A mix of new and somewhat long-persisting concerns came to fore in several panel discussions at the recently held Odisha Tourism Conclave. The third edition of Odisha Tourism Conclave was a congregation of decision makers in the state, with participation from the central ministry, experts from verticals of the tourism sector, tour operators and national media to take stock of challenges facing the sector and moot the way forward for the coastal state. Issues such as tourism infrastructure, eco-tourism, airlines, branding, marketing tourism as a product, among others were examined.

In the list of major concerns, the lack of adequate products to engage a discerning tourist found the most traction. Hoteliers in the state rued the absence of noteworthy engagements for tourists in important cities of the state, impacting room nights and revenue. The general state of infrastructure, inadequate, air connectivity and lack of quality accommodation were also highlighted during the course of the day’s deliberations.  Local stakeholders expressed the need for more air-connectivity and tapping the Buddhist segment with flights connecting the state to Sri Lanka, Thailand and other such Buddhist nations. They also expressed dismay at Air India decision of pulling back its flight linking Bangkok and Bhubaneshwar and noted that it had given a “deadly blow to businesses”.

The lack of any tourism circuit and ways to make Odisha a 21-night circuit, linking major products into a seamless experience was also put under the scanner. Hoteliers suggested that despite the new tourism policy, as many as 37 licenses from 22 departments were required to open up a new property, indicating the need for streamlining processes. 

The state’s tourism department representatives had some positive stories to share. Sports tourism had gained significant headway after Odisha successfully hosted the Asian Athletics Championship in 2017, bringing the spotlight on the state, they suggested. The upcoming Men’s Hockey World Cup, slated to be hosted in December, was a major opportunity for the state to showcase its diverse offerings and tourism department was working in tandem with the sports ministry to promote tourism, Nitin Jawale, Director Tourism, Odisha noted.

Odisha tourism department had incorporated recommendation made after the first tourism conclave into the new tourism policy, shared J K Mohanty, President of HRAO and CMD Swosti Group. “Issues such as creation of land banks for tourism projects, more advertisements in national and international television networks and relaxation in norms for foreign tourist arrivals have been looked into,” he added. He suggested that a lot of progress had been made for opening up airports in Raurkela and Jharsuguda. He highlighted the need for more efforts in providing more public amenities, such as toilets and canteens at cultural and historic sites, better cleanliness of beaches in Puri, Gopalpur, and Chandipur and maintenance of heritage sites and temples, noting that work had been done but there were several unresolved issues, yet, that needed state government’s serious consideration.

Giving a clarion call for tourism in the state to acquire its rightful stature as a sector, he listed out the state’s offerings, making a mention of eco-tourism, MICE, wildlife, ethnic and spiritual tourism. “There is cuisines, culture and handicrafts and more. I am sure that with aggressive marketing and promotional activities, the inflow of foreign as well as domestic tourists would leapfrog.

Governor Ganeshi Lal lit the lamp to throw open the conclave’s proceedings while tourism minister Hemant Panda gave concluding remarks, stressing that all the state’s machinery was working in tandem to bring a positive change in the tourism sector. He insisted that the state tourism ministry was pulling out all punches to address concerns facing the industry. State tourism secretary Vishal Dev, among others were in attendance.