KARNATAKA

Forum formed to market State

S. Venkataraman  

BANGALORE, JUNE 1. A group of private tourism promoters has joined hands with the Government to promote Karnataka as an important tourist destination.

The tourism promoters, who have formed an association called the Karnataka Tourism Forum, are already engaged in preparing a road map for tourism. They are of the view that if Kerala, with the theme "God's own country," could capture the attention of local and foreign tourists, Karnataka should not lag behind.

The President of the Karnataka Tourism Forum, K. Venkataraman, told The Hindu here today that the State had immense tourism potential in comparison to Kerala or even Andhra Pradesh, which is now ranked second among the southern States in attracting tourists. Andhra Pradesh had scored over Goa, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka because of the huge inflow of tourists to Tirupati and Tirumala, which, although pilgrimage centres, were considered as tourist destinations, he said.

The turnover of the tourism industry in Karnataka was now around Rs. 1,000 crore. This could be easily doubled with the right amount of investment in about three years, Mr. Venkataraman said. The turnover of the hotel industry was considered part of the turnover of the tourism industry and the hotels in Bangalore alone accounted for nearly half of the turnover in the State. Thus, the turnover of the tourism industry as a whole was very low largely because the tourist destinations lacked basic accommodation.

Mr. Venkataraman said the Karnataka Tourism Forum, comprising leading travel and tour operators, hoteliers, resort owners and transport operators, had asked the Government to involve it while framing tourism policies. "We have a huge tourism potential lying dormant and the time has come to get together and share common goals and objectives in the tourism sector." The forum was currently serving the Department of Tourism as a think tank in formulating a long-term tourism policy.

Mr. Venkataraman, an engineer, is the promoter of a tourist resort at Kalasa in Chikmagalur district and is also into human resource development among the youth in Bangalore.

He said what had upset the tourism promoters was the lack of a sustained effort on the part of the Government in promoting the industry. The Tourism Minister, not to speak of the Tourism Commissioner and the Tourism Secretary were being changed every few months. For the proper implementation of any scheme, the officials should be given a minimum tenure of three years. Karnataka, he said had three Tourism Ministers, three commissioners and three secretaries over the past year, while in Kerala, the officials had been given a fixed term and a target to achieve. The Tourism Department was yet to clear the subsidy given to several hotels started over a decade ago and paucity of funds was being cited as the reason, he said.

According to Mr. Venkataraman, given the right amount of encouragement, the tourism sector turnover could be substantially increased as there were plenty of tourist destinations in the State, which remained untapped. If Kerala could boast of its beaches and backwaters, Karnataka, with a nearly 300-km coastline, was in no way inferior. Some of the most picturesque beaches were in Karnataka, particularly between Udupi and Karwar. While successive Governments had spoken about developing the Malpe and the Maravanthe beaches, nothing had been done so far in terms of providing accommodation. Maravanthe beach had the Arabian Sea on one side and fresh water on the other, with the national highway running in between.

On attracting foreign tourists, he said that because of the many diversities and long distances, it was difficult to market the State as a whole. It would be better to divide the various tourist destinations into zones and market them independently. The places of interest around Dakshina Kannada, Bangalore, Bijapur and Hampi could be marketed as independent packages.

Mr. Venkataraman said the Karnataka Tourism Forum had embarked on a training scheme for cab drivers, who were regarded as tourism ambassadors linking tourists with travel operators. The training was aimed at teaching the drivers basic etiquette and the importance of various tourist destinations. "Promoting tourism involves a high degree of human interaction and involvement at all levels. Even a minor slip can cost the tourism sector dearly since word will spread that tourist destinations are not up to the mark," he said.