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‘We will create a database of activities for each niche tourism segment’ - Valsa Nair Singh, Principal Sec. Tourism & Cultural Affairs, Maharashtra

aharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has finally got a road map with the recently announced Tourism Policy 2016. Valsa Nair Singh, Principal Secretary Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Government of Maharashtra, in a tete-a-tete with Itee Sharma, throws light on the key features of the policy and Maharashtra’s offbeat destinations.

Saturday, April 30, 2016, 10:00 Hrs  [IST]

Valsa Nair SinghQ. Please share the key initiatives that will be undertaken as part of the Maharashtra’s Tourism Policy 2016. What will be the immediate plan of action?
The Maharashtra government’s Tourism Policy 2016 has focused on three aspects of tourism-product development (new destinations), human resources (development of human resources and ancillary activities) and investment in the tourism sector. Investment is the key factor to bring new tourism products to the state. We have also announced a large basket of financial and non-financial incentives. Tourism has been given the status of industry in 1999, but the perks of being an industry never really reached out. For the first time, we have introduced a VAT subsidy on tourism investment, wherein 50% of the net VAT will be reimbursed on the category of projects—which are divided into mega, ultra-mega, large, medium and small- and based on the fixed capital investment and direct employment. The higher the categories, the larger the number of incentives.

For example, in an ultra-mega project, one can get a tax exemption of 20 years. We have further divided the location into 5 categories: A zone is the corporation, B zone is the municipal council and we have the special tourism districts like Sindhudurg, Aurangabad and Nagpur, and we also have special tourism zones which need to be notified. These would be areas which are not districts but have large footfall - destinations like Matheran, Mahabaleshwar, etc - and require more tourism infrastructure. If an ultra-mega project is coming up in the tourism district or zone the facilities/ concessions it will get will be very attractive - such as entertainment tax, luxury tax exemption. Earlier, we had electricity duty at an industrial rate, but now we are talking about electricity duty exemption, stamp duty and registration charges exemption, license and clearance on a single window basis, additional FSI as per the developer control regulation.

We will be coming up with a single-window clearance for all the post construction activities. We also have other incentives for women entrepreneurs and differently-abled entrepreneurs, sustainable tourism units, convention centres for MICE.

We are looking at guidelines for adventure sports, creating a database of all the adventure operators. We have also chosen two highways for wayside amenities - Mumbai-Goa and Ajanta-Aurangabad. Additionally, we are looking at a calendar of festivals, so tourists can plan accordingly and it will be made available on the website.

For agro-tourism, we have linked agro-units to the school department. Students who participate in compulsory education tours, it should be mandatory for them to undertake an agro-tour. For each niche tourism product, we will be creating a database of activities and possibilities available, which is not available now and also create guidelines. We have to come up with mini policies for each vertical in the course of the year.

The implementation of the policy will be monitored by a new tourism directorate that will be set up. The directorate will be looking after all the government-related schemes, publicity and promotion. We have not been able to give much focus on that. We need all the stakeholders like tour operators and hoteliers come together. Once the directorate is formed, we shall be able to conduct a Maharashtra cuisine festival.

Q. What will be your immediate plan of action?
The policy has laid down the road map for the department. In the next six months, we will be bringing in the rules and regulations that the policy has approved. None of the incentives announced pertain to the tourism department, instead they belong to different departments of the government. The process may take four to five months, as acts have to be amended, which is a time-consuming affair. From August, we will have a promotional campaign in place for the Visit Maharashtra year 2017. We will invest in digital campaigns along with print and television. We signed 10 MoUs during the Make in India week with private investors and will be facilitating them with incentives. MTDC also has large parcels of land. We are in the process of finalising the PPP policy. We will go on a global auction for these land parcels.

Q. Which new destinations you will focus on throwing the spotlight on?
  We assume that people know what Maharashtra has to offer, but for many of them it means Mumbai and Bollywood. The idea is to tell people more about Maharashtra. The Maha Mela festival in Delhi was visited by over five lakh people, and most of them didn’t know much about Maharashtra. We need to create more awareness about the state. We want to speak more about offbeat destinations now.

Bhandardara is an untapped hill station, which we want people to know about. Also, our new resort in Kunkeshwar coast near Sindhudurg will be functional this year. In the area around Pavana Dam near Lonavla, we have 100 B&B units in two to three districts. We would also like to focus on creating memorable experiences through our innovative activities. Also, Mumbai-Goa highway has been called as one of the best five rides in the world. There are a lot of activities that one can do.

Besides, we want to position Mumbai as the adventure capital of the country. But somehow these impressions have not gone down with the community.

In Lonavla, in a radius of 3 km there are there adventure parks. There are various places globally, where one can trek. But only in Maharashtra can one trek from one place of historical significance to another. For the caravan tourism mentioned in the policy, we would like to tie-up with trekkers.

Q. What was your takeaway from MITM’s maiden edition?
We have planned it as a two-year event and it will return in September 2017. MITM witnessed over 6,000 appointments over three days between buyers and sellers. Many sellers have reported that MITM has given them business, and have got bookings for 6 months. We should be able to reach number one spot through MITM. We regularly take part in ITB Berlin, PATA, and World Travel Mart. We are looking to make our presence stronger in Asia and Middle East - destinations such as Indonesia, Thailand and China. We also get a lot of traffic from the Arab countries. 

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