Valsa Nair, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Excise & Civil Aviation, Government of Maharashtra, says that right from policy initiatives to infrastructure development, Maharashtra is making sure that it offers the best possibilities for domestic tourism in the state, and that tourists get a gamut of experiences within driving distances.
Talking about the various initiatives Government of Maharashtra has taken since the pandemic struck, Valsa Nair says, “We planned it all under three verticals — first was policy-level changes, second was infrastructure support, and third was a change in marketing and branding. Since Maharashtra has a huge outbound population, in the last two years we have been able to get all of them back to rediscover their own state.” She believes they would be in a better position by the end of August.
Under the beach shack policy, Nair explains they wanted to give an institutional framework to set up a beach shack and to ensure that there is no environmental degradation happening because of it. “We are leveraging 720km of Maharashtra’s coastline to promote local tourism, cuisine and employment. We will be rolling it out soon, as beach shacks are not yet permissible under the coastal zone plan,” she shares.
The state’s Agro-tourism policy already existed but, Nair explains, they wanted to give it a formal framework with guidelines, and a process of registration and being incentivised by the government. “We have also made it mandatory for schools to do their education trips only at these centres once schools reopen,” she says, adding that the policy has changed the face of tourism in the state.
Another initiative has been the caravan tourism policy. “We have many vans of Bollywood stars lying unused, and that’s one way of putting them to good use. Also, with road trips becoming popular, we thought of marrying the two to come up with the caravan tourism policy. Under this, caravans registered for tourism purposes are given massive incentives by the government. There is no road tax on them, and incentives are being given to them by other departments as well. The government has also worked out MoUs with established hotel groups who would provide a parking base for these caravans at night, while the local MTDC is also working out on a parking base for them,” says Nair. Maharashtra also recently launched its adventure tourism policy. “We realised post-COVID that for the young crowd betweenthe age of 18 and 40 years, who want to do outdoor activities like trekking, camping, etc., there were a lot of fly-by-night operators who were doing it and in many cases, safety and security were compromised. Hence, this policy was brought about to ensure everything was under a framework,” she shares.
But, Nair claims that the policy that has really led the revival of tourism in the state is the vacation rental policy, which was a new discovery in COVID times.
“A lot of independent houses and farmhouses in the state have now been thrown open to tourists. There are many categories and prices have skyrocketed. There are also operators who are now running such homes. As a government, we are in the final stages to make it easier not only for tourists to book these vacation homes but also make it easier for owners to ensure that the right tourists come. Vacation rental, I think, is going to be the backbone of tourism revival in Maharashtra.”
Nair says that Maharashtra is looking at hard and soft infrastructure development. While the former entails the launch of the PPP policy for resorts, he latter entails digital guide training and training tourism staff to work on both digital and contactless formats.