By: Dipak Kurmi
In today’s global landscape, virtually every country is actively vying to bolster its economic prowess through the promotion of tourism. Advanced nations have long recognized tourism as a potent instrument for economic advancement. Tourism serves as a catalyst for multifaceted progress, encompassing the preservation of arts and culture, environmental conservation, job creation for self-sufficiency, global resource promotion, infrastructure development, investment stimulation, and improved connectivity. This sector plays a pivotal role in not only boosting a country’s economic standing but also in fostering cultural heritage and safeguarding the environment while simultaneously generating employment opportunities and expanding international outreach.
The tourism industry is incredibly diverse, encompassing a wide range of elements, from small-scale businesses like barbers and laundries to luxurious five or six-star hotels. This versatility has made tourism a highly sought-after sector in countries around the world. Notably, even small nations have harnessed the potential of tourism to bolster their economies. Some of these smaller countries have managed to thrive in the tourism industry while preserving their valuable resources. They’ve achieved this by leveraging their rich cultural heritage and the collective strength of their ethnic communities, emphasizing tourism as a form of social service, blending art and commerce, and valuing their ethnic heritage. Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, and Thailand, situated near India, stand out as prime examples of how tourism, with a focus on social and ethnic assets, has propelled them to significant economic progress.
While the organized history of the tourism sector in Assam is relatively recent, the region has been drawing tourists for centuries. Notably, during the six centuries of Ahom rule and two centuries of British colonial influence, Assam saw its fair share of visitors. Going even further back to the 7th century AD, the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang explored Assam during the reign of Kumara Bhaskarvarma. However, it’s important to recognize that the appeal of Assam to tourists cannot be summarized with such a simple analysis. The state has been a magnet for travelers throughout history, thanks to its natural beauty, diverse geography, cultural diversity, and a wealth of historical treasures from the era of kings and maharajas. Looking at the history of tourist arrivals up to the early 21st century, it becomes evident that Assam boasts a multitude of attractions. Beyond its breathtaking landscapes of rivers, mountains, and streams, the region offers both visible and hidden natural wonders, as well as cultural and societal creations that continue to enthrall visitors from near and far.
The tourism industry holds the potential to become a unique and vital resource for Assam’s economic development in the near future. However, it is evident that the Assam government has yet to tap into various artificial resources that could attract tourists. At present, tourism is not accorded the status of a major income-generating industry in Assam, but it’s increasingly clear that such recognition is overdue. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable dearth of research and discussions regarding how the tourism sector could play a pivotal role in bolstering Assam’s economy. This lack of in-depth analysis has left many unaware of the numerous benefits that the tourism industry can bring, such as fostering societal unity and providing an economic boost to propel the state forward. In these circumstances, some may shift the blame to the prevailing poverty among the majority of the population. However, it is worth noting that tourism has proven capable of helping many countries combat poverty, as the industry has opened up opportunities for the less fortunate.
The foremost challenge facing the tourism industry in Assam is effective marketing. To promote the rich tourism resources of Assam, various media channels, social platforms, and websites can be employed to reach audiences across different countries. However, the backbone of tourism development lies in a well-established transportation and communication system. Destinations lacking proper road infrastructure and transportation facilities tend to struggle in attracting tourists. Furthermore, there is a dearth of knowledgeable guides who can provide insights into Assam’s key attractions. Additionally, the absence of dedicated department blogs for effective publicity is noticeable. To foster a more positive perception among tourists and contribute to shaping a safer global future, steps must be taken to influence attitudes and encourage responsible tourism practices.
The development of the tourism industry is not solely the responsibility of the tourism department; it requires the collective efforts of all departments. To enhance the quality of tourism in a country, various measures must be taken. While the tourism department can focus on beautifying tourist areas and facilitating their development, it is equally crucial that other departments maintain the roads leading to these destinations. Neglected road infrastructure can leave a negative impression on tourists. Additionally, maintaining cleanliness in towns and villages falls under the purview of municipal and panchayat authorities. Their actions directly impact tourists’ perceptions. The growth of the tourism industry encompasses a wide range of services, from barbers, laundries, and tailors to drivers, hotels, restaurants, shops, banks, insurance, and the overall ambiance of the local community. It’s a collaborative effort that cannot be shouldered by the tourism department alone. For the tourism industry to thrive, every department must work in harmony towards its development.
