With tourism on road to recovery, Telangana pins hopes on ecotourism, caravans and heritage sites

On Sundays, the rush of people visiting Hyderabad’s Tank Bund Road, NTR Marg and PVNR Marg, the three circumferential roads around the city’s iconic Hussainsagar lake, is reminiscent of the pre-Covid times. Surging crowds at Lumbini Park, NTR Gardens, NTR memorial and other nearby business establishments and the presence of a large number of hawkers and vendors along the People’s Plaza and Tank Bund is indicative of the return of normalcy. “People have overcome the virus as well as the fear of it. As long as nothing drastic happens, life will move on,” says Abdul, a hawker near Imax circle. The Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) too believes so.

For instance, the average tourist footfall and revenues of the corporation in the first three months of 2022 are higher than the total revenues collected the previous year. “The highest revenue collection from our water fleet operations in Hussainsagar lake on Sundays before the pandemic was about Rs 5 lakh. We have recently recorded Rs 9 lakh in revenue on a single day. This is a huge positive and shows the sector is on the path to recovery,” B Manohar, MD of the Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) told indianexpress.com. Over the month, the corporation mopped up over Rs 1.15 crore from its boating services in the lake alone.

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The tourism department’s recent observations have led to a shift in its approach while charting initiatives to attract tourists. While foreign tourists are declining in numbers, more and more domestic and local tourists are not just eager to come out of their homes but also ready to explore destinations that were not crowd pullers earlier. “Families and friends are now wishing to travel in groups. They are willing to spend on booking the entire package for bus or hotel accommodation. We see they are hesitant to travel long-distance with strangers,” added Manohar.

Falling foreign tourist footfall

According to the information gathered from the tourism corporation, the number of foreign tourists arriving in Telangana fell by over 98 per cent during the pandemic. Compared to 3.2 lakh (3,23,326) foreigners who visited the state before the pandemic in 2019, only 5,917 foreign tourists visited Telangana in 2021. Even in the first year of the pandemic in 2020, about 46,700 foreigners had arrived in the state. However, in 2022, 2,905 foreigners (nearly half the number of foreign tourists that visited the previous year) visited the state in the first three months.

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Coming to destinations, Golconda Fort, a major attraction for foreign tourists, saw a fall in foreign footfall from 33,853 in 2019 to 1,317 in 2021. At Charminar, only 860 foreign visitors arrived in 2021 as compared to 14,351 in 2019. Shilparamam arts and crafts village, during the same period, saw its annual foreign footfall drop to 549 from 36,936. Salarjung Museum and Chowmahalla palace also saw their foreign patronage fall to less than 5 per cent in this period, according to data.

Similarly, Telangana’s domestic tourists’ arrivals in 2021 fell to 3.2 crore from 8.3 crore in 2019. In the first three months of 2022, the figure stands at 2.2 crore – showing signs of a recovery.

Declining revenues

While the revenues from ticket sales remain only a miscellaneous income to the department, the lack of tourist patronage during the pandemic years resulted in an 84 per cent fall in overall revenues for the department. From a little over Rs 92 crore earned in 2019-20, the tourism corporation’s income fell to about Rs 13 crore in 2021-22. Without takers, the major sources of revenue, including hotels and accommodations, transport, water fleet operations, sound and light operations, etc. were left high and dry.

With almost no occupancy at its properties at various destinations, the revenues from hotels and lodging came down from Rs 43 crore in 2020-21 to Rs 3 crore in 2021-22. In the same period, the revenues from transport operations fell from Rs 22 crore to a mere Rs 2.5 crore. The department’s revenues have never fallen below Rs 70 crore since the state’s formation in 2014.

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Ecotourism, the way forward

On the road to recovery from a pandemic-stricken two-year slump, the tourism department and the corporation have listed a few observations that it feels will help pave the way for the future. Apart from temple tourism, the focus is now on developing ecotourism centers around water bodies and forest lands. The department is also pitching its hotels across districts for staycations, business meetings etc. The corporation also plans to purchase a fleet of caravans that tourists in small groups could hire for their trips.

TSTDC chairman Uppala Srinivas Gupta felt there is a lot Telangana has to offer to its local and international tourists, ranging from the local cuisine, culture, history and topography, temples and monuments, etc. According to him, there is a lot of interest in ecotourism and officials are working towards it. “For instance, as part of the Kaleswaram circuit, the state government has sanctioned Rs 1,500 crore to develop tourist amenities around water bodies such as Kondapochamma Sagar, Kaleswaram, Mid Manair Dam, Lower Manair Dam, and Ranganayakka Sagar, etc. Every district has a Haritha resort or hotel now. We are opening such properties near famous temples too,” said Gupta.

It was during the pandemic that the state received two international recognitions in the form of the UNESCO world heritage site tag for Ramappa temple in Mulugu district and the Best Tourism Village award by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to Pochampally village in Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district. The department is also charting out multiple tourism circuits, connecting destinations across districts to attract international tourists. The corporation has also pinned hopes on its recently inaugurated Buddhavanam, touted Asia’s Buddhist heritage park, in Nalgonda district to draw in international visitors.

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