Sunday, August 16, 2015

Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Journey Ahead!










“Not all those who wander are lost.” … J.R.R. Tolkien

Well, J.R.R.Tolkin is the name hardly any book lover or movie lover don’t know; the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy writer who made the name Hobbits household specie certainly knew the importance of travels. His master piece is all about travels of few friends whose journey after taking many turns & twists ends at a happy note! But seems our State’s tourism department popularly known as MTDC differs from Mr. Tolkien as for so many years now the tourists who used to visit here are often get lost  than reaching to their destinations is experience of many! On such background when I look inwards i.e. to our State’s own tourism policy & MTDC, with my liking for wandering at places; thought why not use my observations for making MTDC a better organization, to serve the purpose its formed for!

To begin with lets know a bit about MTDC i.e. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation; is a body of the Government of Maharashtra responsible for development of tourism in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It has been established in 1975 under the Companies Act, 1956, (fully owned by Govt. of Maharashtra) for systematic development of tourism on commercial lines. Since Inception it has been involved in the development and maintenance of the various tourist locations of Maharashtra. MTDC owns and maintains resorts at all key tourist centers and having more resorts is on the plan. MTDC initiates & supports various cultural activities across Maharashtra with the objective to improve tourism in the state. We all are quite familiar with logo of MTDC which consists of faces of the dark princes from Ajanta caves! Also many of us have stayed at some or other MTDC resorts which are at all major destinations in the State! But is that all? Is what I started to think when I decided to write about MTDC to the people who can make use of it!

In past two decades due to my job & wild life liking I have traveled to many places in & around the State as well many countries. Sure we all know that tourism can be major way of earning foreign exchange & can play a backbone role in promoting any particular destination along with upbringing of entire society of the place! This we have witnessed all over the world, take destinations like Bangkok pr Kashmir, which survives only on tourism! Agreed there has to be some inbuilt potential in first place like nature, wild life or sea shore to promote tourism or we should be as wise like Americans who literally created man made wonders like Las Vegas, right in middle of dessert or take example of Disney Land! But what MTDC has been satisfied with is just to have some resorts at the places & that’s all; where as its main intention of focus should have been promoting tourism in our State as well make people travel savvy i.e. make them get out of their homes & wander around! First you have to promote concept or importance of moving around & for that either you have to create the cause or make them able to identify importance of the cause you have along & then provide them the means of traveling, so it’s a threefold task for MTDC & till now its miserably failed to achieve is a sad fact! Let’s take other State’s tourism situation & even Gujarat is way ahead in promoting themselves, when it has got nothing in comparison to Maharashtra, which has a diversity like USA! About Rajasthan it’s said that every third person visiting India visits Rajasthan, such is the way they have made tourism their agenda! Even backward & lesser known States like Far East also have taken tourism as their prime agenda as it not only brings you on world map but opens gates of many opportunities! We take pride that Mumbai gets maximum foreign tourists footfall but it’s because of international flying destination & connectivity, ask how many of those foreign tourists which lands in Mumbai remain in the city leave apart visiting other places in State & then you will know the reality of State tourism condition! On such back ground our young Hon Chie Minister himself has taken responsibility of tourism. Here a special note as till Mr. Narendra Modi was CM of Gujarat; he has kept charge of tourism dept with him & was keenly active in promoting the tourism as well planning policies regarding same! Making Amitambh Bachhan brand ambassador for Gujarat Tourism was Mr. Modi’s brain child only!

So let’s go through each aspect of tourism in State & then we can be able to understand on which course we want to walk! To start with promoting concept of travelling within the State, here I will share my own example, I know where MP tourism’s office is there in the city but I don’t know where MTDC’s office in Pune city is! This is first step we need to make people know our presence & for that we don’t need to publish full page costly advertise but a consistent approach is required. Since many years I see a small ad of MP tourism in most of the daily’s with a tiger face looking at me & an appeal to visit MP i.e. Madhya Pradesh!  And I don’t remember MTDC ad not surely so consistently ever, as just publishing an ad on 1st May i.e. Maharashtra Day with more snaps of leader than the places of State isn’t going to serve the purpose. Or I have stayed in Uttarakhand Tourism’s places or MP tourisms resorts but don’t remember staying ever at MTDC. Take example of Shegoan, which is very popular pilgrimage of State in eastern Maharashtra & close to my native place too but here also I don’t know where is MTDC accommodation located & I must have visited the place at least hundred times & stayed in Temple’s trusts residences! At Kanha tiger park MP tourism’s stall is right at the gate giving information to every park visitor not just about the stay arrangements but about places worth visiting around Kanha. Same thing can be thought out for being present at gate of Gajanan Maharaj temple at Shegaon & other such destinations! But at Tadoba tiger reserve which in recent times most popular wild life destination amongst wild lifers, at gate there is not even a board about MTDC’s presence around, leave apart a stall! I am not criticizing MTDC, I am just pointing out some plain facts as a tourist by myself! MTDC should run a consistent campaign in & outside of State to make people realize the potential State has & why people should move around. Every two years span in USA a BMM get together is there i.e. all Maharashtrian people residing in USA comes together & I have never seen MTDC stall there & what’s joke is all other state’s tourism boards are targeting Maharashtrian crowd as they are keen tourists & loves to spend money on newer destinations! I know people in Pune who have traveled forests all around the country & even out of country but they don’t know about wild life of Maharashtra! So, come out of orthodox shell of web site making & just building few tourist resorts & join hands with travel companies all around the world, let’s make a presentation to the point about what potential the State has & run it on every possible platform making people know about State & make them feel to visit!  

