Agra, Sep 27 (IANS) Entry to historical monuments was free and tourism bodies here welcomed foreigners with the ritualistic ‘tika’ and flower-garland on Sunday to mark World Tourism Day — but the local tourism industry rued the lack of patronage and government support for developing tourism infrastructure in the City of Taj.
The mood in the local tourism circles was depressing with leaders of the local tourism industry pointing to the prevailing state of affairs where lack of basic infrastructure was hindering growth of Agra’s main industry.
Surendra Sharma, founder president of Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association, said: “In 2007, when the Taj was voted among the New7Wonders of the World, we thought the scenario would change for the better and some action will be taken on our long list of demands. But we lost a wonderful opportunity….”
According to industry leaders Rakesh Chauhan and Sandeep Arora, there was “lack of vision and willpower” in promoting Agra despite its recognition as India’s number one tourist destination.
“Even with three world heritage monuments, Agra has not been able to significantly increase the number of visitors and the number of night-stays of most visitors from barely a few hours to a few days,” said Chauhan.
“Neither the state nor the central government seems interested in promoting Agra. The active Delhi lobby does not let the concerned ministries decide on siting an international airport in Agra to save the tourists’ time,” said Arora.
According to Agra Development Foundation president K.C. Jain, the tourism industry in Agra was suffering due to the plethora of government agencies tasked with managing the show.
“While the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) looks after the centrally-protected monuments, the demolition of the unauthorised constructions around the monuments is the responsibility of the district administration.”
“The ADA (Agra Development Authority) collects toll on monuments, but spends the revenue elsewhere. Sanitation in the area is the local municipal corporation’s job, but it is neither serious about the issue nor has the necessary funds.
“Tourism promotion is the state and Centre’s so-called duty but they have no vision. Why can’t we have a central high-powered authority? Let there be a Taj Tourism Promotion Authority to bring about the required change,” Jain said.
Though the city has over half-a-dozen five-star hotels and hundreds of budgeted hotels, the biggest problem was the general sense of insecurity.
Tourists avoid overnight stay in Agra and they are generally in a hurry to get back to Delhi or Jaipur.
Another reason is poor community hygiene and condition of roads in the city. The local authorities have made “little or no effort to make life comfortable for the tourists and keep them busy in the evenings with some programmes”, says handicrafts exporter Abhinav Jain.
Most tourists avoid visiting Fatehpur Sikri or the monuments across Yamuna river due to poor connectivity and perennial traffic snarls.
Though the tourist police and special tourist police station have been there for the last few years, incidents of cheating, harassment and looting have not declined. Significantly, on Sunday, World Tourism Day, a Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) constable was held for harassing tourists.
The hordes of touts at the various monuments and railway stations are a put-off and bring bad name to Agra’s tourism industry. Interestingly, despite complaints and directions from the authorities, the problem continues to prevail.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at email@example.com)