Gandhinagar: Thanks to nationwide road shows and a campaign featuring brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, Gujarat is witnessing an overwhelming tourist inflow this year - despite many infrastructural potholes.
While Gujaratis are known to be great travellers, the state tourism industry has never really flourished. But this year officials point to a sudden spurt. The May-September period this year is estimated to have seen 1.3 million more tourists compared to the same period last year, they say.
Gujarat Tourism Secretary Vipul Mitra attributes the increase to a variety of factors like roadshows and a countrywide awareness campaign, besides the pull of Bachchan, of course! Bachchan started shooting the "Khushboo Gujarati Ki" campaign by adman Piyush Pandey in April, generating a buzz about tourism in Gujarat. It started airing on television in October.
The campaign consists of three short films of 60 seconds each focussing on the ethereal beauty of Kutch, the sanctity of the Somnath temple and the magnificence of the lions of Gir.
Such a tourism campaign had never been carried out for the state and was the brainwave of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
"We have had almost a thousand visitors per day after Diwali and this includes a fair number of foreign tourists," Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of the Gir National Park, told IANS.
Entry into the sanctuary, the last remaining home of Asiatic lions, has been regulated since 2000 to ensure the area does not see any intrusive activity.
For the same reason, only 90 vehicles were permitted inside the sanctuary earlier. However, the heavy rush saw the authorities increasing the number to 150 vehicles.
"The shortage of guides had many guards doubling up in this role," a local source said.
The first fortnight of November earned the sanctuary a record revenue of over Rs.45 lakh from over 35,000 visitors, say official sources.
This presents a pretty picture as compared to the revenue figure of Rs.2.10 crore in the eight months between October 2009 and May 2010 - with a monthly average of a mere Rs.26 lakh.
A similar response has been seen to `Rannotsav`, which begins at Dordo in Kutch district Dec 19.
Every year, the cultural festival is organised for three days. But the Gujarat tourism department has decided to extend the celebrations for a month this year; so it will include the new year and `uttarayan` (makar sakranti) as well.
All the 400 tents at the venue are already booked for the first three days of the festival.
The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat has sought the approval of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for a chopper service during the festival to enable tourists to heli-hop to places of significance in the region.
Since Kutch is a huge district and tourist townships like Dholavira, Mandvi and Narayan Sarovar are scattered far and wide, travelling on the roads is a time-consuming affair.
However, tourists who have visited these places drawn by the Bachchan campaign have expressed disappointment over the fact that the on-ground facilities do not match up to the expectations raised by advertisements.
"We tried to get a group of 250 people to visit Saurashtra and ran into serious accommodation problems leading to scrapping of the trip," says Rajeev Katayayan of Transhimalayan Travels, adding the state still needs to put the infrastructure in place.
Similarly, there was utter chaos at the Gir sanctuary as more people landed up than the place could contain and many had to go back disappointed.
"There was no accommodation; even all the private hotels in the area were packed. We went to Junagadh town and even Somnath but could not get proper accommodation. In areas around the sanctuary, even wayside hotels ran out of food," said Navin Kumar, who had travelled all the way from Sikkim.
However, state Tourism Minister Jaynarayan Vyas said it would be premature to arrive at any conclusion about the tourists inflow. "A detailed and more scientific study is needed for the purpose," he added.