In an interview with the state tourism and civil aviation secretary, Valsa Nair, she outlines a number of initiatives that will bring about ease in travel and open new tourism opportunities in the state.   

Maharashtra state has made the big announcement for Indian hospitality, one that we hope becomes a trendsetter for other states to follow. With a dynamic minister for tourism at the helm, Maharashtra is anointing hotels with industry status, with the official order expected this week.

Speaking with Destination India, Valsa Nair, the state tourism secretary, shared that the order will be out now, with the new policy to become effective 1st April, 2021. “We expect the operational expenses to come down, given the industry status, and therefore business will become more profitable and sustainable. Yes, this would mean a small dip in government revenue, but we expect overall business to grow. We also expect basic minimum standards in the hospitality industry to improve, resulting in better delivery,” she said.

Asked to explain which all sectors will qualify, Valsa said the eligibility status is well defined, with every unit registered with local urban or rural body being eligible. Therefore, a typical Airbnb unit will not be eligible, for example.

Maharashtra has been busy during Covid times, strengthening its tourism product. Nair says as there was not much activity, the state took upon itself the task of taking a 360 degree of what we have to offer and how we can improve the offering.

Some big-ticket innovations that are happening include the opening of the prestigious BMC HQ building to tourists. This would mean giving the visitor an insider’s peep into the city’s rich history. Another is the cricket museum coming up at Wankhade Stadium – this would include an experience centre. The tourism department is joining hands with MMRDA to develop Mahim Nature Park for tourism. Then there is the Martyr’s Gallery being developed at the Mumbai Police HQ. A Film Museum is coming up at Peddar Road in Mumbai.  Another big effort is to augment some of the existing tourist circuits, develop them holistically. These include the Aurangabad heritage circuit, and the Nashik spiritual circuit.

Nair said the state is working upon opening the vast number of museums across the state, as their potential has remained largely untapped.

Asked to comment on the past experience of developing Kala Godha area into a tourism zone, she said there were issues about it, but a new plan envisages augmenting its heritage properties, including the Jewish synagogue which is now complete. Cobbled pathways are on course.

(Our view is that in fact, the extreme South of South Mumbai has some unique character to it, which needs to be developed into a exquisite tourism experience, thereby also preserving a bygone era and a way of life – Editor)

There was talk of pioneering shack tourism on the beaches of Maharashtra. How far has this progressed? Nair says the tenders would be out soon, terms are being finalized now. The state would start with 8 beaches as a pilot study, given the fact the CRZ rules at present do not allow shacks to come up, and final approval is expected anytime now. Shacks are a nine-month product, that are closed during the peak monsoon months. Nair expects a learning process within this season, with a fuller blown development after the monsoon season gets over next year.

There has also been discussion on monetizing the state tourism hospitality products. Nair says that not their properties have equal business potential, and the state decided to tweak the offer on case by case basis, depending upon individual viability. Tenders will come out in January initially for 7 properties. There are 80 in all, though not all of them equally attractive. She has invited potential investors next week and the state government will take a final call on terms to be tendered.

Is the state working upon any concession package for the tourism industry? These have been hard times for everybody, but especially for travel and tourism fraternity. Nair says the government is fully apprised and some package could evolve, given also the fact that the state government’s finances have also been equally strained. The state is looking at how best to mitigate the distress in the industry.

Nair is also heading the state’s aviation sector. How is connectivity being improved, given that Maharashtra is a large state, and air transport binds it together for economic and social development? 10 airports have been opened under the UDAAN scheme and “we expect to open Sindhudurg and connect it with Mumbai in January 2021 with an Alliance Air flight”, she says. The state is awaiting the final clearance from the DGCA, a move that will open the entire Konkan area.

With all this planned development, hopefully the post Covid era will usher in more travel and tourism opportunities. Especially with an exuberant and energetic Aditya Thackeray heading the tourism ministry, we expect the state to once again assume pole position among the Indian states.