The first inter-State regional conference of tourism ministers from South India was held here on Saturday to evolve a mechanism to facilitate “seamless” travel of tourists and to promote holistic development of tourism in the region.

Union Minister for Tourism and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Kumari Selja, said the States in the region need to adopt a “common tax regime” to promote tourism in the region.

Ms. Selja announced that from March 15, the Golden Chariot luxury train would connect major tourist destinations in the southern States. It would depart from Bangalore and go via Chennai, Mamallapuram, Puducherry, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Thiruvananthapuram, Allapuzha and Kochi, before returning to Bangalore.

“Merely running the train is not enough, we have to develop these destinations,” she warned.

Ms. Selja said mega projects were being planned in Tirupati, Kadapa and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, Hampi in Karnataka and Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu.

Addressing the conference, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa said entry tax, road tax and luxury tax rates need to be harmonised. This would enable the States in the region to promote and market the region as a whole to foreign and domestic tourists.

He said several mega tourism projects had been planned and the Government would be “submitting proposals to the Union Ministry of Tourism soon.” “Consultants have already been appointed and the first project is likely to be in Shimoga,” he said.

Karnataka Tourism Minister G. Janardhan Reddy said Karnataka had taken the lead in promoting helicopter tourism by planning 28 heliports in the State.

The conference was attended by tourism ministers and senior tourism department officials from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Karnataka.

Bhim Dhungel, Tourism Minister of Sikkim, attended the conference to present the State’s plans for tourism development.