MICE Segment To Be On Focus For Maharashtra Tourism

'Maharashtra Travel Market’ slated for 2nd half of the year will engage inbound and outbound travel agents, tour operators and stakeholders, in B2B meetings informs Dhananjay Sawalkar, Director, Directorate of Tourism, Maharashtra.

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Maharashtra is known for business travel to Mumbai & Pune, and luxury or leisure travel to Mahabaleshwar, Konkan, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Nasik etc. People are increasingly looking for experiences that bring history to life in an engaging way. With its recent endeavors, Maharashtra Tourism eyes to offer a hands-on experience that will inspire and entertain people of all age groups.

In a recent conversation with BW Applause & Everything Experiential, Dhananjay Sawalkar, Director, Directorate of Tourism, Maharashtra spoke about impact of Covid on tourism of the state, goals for upcoming months, focus on MICE and more.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on Maharashtra's tourism industry?

Industries across the spectrum have been impacted by the pandemic. However, the travel and tourism industry has felt maximum impact due to grounding of planes, closure of railways, hotels and other establishments. And Maharashtra is the worst affected State in India as we are hit by the second wave of Covid-19 since 15th March, 2021.

The luxurious hotels segment (3 star & 5 star categories) is most affected as they depend largely on international tourists and large business conferences. As we are aware, due to COVID-19 pandemic, there are restrictions on large gatherings for events and conferences.

From November 2020, domestic tourism was slowly reviving in the State but due to the second wave, we are again facing hurdles leading to stagnation in tourism industry. But we are confident that domestic tourism will pick up this year. 

What will be the key focus and goals for Maharashtra Tourism for the upcoming months?

Maharashtra Government has been working towards widening the horizons of tourism in the State. As the world has been hit by Covid- 19, we focussed on creating new policies and improving the existing ones for the benefit of our investors/tourists and boost tourism in the State. Recently, we have sanctioned Caravan policy which will soon be implemented. In our bid to boost beach and coastal tourism in the State, we have recently approved ‘beach shack’ policy that will allow setting up of 10 beach shacks and beach facility centres along the Konkan coast from 1st September, 2021.

The ‘Agri-Tourism Policy’ will facilitate homestay in farms and encourage villages to open their lands to tourists who want to engage in organic lifestyle experiences like strawberry picking, mango plucking etc. This will give boost to Rural tourism thereby generating employment opportunities for the locals.

The Department of Tourism had announced an investment of Rs. 3000 crores to generate over 6,000 employment opportunities through various mutual tie-ups and Memorandum of understanding (MoUs) in the tourism sector in Maharashtra. In order to promote the State’s rich culture and heritage, we have identified various tourism segments including forts, caves, beaches, wildlife, heritage structures/historical places, etc.

Furthermore, we are creating an Investor facilitation cell. Through this cell, we will approach private investors for all our projects that require investments from them.

This year, our focus is on reviving Inter and Intrastate tourism

What are some of the initiatives that are taken by the Government of Maharashtra to increase tourism and footfall?

As an effort to step up and revive tourism, Maharashtra has introduced a single-window clearance for licensing in order to promote ease of doing business for the hospitality sector. Leading the way to boost tourism in Maharashtra, only 10, not 70, licenses will be needed for hospitality business.

To increase tourists' visit in the State, we are aggressively expanding our social and digital media footprint. We have designed a robust 360 degree media plan to promote the tourism verticals of the State through different mediums such as radio, newspapers/magazines, TV channels, digital media, OTT platforms, etc.

Additionally, we will soon be announcing new policies and initiatives to promote ‘Wellness tourism’ for a holistic wellness sojourn in the state and ‘adventure tourism’ by highlighting locations that are replete with adrenaline-pumping activities.

Apart from this, we are focusing on driving higher awareness about unexplored/lesser-explored places in the State especially for the travellers who are seeking less crowded locations. We are collating data of stand-alone destinations that can be visited as weekend getaways and larger theme-based itineraries for longer duration holidays.

In the second half of this year, we are conducting a grand event- ‘Maharashtra Travel Market’ through which we will engage inbound and outbound travel agents, tour operators and stakeholders, in B2B meetings.

What is the expected tourist's visit/arrival this year?

The State is the second most visited tourist destination by international travellers and the fifth most visited destination by domestic tourists in the country. But as mentioned above, this year there is less scope of revival of International tourism which is why our focus is Inter and Intrastate tourism.

In the last 3 months, we have witnessed a huge spike in the no. of domestic and intra-state travellers visiting the State. The occupancy of the hotels particularly in the golden triangle Nashik- Pune- Mumbai, the Konkan region and popular destinations like Tadoba National Park and Ajanta Ellora, was around 70-80% about a fortnight ago.

How are you looking at the MICE segment in Maharashtra?

We are planning to announce MICE policy to attract MICE tourism and position Maharashtra as one of the top MICE tourism destinations in the country. Under MICE we are mainly focusing on Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as has good international connectivity as well as the kind of infrastructure required for MICE business.

We have also planned to form a MICE bureau to boost business travel and MICE tourism in the region. The MICE bureau will act as a platform for business communities to interact with the government, suggest solutions and measures to re-build this industry, which has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

According to you, what are some major challenges that the tourism industry is currently facing?

At present, one of the biggest challenges from the traveller’s perspective is poor quality infrastructure, particularly in terms of last mile connectivity. The roads connecting highways with the destinations are not well developed due to which tourists/travellers face difficulty reaching there.

As the local bodies of specific destinations are not well equipped with manpower and lack professional approach, another challenge faced is of management & operations with respect to public amenities.

In co-ordination between the tourism and various other departments is another challenge we are facing. Ideally, tourism is related to various other departments and they must be in synchronization for smooth operations.

Lack of sustainability, non-participation of local people in the development process of tourism is also a challenge. We even face hurdles in getting private investors investing in infrastructure especially in accommodation and ropeway projects.

How can technology be used to promote safe tourism? 

We have created and published exhaustive COVID-19 precept for safe tourism after taking into account the guidelines of the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Health and Government of Maharashtra Disaster Management cell.

We have separate protocols for various sectors in tourism, for instance, hotels and resorts have separate guidelines, amusement parks have separate guidelines, and even the adventure activities have separate guidelines. We are encouraging contactless operations and digital payments.

With the introduction of Caravan policy, travellers will get an opportunity to travel in hi-tech and fully equipped caravans further encouraging safe tourism.




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