Saturday, February 27

Odisha didn’t profit from ecotourism fest, reveals RTI; ‘it’s fine’, says govt

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Billed as eastern India’s first ‘Glamping’ festival or glamorous camping, the Marine Drive-Eco Retreat spread out on a kilometre-long stretch of Ramchandi Beach near Sun temple at Konark went on for almost 2 months between December 2019 and February 2020.

The Eco-retreat camp, advertised as an attraction for high-end tourists, offered double occupancy tents priced between Rs 6,000 to Rs 22,000 per night that covered for private dining area, spa as well as non-alcoholic minibar facilities apart from several other water sports activities.

Closely modelled on the annual Rann Utsav held at Rann of Kutch, where the Gujarat government organises tented accommodation for tourists, the Marine Drive-Eco Retreat plans to showcase the best of Odisha’s food and culture for high-end tourists.

However, an RTI application filed into the expenditure incurred on last year’s eco-retreat festival has revealed that the government has not made any profit on its maiden eco-retreat venture. RTI activist Pradip Pradhan, who had filed an application seeking details of the expenditure on the first-ever eco-retreat camp, was told by the tourism department that the government spent at least Rs 4.5 crore on paying the event management company Lallooji & Sons while it got Rs 3.8 crore as revenue.

The tourism department however, was silent on the total amount of money spent on the festival, though an amount of Rs 12.13 crore was sanctioned for the purpose. The RTI activist alleged that the government’s loss from the festival is likely to be higher and that’s why the tourism department did not specify how much more was spent apart from the money paid to the event management company.

Though the tourism department did not make any profit from last year’s eco retreat camp at Konark, similar camps are being held at 4 more places including at Konark, Satkosia, Bhitarkanika, Daringbadi and Hirakud this month.

Director of Odisha tourism department, Sachin Ramchandra Jadhav, said not much should be read into the losses incurred by the government in holding such events. “While hotels in Puri last year did not see much occupancy, we saw more than 70% occupancy. These events are essentially promoting the state’s tourism potential. It would take 7-8 years to break even and make money. Even in Gujarat, where the Rann of Kutch festival started, they did not make money for 7-8 years. After seeing our success, even Jharkhand has decided to hold similar eco-retreat camps,” said Jadhav.

 

Jadhav said the criticism that the government was spending money ‘unnecessarily’ in such festivals was a bit unwarranted as it was the responsibility of the government to promote the state’s tourism potential.

“How many tourists would come to places like Daringbadi and Satkosia and spend Rs 9,000 a day if such events are not organised? High-end tourists who visit such places would help the local economy as they would hire vehicles from local travel operators. Through such programmes, the interiors of Odisha are being promoted,” he said.

JK Mohanty, president of hotel and restaurant association of Odisha said it is important to make a noise in the tourism circuit and the government is taking the right step. “The pandemic has affected the tourism industry adversely. Through such events, the tourism and travel industry in Odisha would get a leg up,” said Mohanty.

In 2019-20, 15.5 lakh domestic tourists and a little more than 1 lakh foreigners had visited Odisha.