INDIA'S travel operators are reporting stronger foreign interest in the north-eastern states of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, and have cheered the Ministry of Home Affairs' move in liberalising travel to the area.
Travellers were previously required to obtain permits for travel to the three states, but the mandate was lifted in 2010 and has been extended annually since.
“Lifting of the protected areas order, to some extent, has resulted in an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Manipur, Mizoram and in particular, Nagaland,” reported Ashish Phookan, managing director, Jungle Travels India, and chairman, north-east chapter, Indian Association of Tour Operators.
“Most visitors are from Europe, and UK remains the largest (source market). There is also a lot of interest among Israeli visitors in visiting Manipur and Mizoram.”
EB Blah, CEO of Clara Tours, also noted more enquiries from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region. “There is good demand from Bangladesh. The relaxation (of travel) is helping to increase interest from the SAARC region in the three states.”
India’s north-east region includes the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. According to the Ministry of Tourism, about 58,000 tourists visited the north-east in 2012, an 18 per cent increase over 2011, but numbers to the three states remain dismal.
Sanjay Basu, managing director, Far Horizon Tours, said the government’s efforts to “open up” north-east India for tourism would pay off in the long run. “Apart from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland is also now growing as a tourist destination,” he said.
But PK Dong, chairman, Dong & Associates, and tourism consultant to Mizoram Tourism, said there was a “need to publicise this (liberalisation of travel) to the three states”.
Taking advantage of the spurt in awareness, Phookan said his agency was promoting tours through overseas tour operators and hopes to inform international visitors about the region’s offerings “be it in terms of wildlife, interactions with ancient tribal communities and trekking”.
He also said that the north-east still lacked basic infrastructure in terms of accommodation, good roads and wayside amenities.
“However, the situation presents us with the great opportunity to develop environmentally sensitive facilities that would attract discerning travellers from across the world and from within India. We think there is a need to develop facilities keeping in mind the traditional bond with the local communities have always had with nature, and that will become the main unique selling point in promoting north-east destinations,” Phookan commented.