Script by: Tripti Nath, Senior Journalist
Equipped with masks and sanitisers, top bureaucrats of the Tourism Ministry recently followed up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November visit to Kevadia in Gujarat to revive domestic tourism.
The 182-metre high Statue of Unity dedicated to India’s first Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel has put Kevadia’s tribal Narmada district in western India on the world map for having the world’s tallest statue. The Prime Minister who has described the statue beside the Sardar Sarovar dam as “ a source of unity’’ has made his dream project manifold attractive by ensuring the development of 35 theme-based tourist spots in the vicinity of this bronze statue.
Sculpted by nonagenarian sculptor Ram Vanji Sutar, the iconic Statue of Unity was built at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. It was made in record time and is taller than the Statue of Liberty. An engineering marvel, the statue is equipped with the world’s fastest lifts.
COVID has not been able to deter tourists from visiting Kevadia and the footfall for the spectacular light and sound show every evening from Tuesday to Sunday, is impressive. The show is accompanied by a narration of the history and life of Sardar Patel, his contribution to the Independence movement and the unification of India. After its inauguration in October 2018, Kevadia has attracted 50 lakh visitors.
The fifth-largest state in India with a history of 3500 years, Gujarat ranked ninth in terms of domestic tourists and 12th in terms of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India in 2018. The government projects the Statue of Unity to have an economic impact of Rs 9,000 crore by 2022.
The new Tourism Secretary, Mr Arvind Singh said, “ With required protocols and safety measures in place, there could be no better place than the Statue of Unity, Kevadia and no better occasion than the annual conference of domestic tour operators to spread this message. Kevadia is a right example of how tourism can touch the lives of people at every level especially the local population.”
Kevadia which is only 200 kilometre from the State Capital Gandhinagar, has come to be known for its tourism circuit which includes the Valley of flowers, the Cactus Garden, Dinosaur Park, the Jungle Safari, tribal museum, Ekta cruise and India’s first commercial seaplane service.
Captain Ajay Chauhan, Director Civil Aviation, Government of Gujarat, says that the inauguration of India’s first commercial seaplane service by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31, 2020, from Sabarmati riverfront to Kevadia is truly a Unique Selling Proposition of the Kevadia Tourism Circuit. TThe plane offers 12 to 14 seats.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has chosen a private carrier to operate this plane through a lease arrangement with an aircraft company of the Government of Maldives. The plane was used by domestic tourists including Persons of Indian Origin till January 29 before it was sent for maintenance to the Maldives.
In 78 days of flying so far, the aircraft offered 3,744 seats as it was operating two times a day to and fro from Sabarmati riverfront and has so far registered an occupancy touching almost 60 per cent in COVID times which is an encouraging sign. Mr Chauhan is confident that it is only a matter of time before the commercial seaplane service gains popularity after overcoming initial challenges.
Good flight and rail connectivity to Kevadia have contributed to tourist footfall touching an average of 15,000 over weekends. The Kevadia railway station is now linked to eight Indian cities including Delhi, Mumbai and the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi. The nearest airport, Vadodara, 96 kilometres away also has daily and weekly links with major Indian cities.
Before lockdown was imposed in India due to Corona in the last week of March 2020, Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India had an encouraging pattern. According to information sourced from the Bureau of Immigration, the Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India in January 2020 (Provisional) were 11,18,150. The following month, the numbers declined to 10,15,632 and by March last year which saw the beginning of Janata curfew and lockdown in India, the decline was steep at 3,28,462.
Foreign Tourist Arrivals (in million) during 2017, 2018 and 2019 were 10.04, 10.56 and 10.89 (provisional) respectively.
Since the government will take a cautious call in the Corona pandemic on reopening doors to international tourists, boosting domestic tourism seems the best way forward.