The Minister speaks to Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

He ( Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State with Independent Charge for Culture and Tourism and Minister of State for Civil Aviation) is the most forthright and empathetic Minister we have questioned.

We said that though pork is banned in Dubai, our five star hotel had a separate Pork Products counter. ”Is the government considering a similar solution for our beef-averse states?” we asked the Minister.

“From my background and upbringing I am against the consumption of beef. I would not like to comment on this officially.”

Fair enough.. From our background and upbringing we celebrate Christmas in our traditional way without making it a law enforced on all citizens.

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Our beaches attract holiday-makers from across the world but politicians talk of prohibiting bikinis. Would the Minister consider making some beaches into ticketed, well-patrolled, Swimmers Only ones effectively excluding offensive voyeurs.

We have an extensive coastline and I would like to promote beach tourism.  Your suggestion seems to be a good one and we shall examine it.”

 The Government will have to tread with caution because of local pressure-groups.  The Travel Industry must use its clout to change local mind-sets.

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The Coastal Zonal Regulations are a sloppily drafted mess. The exception given to nuclear energy establishments is dangerous. Are you proposing to intervene to open our beaches to eco-sensitive developers in the Tourism Industry?

After Kedarnath we’re more conscious about the environment. We shall seek the opinion of experts and, if necessary, shall amend the CZR”

This should be done before self-styled environmentalists rush through their own legislation.

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Kerala’s biased prohibition policy allows the state to sell cheap spirits restricting better brands to five-star hotels.. In Gujarat the visitor can pick up permits at the airport. Can this be applied to other states?

The selective imposition of Prohibition appears, on the face of it, to be discriminatory. We shall have to revisit this matter to ensure that     the interests of tourists are served in a fair-minded way.”

Cherry-picking on a Directive Principle of the Constitution is unconvincing.

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To correct India’s international image as an unsafe destination for women are we planning to recruit more women as police personnel, guides and taxi drivers?

We should implement this in the interests of women.. This would enhance our image as a safe destination for travellers.”

Adroitly, the Minister admitted nothing but widened his answer to include ‘the interests of women’ and an enhancement of our image for ‘travellers’  in general.

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Travel by luxury tourist train is a great and hassle-free experience. Are you thinking of discussing, with the Ministry of Railways, the running of  a north-south 10-day Discover India all-inclusive tour with an optional link to another south-north one, for 10 days each?

This is an excellent idea and I shall take it up with the Ministry of  Railways. In a way this is also linked up with our interest in cruise tourism.”

We have written extensively about the history-and culture oriented, extended cruises, on the Brahmaputra and the Ganga. Their land excursions will have to be very even-handed about our projection of the past. The travellers who can afford them are well-informed and quick to question biased views.

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Incredible India was a great tag line when it was launched but tag-lines become clichéd after repetitive use. What new tag lines and new promotion campaigns are we thinking of launching?

Incredible India hasn’t been our campaign for so long. But if we get any proposals for another tag line, we shall certainly examine it.”

 The industry should decide what image of our land will give us an edge over our competitors.

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Every nation in Europe, some smaller than many of our states, projects its uniqueness. Our unbeatable USP is our diversity. Have you considered pegging central tourism aid to states only if they emphasise attractions unique to each?

I agree that, given our diversity, we should aim for a 12-month tourist season. We have a wide range of seasons and festivals throughout the year and these should be promoted.”

We should publicise the festivals of all faiths, on an international calendar, updated annually. Travellers can then slot such events into their itineraries.

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 Air-India has been on life-support ever since its MD ceased to be an aviation professional.  Can we separate its social and commercial roles so that the losses of one do not diminish the profits of the other?

We don’t need to have two wings of Air-India. As our national carrier it also has social obligations. It served us well in Yemen and now in Nepal. But there is no doubt that it has to be run professionally so that it earns revenue of the nation.”

True, but who is going to bell the cat? We have not chosen a bell, as yet, to say nothing of the cat!

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

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