The nip is in the air, but the buzz in tourism sector of Odisha in India is missing.
The Indian State's hospitality sector, which becomes vibrant in winter, is experiencing a dull season this time around. The footfall of foreign tourists has nosedived thanks to the restriction on tribal tourism imposed by the state government in February.
While nearly 65,000 foreign tourists visited Odisha last year, around 20,000 had arrived in November, December and January, sources said. Even Puri, which attracts the maximum number of foreign tourists, has failed to do so this season. "Only a handful of foreign tourists are present in Puri right now. Many tour operators and hotels are facing cancellation of tours of foreigners due to restriction on tribal tourism," said an officer of Puri tourist office.
Tribal tourism received a blow following allegations early this year that tribals are being misused as 'human safari' for business. The jittery state government soon came up with rigorous guidelines, restricting photography of tribal people and visit to villages inhabited by primitive Bondas and Dongaria Kandhas, also known as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). The abduction of two Italian tourists by Maoists in March caused further damage to the nascent tribal tourism in the state.
"I have already cancelled two tour packages, involving 15 foreign tourists from Denmark. They had a penchant for adventure and ethnic tourism. But the restriction forced them to go for Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Gujarat," Odisha Tour Operators Association (OTOA) secretary Yugabrat Kar said.
Tourism minister Maheswar Mohanty admitted that tribal tourism is in doldrums. "Foreigners are not coming due to the restrictions. The government is seriously looking for a solution," Mohanty told TOI. "We will soon open a single window counter at Bhubaneswar where tour operators and tourists can get permission to visit tribal areas," Mohanty said.
Tour operators have been demanding establishment of the proposed single window counter at Bhubaneswar after the government asked them to obtain the permission from district collectors, which was wrought with problems. "Till date we are not clear about the government's circular which says that we can take tourists to the tribal markets with permits from the collectors. But collectors don't encourage tourism in their districts," OTOA wrote to tourism secretary recently.
"Although our neighbouring states, Chhattishgarh and Andhra Pradesh, are more disturbed by Maoist activities, they welcome tourists through attractive packages. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Gujarat are promoting their ethnic regions and we are loosing our market share to these states," Kar said.