India as ‘Land of Buddha’ again

Association of Buddhist Tour Operators’ recently-concluded annual convention and International Buddhist Travel Mart sought to bolster the idea of India as ‘The Land of Buddha’ through targeted promotion.

Kanchan Nath

The Association of Buddhist Tour Operators is an international organisation working for the conservation, protection, preservation of monuments, and promotion of tourism around the world. It recently hosted its convention (ABTO Convention) and travel mart (International Buddhist Travel Mart or IBTM) in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, between December 10 and 12, 2019. The event was supported by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

Speaking at the event, JP Shaw, President, Association of Buddhist Tour Operators, said, “We want sensitisation and awareness created among the people of this destination and other stakeholders, on the importance of tourism in the Buddhist sector. There is participation from numerous countries like Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Taiwan among others, and this will go a long way in regional and cross-border cooperation to promote Buddhist tourism and Bodh Gaya.” He added that through the mart, the association wanted to pass on a message to the administration that infrastructure needed to improve. “The faster you reach a destination, the more places you see, the more you spend, and the more you benefit the people,” he shared.

Key areas for promotion

Vinod Zutshi, Former Secretary, Department of Tourism, Government of India and the keynote speaker at the event, was delighted to see senior members of the trade participate from 17 countries. “I have never seen a bigger congregation of Buddhist tourism lovers, especially when the programme is being convened by someone in the private sector. It is great to see private players promoting tourism in such a manner,” he said.

Zutshi added that the department had also created Buddhist circuits and invested a lot in them. “To name a few, these Buddhist circuits include Bihar, Sanchi, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Shravasti, Kapilavastu and Kushinagar, wherever we have the footsteps or influence of Lord Buddha. In fact, close to the Mahabodhi Temple, a very ambitious project worth approximately ₹100 crore, which is a convention and cultural centre to promote M!CE tourism, has been undertaken,” he informed.

For some far-flung destinations, including Nalanda and Rajgir that are difficult to reach, infrastructure has gradually been developed in the last few years, Zutshi claimed. “Connectivity and ease of access are the first things for a destination. So, we have the airport in Gaya and another coming up in Kushinagar, Gorakhpur. Bhopal has an airport for nearby Sanchi and for Sarnath, one can come via Varanasi,” he said, adding that there are more than 500 billion people influenced by Buddhism, but India gets only a fraction of this number in spite of being ‘The Land of Buddha’. “A lot more has to be done. The destinations are there and now, we have to attract people. The new generations may not even know that India is the land of Buddhism, so we need to reinforce this idea to the world and among every generation,” he said.

According to the former secretary, four sections under which Buddhist tourism can be promoted include pilgrimage for Buddhist travellers, education for the young generation and everyone in the world, Buddhist heritage and lastly, spiritual tourism for those seeking it. “In India, these are the four segments you need to market,” he concluded.

Intensify marketing efforts

Buddhist tourism also holds huge potential for M!CE, according to Kaulesh Kumar, Secretary General, ABTO. Speaking at the event this year, he said, “This time, we have 86 people from Nepal, 36 from Malaysia, four from Indonesia, and key persons and representatives of Asian countries. There is huge potential in Buddhist tourism; all we need to do is intensify our efforts to promote it.”

ABTO, in a first-time effort, also initiated ‘Lord Buddha International Peace Award 2019’ at the convention, which was conferred to Lama Lopzang, President, Ashoka Mission and Founder, International Buddhist Confederation (IBC).

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