helped bring to light the many secrets of Odisha but popularised our key tourism offerings like beach tourism, ecotourism, water recreation and tourism, art and craft tourism, sports tourism, heritage tourism, camping and road trips, which are being actively marketed.

Mukteswar Temple

The most outstanding outcome has been the Eco Retreat, eastern India’s premier glamping festival that combines luxury with sustainability. Launched in 2019 at Ramchandi Beach in Konark, the maiden edition of this sustainable tourism product saw an overwhelming response that received over 70 per cent occupancy following which the second edition was expanded to five locations across pristine ecotourism destinations. Despite the pandemic, the 2020-2021 edition witnessed an overall occupancy of over 50 per cent, thanks to the synergised application of SOPs and technology for added safety of tourists. 

Is the State taking any steps to promote film tourism?

Odisha is blessed with abundant biodiversity and picturesque scenic destinations that has the potential to offer a unique backdrop for creative storytelling. Though filmmaking in Odisha dates back to 1936, the potential of films to boost tourism through promotion of State’s rich cultural heritage, history, architecture, tourist destinations and varied ethnicity is being actively explored now. Odisha Film Development Corporation (OFDC) set up by Odisha Government works towards creating conducive ecosystem for production of films in the State.

To facilitate film tourism and establish Odisha as a destination for film shooting, the State Government came out with an attractive Odisha State Film Policy in 2019. Through this policy, the Government aims to provide subsidies up to 25 per cent of the total cost of the film that promotes the State, its culture, heritage and various destinations. The policy is also aimed at infrastructure development like creation of a film city, revamping the famous Kalinga Studio, increasing the number of movie theatres and multiplexes. A single window committee has been constituted to ensure quick approval process for film shooting. 

What policies are being enacted by the State to revive the tourism and hospitality industries in the wake of current pandemic situation?

In terms of impact, the tourism sector is worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from festival and religious tourism (Jagannath Ratha Jatra), segments like MICE tourism and sports tourism used to attract large number of tourists to the state. To revive the sector, Department of Tourism took active measures like introducing COVID-19 related policies and interventions which included formulation of SOPs, communications, marketing campaigns, providing helplines, alternative livelihood support and awareness drives, among others.

To ensure opening up of tourist destinations and to boost stakeholder confidence, COVID-19 preparedness protocols were released and training sessions on risk mitigation and hygiene training held. A comprehensive safety first module was created and updated on the award-winning Odisha Tourism website which informed tourists of safety measures adopted by hospitality units, guidelines and protocols and updates on the opening of tourist destinations in the State. Such proactive steps taken by the State Government to revive the tourism and hospitality industry was recognised at the 6th India Responsible Tourism Awards where Odisha was conferred with silver award for being the Best Future Forward State.

Giving a boost to the revival strategy post the first wave of COVID-19, Odisha Tourism initiated the Odisha By Road campaign under which it has introduced diverse road trip itineraries covering the length and breadth of the State. Though roadshows were conducted in virtual mode, tourism events like Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav and National Chilika Bird Festival, Konark Dance Festival were conducted with strict adherence to SOPs and safety guidelines. The efficient management of the pandemic by the State boosted traveller’s confidence and the events received encouraging response.  

To further supplement the pandemic-hit sector, Odisha Government is finalizing a relief package for the tourism sector. We are in the process of introducing niche immersive tourism products like homestays and heritage hospitality through scheme-based interventions.

How investor-friendly is Odisha, especially for the tourism sector? What initiatives are being introduced to promote more investments in the State’s tourism sector?

The Odisha Government has undertaken progressive reforms in all sectors of its economy for ease of doing business in the State. To promote more investments in the tourism sector, the Odisha Tourism Policy was formulated in 2016 with an aim to create a conducive environment and framework for private sector participation in tourism sector. For development of long-term infrastructure projects, joint ventures and Public Private Partnership (PPP) with domestic as well as foreign investors are being encouraged.  

To attract private sector investment, both financial and non-financial incentives are offered for setting up new tourism projects or for expansion of the ones existing. Some of the major financial incentives include capital investment subsidy up to 30 per cent of tourism projects, interest subsidy and environmental protection infrastructure subsidy among others. Non-financial incentives like assistance in allocation of landbanks, facilitations for fast-track clearance of tourism projects, and other performance-oriented incentives are provided. 

The Government will assist in promotion of private tourism projects through road shows and trade fairs, events and activities etc. 

Our investment promotion efforts have been very successful. Investor facilitation and handholding has been provided to 130 potential investors during 2020-21, out of which 26 projects have been approved till date.

Why should Odisha be every traveller’s next holiday destination?

Tourists today are planning vacations that directly align with their interests. Home to diverse cultures across varying landscapes, Odisha has much to offer to the discerning traveller. Odisha, India’s Best Kept Secret, has been steadily and consistently unveiling itself.

Every element of this enigmatic land of Lord Jagannath has its own unmatched charm, be it the vast scenic coastline, its biodiverse rich ecosystems across 19 protected areas, its quaint hill stations, mesmerising architecture, captivating craftsmanship, passionate artforms, delectable cuisine or Odisha’s indigenous tribal culture.

Central to unveiling the State’s treasure trove of unseen tourism destinations is to enrich tourists’ experience through flagship sustainable projects like the Eco Retreat, heritage hospitality units, water sports and recreation activities. 17 destinations with niche tourism potential are being developed through eco-friendly integrated destination master planning. Creation of new products like Homestays, Heritage hospitality units and adventure tourism are being explored.

We are not just passively administering tourist inflow but innovating our way towards diverse tourist experiences which no one previously related with Odisha: camping, water sports, birding, cuisine, luxury vacations, road trips, etc. Therefore, travelling to Odisha will be about experiencing this impeccable blend of tradition and terrain and this is why it would feature on top of every traveller’s bucket list once travel and tourism sectors reopen.

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