When I rummaged on, trying to think of some points, it is off-handedly revealed that I have been hearing talks on the subject of tourism in Manipur oftener these weeks on the All India Radio. Some travel agencies, with offices in Guwahati, are out to increase the arrival of tourists, generally foreigners into Manipur and they have obtained licences.
Broadly, the government has also been promoting Manipur as a tourist destination. During his visits to the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not fail to mention Manipur’s tourism prospects. The breath taking scenery of the mountains, historical places, and the charm of a border from where South East Asia spreads out, have attracted tourists. Moreover, Manipur had been a theatre of the Second World War.
In the early months of 2019, I had been a frequent visitor to Shri Govindaji Temple – it was a good escape from the ordinary business of living. Frequently, I met visitors from other states and also from abroad. They were all tourists. On one occasion, I was asked by one of them why many tourists are not coming to Manipur – he meant there are spots attractive enough for tourists. My reply was something like, there was no peace.
But I should say I was not sure if that was the only reason. There might be other reasons too. So far, there have been no record of violence inflicted on tourists. The state security apparatus did not give any hindrance to the movement of tourists. And no other authority had called a ban on the entry of tourists.
So, what could be the other reasons? Last week, on the occasion of World Tourism Day, director of tourism, Ch. Ibohal asserted that wide publicity of Manipur as a tourist destination was lacking. Indeed, few know Manipur as a holiday destination. There are no advertisements issued in the national and international media. And whenever Manipur caught global media attention, it was mostly for the wrong reasons.
Time and again, travel agents and tour operators have been calling for community support – the community bringing about a boom of tourism. But what can the community do? They have been welcoming tourists and guiding them at whatever tourist spots visitors come. Indeed, there is a language barrier – but the tourists have guides and the community is not directly allowed to interact with them. It is the guides, who do not allow the community to talk to the tourists, who inform everything the tourists want to know. In reality, the responsibility lies with the guides – whether the tourists know what they like and want to come back again.
Infrastructure has a role to play in promoting tourism. Good roads, hotels and places to enjoy are conducive to tourists’ arrival (lack of toilets on the way to Moreh cause inconveniences to tourists). Good food and wine and places where they can entertain themselves will attract them. But are all these present in Manipur? Is there any place to entertain the tourists?
The arrival of foreign tourists are declining, while the number of domestic tourists are increasing. Before the lockdown on 24 March, there were 3000 foreign tourists arrivals recorded. Earlier, foreign tourists were seen cycling, or hitchhiking to Moreh from where they would enter Myanmar. Commentators say that foreign tourists face restrictions in their communication with community (the guides and the other agencies discourage interactions with the common people).
In reality, foreign tourists are out to enjoy themselves (domestic tourists also seek entertainment). With no holiday resorts, and places where they can have a good time, they end up more or less bored with having to see only the landscape and historical monuments. So how about setting up entertainment spots? Other authorities will certainly disagree as this goes against the indigenous mores of the community. Which is why it will take time for tourism to boom.
The writer is a freelance writer and journalist