Pobitora wildlife sanctuary, an hour’s drive from Guwahati, is getting famous for its rhinoceros sightings, while the hornbill festival in the Dzukuo valley of Nagaland is attracting birdwatchers from several parts of the world. The Northeast of India is finally turning a new leaf in tourism, as the number of foreign tourists has more than doubled in 2013 compared to the previous year.
“The look-east policy of the government is paying off. We have held tourist marts in Guwahati and Tawang for travel operators from the US, United Kingdom, France and Southeast Asian countries and taking them on familiarisation tours of all the Northeast states,” a senior government official said.
The eight states have registered a growth of 28 per cent in foreign tourist visits in 2013 compared to a 12 per cent increase in 2012. The highest growth was seen in Manipur at 154 per cent. The number of tourists has grown from 749 to 1,908. Arunachal Pradesh also registered an increase of 111 per cent. “Northeast is aggressively promoting itself in international tourism and this is paying dividends now. The region has been mostly peaceful and it has many unique attractions that encourage visitors to visit the destination,” said Karan Anand, head (relationships), Cox & Kings.
While, nationally, the top states in terms of foreign visits are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the growth in Northeast has surpassed all the other states. “Northeast offers an eclectic mix of experiences. We are also providing a lot of packages for the region, which are being very well received,” said Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra.
The government is, however, grappling with the challenges of road and rail connectivity in the Northeast states. The hotel room availability is also limited to a few cities. But the popularity of bed-and-breakfast scheme has added to the room inventory. This year’s Budget has kept aside Rs 1,000 crore for rail connectivity in the Northeast over and above the funds committed in the interim Budget.
Besides promoting destinations that already exist, the government is pushing the luxury cruises on the Brahmaputra to attract the high-spending tourist.
The cost of these cruises is around $ 300-$ 370 per person. Tourism ministry is also in the process of starting niche activities like cave tourism for the Northeast states very soon.