West Bengal Tourism has opened has refurbished itself to provide a state-of-the-art experience to all visiting the state - the elite and niche tourists as well as those belonging to the middle-class.
Vikram Sen, principal secretary, West Bengal Tourism, shared with HT the steps taken to make West Bengal a major tourist destination in India.
How has tourism been faring in West Bengal?
Renowned worldwide as a thriving, dynamic centre for art & literature, West Bengal's location, fascinating culture, people history, heritage and food has made the state popular amongst tourists, whether domestic or international.
The state has it all - known for its legendary history, scenic destinations, diverse culture, strategic location (sharing borders with five Indian states strategically positioned with three international frontiers Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan), the sea, the sun, the hills and the forests have helped us achieve a footfalls of over 2 crores in the previous year.
The state government has also taken up tourism as one of the key areas for development. In the 2013-14 budget, we have allotted Rs.120 crore to tourism.
What is your vision to further develop tourism in the state?
West Bengal aims to become a preferred tourism and tourism-related investment destination by leveraging its unique geographical setting along with its various tourism-related assets.
It will develop necessary infrastructure and promote tourism in an integrated manner which will not only bring in more investment and further the socio-economic goals of the government, but also ensure that all these are in conformity with the relevant acts relating to environmental protection.
What are the main attractions that one can look forward to in West Bengal?
West Bengal offers an eclectic mix of comforts. It has something for everyone- hills of Darjeeling, the undulating landscape of Dooars, the forests of Sunderbans housing the fearsome and majestic Royal Bengal Tigers, the sparkling waters of Bay of Bengal, street food and cuisines of Kolkata or elsewhere in the state.
The melodies of Rabindra Sangeet and baul, the fascinating art and handicrafts productions like terracotta panels and figurines of Bankura and Purulia, metal wares like Dokra at Burdwan, Birbhum and Bankura, kantha stitch in textiles in Birbhum, Burdwan, Nadia and Murshidabad, Chow Dance masks of Purulia, Tajpur, Mandarmoni in Purba Medinipur and Bakkhali in South 24 Parganas with water sports and the adventures of white water rafting, the pilgrimage sites at Gangasagar, Malda, Murshidabad, Hooghly and in other parts of the state and the ever changing business and cultural milieu that is Kolkata with its attractions of old heritage buildings on both sides of the Hooghly.
Add to it the hundreds of heritage sites, monuments, places of religious or historical value and then also you get only a fleeting glimpse of what the State has to offer to travellers.
How are these destinations being developed to attract tourists?
West Bengal tourism has always endeavoured to bring the best value to all stakeholders. Our vision is open doors to the treasures of Bengal, provide state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure under the PPP model to ensure a lifetime experience when someone visits the state.
We are also working towards creating sustainable tourism spots like the Mirik Busty, Lamahata, Ayodhya and Susunia Pahars into agro tourism and adventure spots which capitalize on rural culture as a tourist destination.
We have also laid stress on skill development in the hospitality sector, particularly in hotel and catering management training for the youth.