We can tie up with education department & make presentation about tourist places in State in every school, as school going kids are the main reason behind most  family travel plan; it’s the kids who demands travel places at home & parents give in is a truth! Identify potential tourists’ places in every district & it’s not necessary that there should be a forest or any natural wonder, as I have been places like Satara & Nagar, which are close to Pune & if for Pune people the shopping destination is Dubai or Singapore then for smaller district’s crowd Pune’s Phoenix mall is nothing less than these destinations! I have been to Phoenix malls with my friends from smaller towns & their face expression has told me how they feel being here! MTDC can tie up with malls & hotels in Pune for giving town people shopping & hotelling experience & nothing wrong as in Dubai it’s a waiting list to have a breakfast at Burj Khalipha hotel! And this can be lot cheaper option for a middle class family from district place in State! All MTDC has to do is promote the concept & make necessary arrangements for travel & stay!
Making citizen of the State involved in tourism is one major aspect to promote MTDC & here we can conduct competition of essay writing amongst school kids about their local surrounding & how it’s unique for tourism & what can be done. A lot of new information about many hidden places with tourism potential can be gathered through such campaigns. Make all this information available on web site also, so every person will get aware about it!  Also we can ask adults to write their experiences with MTDC & ask for suggestions regarding improvement; the winner with best suggestions can be awarded free stays at popular destinations with MTDC!

Once we have made people aware the comes more important part i.e. providing proper infrastructure for the tourists & this includes, travelling arrangements, food & shelter as well making sure that the tourists have got full value of their money! Remember though MTDC is a Govt organization but the purpose for which it has been formed is hospitality & it knows no bar like being a Govt organization! When a tourist visits to a place then it’s very much important to know what his purpose is & then make the arrangements to deliver the same. For example if someone is going to visit a place like Shegaon then first target is to get have his aim of seeing Saint Gajanan Maharaj’s temple & take part in puja i.e. holy process & then he can have other agenda like visiting nearby places, know about the surrounding life style etc! So the entire focus should be around the temple & convenience regarding the same. While planning any tour at Shegaon, right from travel plan i.e. reaching the temple at right time to stay & travel within the city i.e. accommodation place to temple, all these things should be coordinated accordingly.
The stay arrangements is the weakest link of MTDC as nobody needs Taj Hotel type luxury here, as today’s tourists are too practical, they don’t want something extraordinary but clean rooms & prompt service along with some decent food, is all they expect!  A lot depends on the end personnel of MTDC i.e. the guy who opens the gate of resort at odd hours of night for the newly arrived tourist! If he does it with a smile & fresh face, then half the battle is already won! This may seem easy to achieve but very difficult as a constant training & cross checks are required especially for the front staff. At the same time getting feedback system from the customers & taking action on it & making the visitor know that his feedback has been acted upon is entirely missing in MTDC! The target should be first have presence at every destination & then make yourself first choice of tourist may he be from any class of the society & this target should not be of only the CM or MD of MTDC but even the cleaning staff should share the same vision!
Make an app about MTDC working system as well all the available information of establishments, as now days that’s the best way to connect with people. Also keeping in touch with the tourists who has even once inquired at MTDC is equally important! For that e calendar as well e magazine of MTDC has to be in place & circulated to not just tourists but ever travel agent across the globe!

Another aspect of tourism is lifting up the social life of tourist places & as MTDC is not just some private company which seeks for only balance sheet & profit coming out of it, this also is an important aspect in setting the target! This obviously will be possible if more & more people will visit the tourist places but to make them aware is equally important. Most of the tourists visits any place, have fun, click snaps & leave but what is their role for making life of people who are residents of such places, they never bother to know, neither the travel agent does that! MTDC needs to make the tourists realize social aspect of their travelling & what they can do to make lives of local a shade better? We in MP has run a campaign to make people assist in their way for the local which included donating various day to day need things to buying local products! Taking back souvenirs can be important link with the place you visited even after you have returned to your home town. The souvenirs can be of two types, one is promoting local destinations & other is promoting entire State! The second category can be made available not just MTDC outlets but in the entire major malls in State as well Country. The items of souvenirs should be of class & of utility & part of the money generated through its sales, should go back to the locals is also equally important!

Many social drives also can be carried out by MTDC; one of them is cleanliness aware in locals. This front we lack most in compare to western countries as well many of our competitor states! Look at any of our tourist places may it be mountain ranges like Amboli in Western Ghats or pilgrimage like Bhimashankar, a pilgrimage place near Pune amidst thick forest; the entire beauty gets dead due to the litter & garbage generated by the visitors here. MTDC can join hand with NGO’s as well local authorities to fight this enemy of tourism as well its very much important for creating good image in the eyes of tourists about the destination!

Actually tourism should be given infrastructure status as it can be used to make peoples life a shade better & the budgets should be allocated accordingly; especially for organizations like MTDC for whom tourism is not just making profit! Taking the target to next level is, MTDC doesn’t mean providing just food, shelter at tourists places, it means creating new places for travel within the State & make people visit them more & more! And this is not job of just some Govt department but every person who is resident of the State as there lays the dream of making Maharashtra number one in tourism!


-- 
Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.
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