The hospitality industry in Agra is upbeat and all excited to welcome visitors, as a new tourist season begins from the World Tourism Day on September 27.
Two-and-a-half years of the Covid-19 pandemic, hit the tourism industry hard, forcing closure of hotels, eating joints, travel agencies.
Tourist guides and photographers were forced to look for alternative means of earning.
The crippling effect of the pandemic on tourism is now beginning to wane as the number of footfalls has seen a steady rise.
“Yes, the monsoon also is about to withdraw, after a heavy last spell that took a heavy toll of Agra roads,” a local hotelier said.
Problems notwithstanding, the outlook is bright and we are hoping to see a revival, he added.
But many industry leaders say there was nothing much to look forward to as a number of their demands that could spurt growth had been rejected or put in cold storage. The travel trade laments the lack of international air connectivity to Agra. Smaller cities have regular flights but not India’s tourist destination number one, that is Agra.
Agra tourism industry suffers as the average night stay period has reduced due to better road connectivity with Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi and Jaipur.
Agra is one of India’s top tourist destinations. Yet, it lacks basic infrastructure and thus cannot take advantage of the interest generated in India and its tourist attractions. Leaders in the tourism and hospitality industry complain that there was a lack of vision and of will in the political leadership of Uttar Pradesh.
“Even with three world heritage monuments, Agra has not been able to significantly increase the number of visitors. And those who visit often make brief trips. The Yamuna Expressway has made it easier for tourists to return the same day to Delhi,” say the local hoteliers.
“We need a comprehensive action plan for tourism development for the whole Braj region that includes Mathura, Vrindavan, Bateshwar and several important sites of religious importance,” adds Sandeep Arora, an office bearer of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Arora said, “There were numerous problems restricting revival of tourism in Agra, including lack of ease of doing business. Hotels are neglected and victimised. Hundreds of illegal and unauthorised hotels were operating bringing bad name to the hospitality industry. The stake holders were never consulted when drawing up policies for this sector.”
He added that suspension of e-visas, lack of air connectivity and a general atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, were other factors which were inhibiting growth.
Meanwhile, tourists visiting Agra will, for the first time be able to join festivities for several days, as Agra celebrates its birthday on Sharad Poornima, full moon night, on October 9.
The Agra Mayor Navin Jain and his team are drawing up plans for the big bash.
Tourists will also be able to see the iconic 17th century monument of love, the Taj Mahal, from two newly developed spots along the Yamuna river bank.
The controversial Taj Heritage Corridor, a dream project of the Mayawati government in 2003, has now been converted into a lush green stretch, sandwiched between two world heritage monuments, the Taj and the Fort.
The Supreme Court in 2006 had directed the Archaeological Survey of India to green the wasteland, around 20 hectares of the Yamuna floodplains.
For want of resources, the project was delayed for more than a decade, adding to the air pollution. Fortunately, this vast wasteland which used to be an ugly eyesore, now offers a pleasing sight. Tourists can stroll and leisurely spend private moments in the shadow of two magnificent monuments. The site offers a breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal and provides photographers with excellent vantage points to shoot great photos of the monuments.
Another site developed for the tourists, who wish to see the Taj flood-lit by gentle and soft moonlight, is at Mehtab Bagh across the Yamuna.
The Agra Development Authority in cooperation with the Archaeological Survey of India, has developed a couple of points at the rear of the Taj Mahal, across the river, from where tourists can see the beauty of the Taj Mahal in full glory.
Since these spots are beyond the restricted 500 metre security zone, the movement of visitors will be without hassles.
Infrastructural facilities are being developed under the ‘pro-poor’ tourism policy in the area which includes six villages, Humayun’s mosque and Gyarah Seedhi monuments. A new bridge over Yamuna, Ambedkar Setu, makes transport convenient and easy.