Earlier there were 72 permissions required to set up a hotel or a restaurant in Maharashtra. Now we have brought down this requirement to just 9 which is a big boost to the tourism sector because it will reduce operational cost, says Valsa Nair Singh, IAS- Principal Secretary, Tourism, Excise & Civil Aviation, Govt of Maharashtra in an exclusive interview with Prasenjit Chakraborty.
Q. During the pandemic, Maharashtra Tourism came come out with new tourism policies to boost the sector. How are such policies facilitating in bringing investment to the state?
We took a decision to undertake public private partnerships with major players for some of the best properties of Maharashtra. MTDC owns some of the best properties be it Matheran or Mahabaleshwar. Our aim is to get partners who have earned a reputation in successfully operating properties in the hospitality industry. This is because, we believe they will run these hotels with more professionalism, and will also bring in marketing strength and brand image. This is a win-win situation for both the MTDC and our partners. This was the first step on the PPP front.
We were doing it for some time, but the lease was for 10-30 years. Now, for the first time, we extended the lease period to 90 years. As a result, big groups and real estate players are approaching us. We have identified seven properties (both brown and green field) of the MTDC and invited private participation bids. And the response is fantastic.
Our second decision was to give industry status to the hospitality sector, and by doing so we emerged as the first state in the country to do so. It offers industry tariff to hotels, industry tariff for water, property tax etc. In this regard, the first circular came out in 1999 but was not implemented.
Our third step was ease of doing business. Earlier, for setting up a hotel or restaurant in the state it was imperative to have 72 permissions. We discussed and deliberated on this, and realised that some policies had become redundant with time. We kept only the important ones. That’s how we brought it from 72 to just 9. It’s a big boost to the sector because it will reduce operational cost. For any investor, we have a single liaison officer who would be assisting with the whole investment process.
In the recent past, we have infused a lot of life to the sector, so that whenever the sector opens up we can grab the opportunity. For example, we stressed on skill development during the pandemic and undertook online guide courses for young qualified people. This is a Ministry of Tourism programme, but we reimburse the entire fee for people who have qualified from Maharashtra.
Q. After having received encouraging response to your hotel initiative, what next?
After the success of our first initiative or you can call it a pilot project, we have come up with a second tranche having identified 30 properties. Among these, some properties are really enviable for tourism potential. Some of the hotels are located on open lands near Mumbai, and can become a popular weekend getaway. Our strength is our location. I am sure our second phase will also be successful and, will be a turning point for the tourism sector in Maharashtra, especially for investment in the hospitality sector.
Apart from PPP, we also have taken forward our commitment with Indian Hotels Company Ltd that wants to develop a five-star resort in Shiroda of the Sindhudurg district. We have leased the land and now the joint measurement is on.
Other major groups are also looking for investment in Sindhudurg, and other properties.
Q. What about the connectivity to these destinations?
Along with this, we are also developing connectivity to these destinations. Now, we have daily flights from Mumbai to Sindhudurg, and the load factor is 75% to 80% everyday on this route. We have also started flights to Gondia, and will soon bring Amravati on the aviation map.
Q. Are you looking for any new investment in Aurangabad which attracts tourists both from domestic and international markets?
Yes, we are looking for investment in and around Aurangabad, because Ajanta and Ellora have always been our flagship destinations. Besides this, we are also looking for investment in our forts. Forts are our biggest USP. Our sea forts are really unique. We are coming with some tourism infrastructure (not necessarily hospitality) in and around these forts to make it more convenient for tourists to visit the forts.
Q. Enlighten us about the prospects of Caravan tourism in Maharashtra.
There are many scenic places in Maharashtra which fall under CRZ (Coastal Regulatory Zone), forest or forest buffer area or irrigation zone (near dam) where construction is not allowed. However, in such destinations parking of Caravan is allowed and here comes in ourr Caravan Policy playing a great role. We are helping the caravan players to tie up with hotel groups. Caravan tourism has tremendous potential in Maharashtra, as the state has very good roads. Not only that, good law and order situation also offers huge scope for Caravan tourism. Mumbai to Goa is one of the best road trips in the world. Besides this, Mumbai-Pune, Mumbai-Nashik, etc. also offer huge scope for development of Caravan tourism.