Karnataka Tourism | One State, many worlds, and a missed opportunity 

Lack of sustained marketing and promotion, adequate infrastructure, besides administrative shortcomings are among the reasons pointed out for tourism in Karnataka not taking off the way it has in other popular States

August 25, 2022 08:27 pm | Updated August 26, 2022 03:36 pm IST - BENGALURU

Gaganachukki waterfalls.

Gaganachukki waterfalls. | Photo Credit: SRIRAM M.A.

Run an internet search to find out which are the most popular tourist destinations in India, and chances are unlikely you will find Karnataka on the list. Talk to someone abroad about where they have or would like to travel in India and you will likely hear the usual names: Agra, Goa, Rajasthan, Kerala and the likes.

Despite its vastness and overwhelming diversity — offering everything from beaches to backwaters and world heritage sites to jungle safaris — Karnataka, with its eye-catching ‘One State, Many Worlds’ tagline, has long been pegged as an underexplored tourist destination. Stakeholders point out that despite being conspicuously located between two tourist favourites — Kerala and Goa — few bother making a stopover in Karnataka, especially foreign travellers. 

Revenge tourism

After being hit hard by the pandemic, the tourism industry here, like in other parts, saw a resurrection thanks to what is now known to be called ‘revenge tourism.’ But is this sudden urge to break free from the monotony of the pandemic life enough to catapult the tourism industry in the state? Or is this a passing phase that will see a return to normal levels without much being done in terms of boosting the tourism potential of a state that promises to offer so much?

Stakeholders point out a variety of reasons for Karnataka missing from the tourist map. “One particular officer is not given a long tenure in the tourism department. S/he has to be given a free hand for three to five years. But they are transferred by the time they learn anything about it,” said M. Ravi, founder member of the Karnataka Tourism Forum (KTF) and Karnataka Tourism Society.

Others also pointed out that earlier, there was no concept of consulting stakeholders, but that has changed now with some associations coming up.

Going by the India Tourism Statistics 2021  of the Ministry of Tourism, which provides the percentage shares and ranks of various States/UTs in domestic and foreign tourist visits during 2020, the top five States in domestic tourist visits in 2020 were Tamil Nadu (140.65 million), Uttar Pradesh (86.12 million), Karnataka (77.45 million), Andhra Pradesh (70.83 million), and Telangana (40.00 million) with their respective shares being 23%, 14.1%, 12.7%, 11.6% and 6.6%. These five States, says the report, accounted for about 68% of the total domestic tourist visits in the country. 

On the other hand, with respect to foreign tourist visits in 2020, the top five States/UTs were Maharashtra (1.26 million), Tamil Nadu (1.23 million), Uttar Pradesh (0.89 million), Delhi (0.68 million) and West Bengal (0.46 million), with their respective shares being 17.6%, 17.1%, 12.4%, 9.5% and 6.5%. They accounted for about 63.1% of the total foreign tourist visits to the States/UTs in the country.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary. | Photo Credit: SRIRAM M.A.

Marketing, promotions

Why is Karnataka missing out on capitalising on foreign tourists arrivals?

“Marketing and promotions is where we really lag behind. Road shows, etc. should be planned much ahead, not one week before. These are things that will really improve the situation. For example, Dasara has to be marketed a year before. Now, only local crowds are coming in. How will they get people from outside? We have so many festivals and so much culture which need to be marketed,” said Mr. Ravi. 

The KTF has been promoting unexplored destinations, bringing pan India and local agents and taking them to less explored places such as Shivamogga or by showcasing Kambala.

“Bidar and Vijayapaura can also tap into the Goa and Hyderabad business. Foreigners visiting Goa can be made to come to Badami, Pattadkal. Bengaluru is silicon valley. When everything is going digital, why are we lagging behind in social media? Is there a dearth of people to do this? Think what you can do for a state, not what the state can do for you. Other states are marketing in a meticulous way. For example, in Kerala, the Malabar circuit has been promoted because south Kerala is getting saturated. We have huge funds for tourism. Spend it in the right away,” pointed out Mr. Ravi. 


Infrastructure — or the shortcomings in it — is another area that has for long been flagged. According to the Tourism Ministry’s report, as on December 31, 2020, the number of classified hotels and hotel rooms by categories in different States/Union Territories of the country shows that Kerala has the maximum (16,750) number of hotel rooms followed by Maharashtra (14,567) and Delhi (9,060). Karnataka has a total of 40 hotels and 6,938 rooms. The maximum are 5-star deluxe category hotels — 17 with 4,196 rooms.  

Private stakeholders point out that while infrastructure in the city is plenty, there is a dearth of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) infrastructure, in which Hyderabad excels. Karnataka has also not been able to tap into wedding destinations like Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan have, they say, adding that the government needs to start incentivising branded hotels in less popular destinations as the usual — Bengaluru, Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru — are overwhelmed.

The Vittala Temple at Hampi.

The Vittala Temple at Hampi. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“Tourism is a maximum employment industry. Good toilets, infrastructure, a good hotel to stay, destination visit, and basic facilities - these are only small things visitors expect. If we can’t do this for them, what’s the use?” asked a tour operator. 

Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha this year, Minister of Tourism G. Kishan Reddy had said the Ministry has revamped its Swadesh Darshan scheme as Swadesh Darshan 2.0 (SD 2.0) to develop sustainable and responsible tourism destinations in the country with a tourist and destination centric approach, but no proposal has been received from the Karnataka Government for development of destination under the scheme.

He had also said the Ministry of Tourism undertakes various promotional activities in the international and domestic markets, including for Karnataka, and it is also promoting Karnataka as a destination through its promotional website www.incredibleindia.org.

Under the ‘National Mission for Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive - PRASHAD,’ Chamundeshwari Devi, Mysuru, is one of the identified sites for development, he said, adding that ₹5.41 crore was sanctioned during 2016-17 for the development of the railway station at Hospet.

Tourism Department officials in Karnataka said they were doing their bit, travelling to all major cities in India through events and road shows to promote Karnataka, especially given how well Bengaluru is well connected.

Caravan tourism

But officials ward off the quintessential Kerala question: “We have all that is to offer. We have caravan tourism and we are advertising as well. In MICE, we have surpassed Hyderabad. But international tourism has not opened up completely as many countries still have COVID restrictions, and most are coming in now for business. We are also doing well in medical tourism,” said an official.

A picturesque scene of an estuary created by Sumana river which joins Arabian sea at Ottinene in Udupi district.

A picturesque scene of an estuary created by Sumana river which joins Arabian sea at Ottinene in Udupi district. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Sanjar Imam, president, KTF, said marketing is the key. “It is not that Karnataka does not have quality infrastructure; highways resorts, hotels are present. But marketing should be a sustained campaign, not sporadic. We need a targeted three-year plan. Other than that, there is nothing stopping Karnataka to be popular. States with lesser to offer are doing way better propelled by marketing,” he said.

Dismissing the “cliched comparison” drawn with Kerala, he said Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have upped their marketing game in recent years.

“It is not that Karnataka has not tried, but it happens in spurts and fizzles out. It won’t get results. Karnataka should get its due. It is the same formula for international travellers too. The simplest thing is to target English speaking countries such as US, UK, Canada and Singapore as English is widely spoken throughout the state and a foreign visitor can feel secure because they can communicate with the locals. But we have a lot to offer in terms of architecture and cuisine, which will be of interest to the European countries, and ayurveda too,” he said.

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