Dying tourism in Manipur and a lesson from Himachal Pradesh

Mohendro Nandeibam *

Tourism derives its meaning from Hebrew word 'torch' which means 'search to learn'. At global level the year 1967 was declared as International Year of Tourism with 27 September being observed as World Tourism Day. The 'smokeless industry' is marked by 'painless transfer of income and highly decentralized.' Liberalization and Globalization foster the momentum and spirit of tourism. In India the Tourism Multiplier is about 3.

The Manipur Tourism Policy 2014, one of the most comprehensive documents, marks the recognition of increasing importance of tourism, for the first time, in the economic planning and development of the State, although in 1987 tourism was given 'industry status'. "The Mission of the Policy is to promote sustainable tourism as a means of economic growth, social integration and to promote the image of Manipur (p-4).

"The Asian Development Bank has identified the region as "Key Area" due to its unrealized potential as eco-tourism product" (P-14).

".....Planned Development of Tourism Infrastructure and aggressive marketing of Manipur Tourism would lead to creation of employment potential to the tune of 10-15 percent as against 6-7 percent globally (P-2)".

But the development experience for the last 63 years is marked by the lack of policy planning, policy direction and policy co-ordination. Himachal Pradesh goes much ahead. Tourism contributes 6.8 percent of State Domestic Product whereas the annual revenue collection in Manipur till 2003-4 was Rs 0.93 lakh only;- much less than 1 percent. The lackluster performance of smokeless industry in the State has a long shadow of premature future while the whole world has witnessed exiting changes in all works of life.

Today the integrated policy of tourism, trade and investment has become a very important chapter of larger economic policy. Curiously tourism in Manipur is largely restricted to sight seeing and pleasure trip while modern tourism demands us to go far beyond. What about "creation of Tourist Economic Zones based on Tourist Index of scenery, accessibility, accommodation and safety" (P-36).

The long term contribution to economic growth via trade, investment, employment and income has not been adequately taken care of. The low sensibility of arm-chair administration produces stagnation and is now treated as a thing of the past. It is not a surprise that the Dying Tourism in the "Jewel of India" has raised the critical eyebrows of the thinkers.

Rightly tourism introduces the economy, industry strengthens, agriculture stabilizes and ecology beautifies. As game setter, modern tourism should be significantly pregnant with three components namely 'See, Feel and Admire'. The tourism policy without specific components of See, Feel and Admire, could at best be a mere ritual exercise without lasting impact.

Tourism cannot be created overnight. It evolves and passes through different stages continuously shaped and tuned from time to time. A report highlighting a few critical areas may open our eyes to go ahead with a pragmatic road map. 1. What are those deserving things in the State to be seen ? 2. What do they feel about them ? 3. What are those distinctive attractions watched keenly and admired by the visitors ? 4. How far RAC and ILP are responsible for fluctuating fortune of tourism in Manipur ?

Perhaps it is against the background of highly comprehensive and highly fragmented character of tourism, that the Department of Tourism attempted to go ahead with 23 Destination Development Projects sanctioned till 2013-14, 15 Development of Tourist Circuit Projects sanctioned till 2013-14 and 2 Mega Tourist Projects sanctioned till 2013-14 (Manipur Tourism Policy, 2014).

Taking into account both forward and backward linkages and also as a mark of Government-led-Private Sector-driven and Community Welfare-oriented policy, concrete attempt has been made to step up the momentum of tourism in the State by investing Rs 179 crore in 11 tourist projects such as Upgradation of Imphal Hotel (Rs 163.89 lakh),
Renovation of Yatriniwas at Moreh (Rs 407.82 lakh),
Construction of Circuit House at Churchandpur (Rs 466.67 lakh),
Construction / Renovation of Tourism Infrastructures Development around Govindaji Temple (Rs 694.24 lakh),
Infrastructure Development of Tourist Destination at Andro (Rs 478 lakh),
Development of Tourist Circuit-Imphal-Khongjom (Rs 7222.8 lakh),
Development of Spiritual Circuit in Manipur (Rs 5379.5 lakh),
Eco Tourism at Cheirao Ching (Thangmeiband) (Rs 13.30 lakh),
Development of Cave Tourism at Ukhrul (Rs 7.50 lakh),
Construction/Renovation of Tourism Infrastructure around Mahabali Temple (Rs 440.88 lakh) and
Infrastructure Development for Destination/Construction of Administrative Buildings, Statues, Landscaping at Marjing (Rs 2700 lakh).