The growth of the tourism industry doesn’t hinge solely on the presence of five-star hotels; it requires a more diverse approach to cater to varying tourist preferences. Not all travelers seek the amenities of luxury hotels; some are drawn to spending nights amidst nature or opting for simpler accommodations to better appreciate natural beauty. There are tourists who relish rural experiences, immersing themselves in village life, agriculture, education, and cultural heritage. Addressing these nuanced aspects is essential for tourism development. While regulations can’t dictate the behavior of small hotel and restaurant owners or guide the decor of shops that cater to hungry tourists, the psychological aspects are equally critical in the tourism sector. Without a shift in the mindset of those directly or indirectly involved in the industry, even with beautiful tourist destinations, achieving the right objectives becomes challenging.
The mindset of the local drivers in a region plays a crucial role in fostering the growth of the tourism industry. They should recognize that tourism and tourists are vital for their own livelihoods, with tourists serving as their primary source of income. Unless drivers, whether they operate cars or rickshaws, perceive tourism as the linchpin for their future sustenance, the development of the tourism sector, no matter how robust, will fall short of its objectives. It’s imperative that everyone prioritizes how to cater to and satisfy tourists. Unfortunately, it often appears that a significant portion of our society is more focused on exploiting tourists rather than upholding the reputation of the tourism system, the country, the state, and the local community.
The advancement of the tourism sector requires a collective effort aimed at promoting tourism across all aspects. Specifically, the tourism department plays a pivotal role in shaping a comprehensive plan for tourism development. Success in the tourism industry hinges on the formulation and effective execution of a multifaceted, people-centric strategy that encompasses all regions within a state. Only by crafting and implementing such a well-rounded scheme can the tourism sector truly thrive.
Fostering cooperation among all stakeholders is the most crucial step towards developing the tourism sector in a state like Assam. To achieve this, it is essential to raise awareness among the public, and higher education institutions can play a pivotal role in this endeavor. Colleges and universities possess the potential to effectively create awareness among the populace, thereby promoting Assam’s tourism industry. However, the onus of driving this initiative lies with the tourism department itself. Notably, higher education institutions in Assam can contribute to tourism sector awareness without incurring additional costs, as many of them are eager to participate in such efforts. Several colleges and universities have already taken steps in this direction, and recognizing and honoring the best-performing institutions in these awareness campaigns can further motivate and inspire them to continue their valuable awareness initiatives.
The primary imperative for tourism development in Assam likely revolves around data collection. This entails gathering essential information on various aspects of tourism, such as the number of tourists who visited specific destinations, their countries of origin, and their feedback on these places. Furthermore, it’s crucial to understand which districts attracted how many tourists from different countries and the reasons behind their choice of those particular districts. Delving into the motivations of tourists, including why they sought experiences in specific areas, is equally vital. This comprehensive data acquisition will serve as the foundation for informed decisions and strategies to enhance tourism in Assam.
To facilitate the comprehensive evaluation of the tourist experience and address any shortcomings, the government should compile an annual report based on pertinent data. This report should serve as a basis for in-depth analysis by relevant government departments to determine whether tourists are receiving the satisfaction they seek and to identify any areas where expectations are not being met, as indicated by tourist feedback. Establishing data collection centers at Assam’s airports is essential, and extending such facilities to every district is equally important. Additionally, each district should have a designated Director of Tourism or Tourism Officer to decentralize decision-making and empower every district to become a tourism hub. Just as there are officers for agriculture, transport, and forests, the appointment of a Tourism Officer in each district is crucial for the holistic development of the tourism sector. This decentralized approach will play a pivotal role in ensuring the proper growth of tourism in Assam.
To effectively organize and fortify the tourism sector in Assam, it is imperative to appoint Sub-Division Tourism Officers or Chakra Tourism Officers at the sub-division and district levels. The establishment of offices in every district, sub-division, and chakra is an essential step for the advancement of tourism, and this cannot be overlooked. Despite the existence of the Tourism Department for several decades, decentralization has not been fully realized. The department remains centralized in its operations. Similarly, despite the presence of the Tourism Development Corporation, the holistic growth of the tourism industry in Assam has been hindered by the absence of decentralized authority and decision-making power. To propel the tourism sector forward, embracing decentralization and empowering officers at various administrative levels is imperative. (The writer can be reached at email@example.com)