The time has come for India to promote its lesser-known destinations to its own people, thereby creating economic opportunities for these places. One such incredible state is Meghalaya about which little is known but has immense potential just waiting to be tapped.
Ensuring last-mile connectivity and creating economic activities around border towns can be key drivers for promoting border tourism in Meghalaya. However, some fundamental issues such as air and road connectivity, infrastructural facilities at tourist sites in terms of accommodation, transport, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, etc needs to be addressed. Needless to say, all infrastructure development will need to be done carefully, keeping in mind the ecological fragility of the mountain state.
Sharing his ideas about how the state can promote itself, Vinod Zutshi, Former Secretary – Ministry of Tourism, said that border tourism has immense potential if promoted and marketed well as it gives an opportunity to see the neighbouring countries without actually crossing the border. He added that campaigns such as ‘Dekho Apna Aur Padosi Desh’ can be introduced to promote ‘semi-international’ travel. “A national level seminar should be organised by the Ministry of Tourism with all the 18 border states and UTs to create awareness about this segment, which will help to increase domestic as well as international tourists.There is also huge potential for promoting its festivals and the state government should create a mega tourism festival on the lines of Hornbill Festival in Nagaland,” he added.
Cyril Diengdoh, Director – Tourism, Government of Meghalaya, said that the state has seen a steady growth of tourist arrivals from Bangladesh over the years with 4,300 arrivals in 2014, which went up to 13,000 in 2018. An MoU has been signed between Tour Operators Association of Meghalaya and Bangladesh Tour Operators Association to promote Mountain to Sea Tourism. He added, “The tourism department is keen to develop ‘experiential eco-tourism’ apart from adventure tourism, rural tourism and homestays. In order to enhance the experience of tourists, the state government is following the three fundamentals – right pricing, carrying capacity and zero waste.”
Ease of movement key
There are 13 border blocks in the state and 435 recognised border villages. In order to ensure ease of movement for the tourists, several projects have been funded under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) for construction of roads, parking and wayside amenities. The Meghalaya government is keen on promoting homestays in the state as that will encourage off-beat, experiential tourism in addition to increasing options for the domestic and international tourists.
Arijit Purkayastha, Chairman – North East Chapter, ADTOI, highlights the different aspects of tourism – cultural, natural and spiritual – that offer opportunities to promote experience-based travel in Meghalaya. However, there is a need to improve infrastructure, connectivity in the state which will help to double the number of tourists especially from Bangladesh. There is also a need for skill development in the border areas which will help generate employment. The problem of border districts and tourism development is an important challenge for local communities. Although institutional environment and security barriers remain a stumbling block for entrepreneurial cooperation, conditions to enhance border tourism can be created by setting up of easy frameworks for better cooperation of public and private entities.