Sudipta Dev – Mumbai
World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) are supporting India’s ministry of tourism and state tourism departments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to develop the Buddhist Circuit. Better infrastructure and facilities would help increase tourist traffic five times. “Each site is a hub and to connect each site with the other, infrastructure will be needed such as roads, transport, street lights, wayside amenities, restaurants, tour operators and local guides. Connectivity is also very important, including upgrading railway sidings, bus terminals, increasing access to smaller sites around the key destinations and improving air connectivity,” said Shaun Mann, senior tourism specialist, Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, World Bank Group, adding that, there will also be major investments in urban and peri-urban areas to upgrade streets, drainage, and signage to improve the overall experience around the sites.
IFC and the Buddhist Circuit Steering Committee have launched a five-year strategy document called ‘Investing in the Buddhist Circuit’, which, according to Mann, has been prepared with inputs from many stakeholders such as airline operators, tour managers, hotel owners, local cultural experts, etc. “This strategy estimates that an investment of about US$200 million is needed, from both the public and private sector, to improve infrastructure, facilities, promotions and services around the circuit by 2018,” mentioned Mann.
One of the significant focus areas is the hospitality sector. HVS is doing a pre-feasibility study of the existing government owned properties in UP and Bihar. “We are also engaging with a range of hotel owners – budget, mid, and luxury segment. We are hoping to attract established hotel chains to work with either existing owners or new entrants,” stated Mann.
A key problem with the Buddhist circuit is that it is largely perceived to be a seasonal circuit. “We are working to eliminatethe perception that Buddhist tourism is seasonal. We need to work with the state governments and Incredible India to promote a diversified events and festival calendar that extends beyond the current October-March season. We are also working with tour operators in source market countries, the extended monastic community in those countries to attract tourists and pilgrims throughout the season so that the investments made are viable,” informed Mann.