Bhubaneswar: It has all the attractions including a 480-km coastline. But Odisha gets less than one percent of all the foreign tourists who visit India.
Officials say Odisha has everything to offer to tourists including tranquil beaches, towering temples, serpentine rivers and mighty waterfalls.
But the footfall of foreign tourists is not overwhelming although inflow has gone up compared to previous years.
A total of 71,426 foreign tourists visited Odisha in 2014 while 7.4 million came to India,” said Tourism Minister Ashok Chandra Panda. “In the last five years, a total 313,974 foreign tourists visited Odisha.”
In the last five years, 45,820,689 tourists visited the state. Of this, 17,697,871 were from other parts of India.
The number of foreigners visiting Odisha went up to 64,719 in 2012 and 66,675 in 2013.
The Odisha tourism department has been taking part in major international travel and trade fairs and undertaking aggressive campaigning through social media to attract tourists.
“Once international flight operation starts from the Biju Patnaik airport here, the tourist flow will increase,” the minister told IANS.
He said the government had sought from the civil aviation ministry air connectivity from Bhubaneswar to Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan and several Gulf countries.
“We are focussing on three areas – accessibility, infrastructure and marketing – to boost tourism,” said Arabinda Padhi, the secretary in the department of tourism and culture.
“The government will come up with schemes in the coming budget to support tourism infrastructure,” he added.
Experts attribute factors like the absence of international air connectivity, lack of proper connectivity to remote eco-tourism sites, inadequate number of luxury and star hotels, and poor infrastructure at tourism sites for the poor tourist inflow in Odisha.
They said Odisha had been depending on the Puri-Konark and Diamond Triangle of Buddhist circuits. It needed to focus on eco-tourism sector comprising Similipal, Bhitarkanika, Tikarpada, Chilika, Chandaka- Nandankanan, Debrigarh and Kuldiha.
“The government needs to upgrade infrastructure to boost eco-tourism, which can be the biggest crowd puller,” J.K. Mohanty, chairman, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha (HARO), told IANS.
He said around 5,000 additional rooms were needed in order to double the capacity in the hospitality sector by 2016.
While these eco-tourism sites have no proper accommodation for tourists, safety and security of foreigners is also a major concern.
The government has imposed restrictions on visits to Maoist infested areas and banned “tribal tourism”.