The inauguration of 1 at Andro and 1 at Sendra Hillock in June 2017 and 1 at Marging and another at Keirao in June 2018 could also be a new attraction. To attract tourists across the globe the department is organizing promotional festivals such as State Level Shirui Lily Festival, Manipur Sangai Festival, Women Polo Tournament and Barak Spring Festival. On an average, the Sangai Festival is attended by 40,000 people per day including foreigners from 20 countries.

The State Government has initiated a proposal for regular bus service from Imphal to Mandalay. Rail and Air link between Manipur and Myanmar is also under active consideration. In short, Manipur is going to be opened up for larger global connectivity with a view to sensitizing the land locked State in terms of greater competitiveness, innovation and investment. Isolation is a thing of the past. When the whole world has become a global village, isolation may create the painful feeling of being left out. What we should do is to enrich and strengthen the internal competitive potential.

For the delicate task of maintenance we need service-oriented and performance-driven manpower who looks after the tourist homes with or without the arrival of tourists. The service of private player may now be better option in view of three distinctive articles of courtesy care, and convenience.

Only strengthening the hard wares of tourism is not enough. The role of soft ware is equally important. As unique feature of service sector we do not go out for selling; on the contrary the buyers, come, see, buy and enjoy.

Sitting at home, we sell the beauty of our culture, the beauty of uprightness, the beauty of decency and discipline, the beauty of hospitality and the attraction of humble simplicity. One of the key factors which enabled Philippines to receive millions of tourists in 2006 was the spontaneous warmth and the heartwarming friendliness.

The clean and peaceful environment, hospitable people, clean administration and the mantra; 'your expenditure is my income,' faithfully worked together to ensure the astounding success of tourism in Himachal Pradesh. Of course, the State is endowed with beautiful streams, sacred shrines and historical monuments.

Excellent public utility services, roads communication networks, clean toilets at bus stands, restaurants and petrol pumps are some of the deserving features of Himachal Pradesh. There are about 2604 hotels with about 70869 bed facilities and about 787 home stay units in the State. Priority, not on paper, but actually in action on the ground is the hallmark of tourism in the State. Now additional incentives are being made available to increase the contribution of tourism to the State more than 7 percent of the Gross State Domestic Product.

The general trend of tourism in Manipur is not so encouraging. The tourist arrival has increased from 1,20,835 in 2006-07 to 1,78,941 of which 12,102 only were foreigners. The average duration of stay of domestic tourist was 1.22 nights while that of foreigners 2.44 nights. Most of them are students and researchers. Business and social tourism was extremely low.

Now a few questions have been raised in Manipur. What are the benefits of tourism in terms of income and employment that accrue to the local economy ? What is the value of tourism to the local enterprises ? What is the attitude of people towards tourists and tourism ? What are induced social changes in the area ? What prevents them to get willingly involved in the initiative ? How far tourism can address the problem of overuse and indiscriminate destruction of natural resources by the poor people ?

The socio-economic changes that take place in and around a particular tourist spot differ from spot to spot, place to place. The changes at Keibul Lamjao, Moirang, are not the same at Andro, Imphal East. To produce a realistic Vision Document of Tourism one has to take into account the changes that have taken place at all tourist spots in the State. Otherwise we go by the same beaten track, while a dynamic economy demands a new line of action in the light of a number of changes.

The fine weather behavior, natural beauty and scenic splendor are exceptional gifts for tourism in Manipur. The challenge is how to capitalize them to position Manipur as the most preferred State in the world. The success stories of China, Philippines and Himachal Pradesh could be a Guide Book.

One thing is clear that the arrival of visitors would be significantly increased in immediate future. The air connectivity has been improved with seven flights a day. Rail connectivity is going to be operational up to Imphal by 2024. Attempt is being made to improve National Highways with the expansion to 4-lane. As part of Act East Policy of India Moreh is going to be International Commercial Hub.

Besides One Economic India (One Tax, One Market, One India) encourages the unfettered movement of goods, services, capital and people. Of course,we may face a difficult choice between National Ambition and Regional Aspiration. Pre-plan and prior arrangement with mature guidance is the need of the hour. First, Tourism Development Committee (P-32) may be constituted to aid and advise Government on strategic policy matters from time to time. It is, it appears, long overdue.

Second, Evaluation of all Tourists Projects in the State should be carried out by an independent competent body of experts. The findings would certainly help us prepare a better home-work for a brighter future in this age of cut-throat competition.

Third, Manipur Tourism Vision 2030 should be prepared with the objective of contributing 2% of State Gross Domestic Productand 10% of Employment to redefine Tourism in Manipur as Third Sector,next to Agriculture and Industry.

* Mohendro Nandeibam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer, was a member of State Planning Board, Manipur
This article was webcasted on July 13 2021.

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