Local Public - The Missing Link to Destination Tourism

Shanjoy Mairembam *

Road Map of Manipur
Road Map of Manipur :: Pix -

Manipur State Govt has tried to build new infrastructure projects at many tourist spots and organize tourism festivals in the recent years for tourism promotion. Yet, common people seem still confused what exactly Manipur tourism is all about. So, basic queries arise - 'Why tourism?', 'Do we really need it?', 'What's the gain/loss?', 'Who are the real stakeholders?', 'What role by whom for how long?', and 'what's tourism in business sense?' Thus, looking again with a fresh mind about promoting tourism in Manipur and growth of businesses connected to tourism may be useful.

The foremost essential focus that state govt ought to do in tourism promotion (even before investing in any infrastructure building projects) seems to be about 'Building a good network of motorable roads connecting every village/town within Manipur'. Once motorable roads are built, intra-state and inter-state commutation will be easier; thereby allowing people themselves to participate in tourism related activities by default. Second focus ought to be 'Sensitization of local public on how tourism works and who can play what role to get maximum benefits for public themselves'.

On social aspect, tourism is to do with movement of people i.e. temporary migration, while on business aspect, tourism is to do with visiting people buying goods/services from local people during their stay. In true sense, tourism is just all about people and state govt seems to miss this key 'understanding'.

Most appropriate slogan on Manipur tourism seems to be 'Govt provides Motorable Roads and People take care of Tourism'. Once a network of motorable roads connecting every village in Manipur state is in place, people will automatically take care of tourism related businesses. So, state govt's main focus on tourism promotion ought to be 'Motorable Roads'. The add-on priority of State govt on tourism promotion may instead focus on collecting statistics of tourist visitors (such as places visited, tourist traffic, reason of interest/visit, days/hours stayed, money spent per person, demographic survey of tourist inflow, and issues found during tourist visit, etc).

This statistics info is crucial not just for tourism aspect but also for controlling social migration and illegal immigration issues. Some genuine support that state govt can do in Manipur for tourists are installation of readable signposts on travel roads, creation of tour-route guide maps, distributing illustrated pamphlets showing entertainments and activities that can be done while visiting a place, stationing tourist support centres at various locations with info, and opening a call centre support for tourist emergencies, etc.

Taking an example to understand potential stakeholders in Manipur tourism:

Visiting Manipur by air is the best choice of many (foreign/national) tourists. Imphal Airport thus becomes the first thing a tourist is likely to see. Hence tourist friendly environment needs to be created within airport (e.g. direction signboards, promotion messages, Do's and Don'ts guides on social ethics, courtesy from airport staffs, take-away tourist fliers at easily accessible locations, foreign exchange store, shopping and gift stores, emergency doctors/clinic, etc). Just outside the airport exit, a tourist expects friendly travel operators who will not cheat and safely take him/her to nearby hospitable hotel or paying guest houses. In between airport exit and nearby hotel/accommodation location, a tourist may have expected roads on the route to be of motorable condition with proper signboard, and local people (including houses/buildings) of welcoming attitude.

At the hotel or paying guest house, a tourist may not get own foreign food/snacks, but will at least expect local food and cuisines being served in high hygienic conditions. Tourists will appreciate the hotel more, if extra tourist guide info is provided in addition to delivering excellent customer service. A tourist will expect customer friendly staffs, proper sanitary waste bins and toilet services, and other relevant entertainment services while visiting a tourist spot or an ecological garden. Business owners of that tourist spot (or garden/park) may do their best to enhance the customer experience, because inflow number of tourists impacts their business.

But, we often seem to miss to acknowledge who is going to take care of providing hospitality to tourist in the route gap between a hotel and a tourist spot. That missing gap is what local people on the route ought to take in-charge of; thereby also giving job and benefit to themselves by providing add-on product/service for visiting tourists. New recreational spots and small shopping stores can be created on the route in between any tourist spots and nearby reputed star hotels within Manipur.

Best effort has to be made to create many cycle-drive and foot-walk routes in most village/town (nearby popular tourist spots) so that tourist visitors can roam around and spend time/money in the process while interacting with local businesses and people on those routes. This approach will bring about inclusive growth within Manipur by allowing small businesses and local people to earn by serving tourist visitors in addition to earning by those large businesses and star hotels.

During popular festivals at a particular location conducted on specific dates in a year, students of local schools/colleges can be availed to support visiting tourists voluntarily or under paid service. Proper coordination for festival support to tourists can be made between festival organizers and management of educational institutions. This approach will also enables students to experience management skills and help own personality development. These educated students can support visiting tourists in English or other foreign languages as tour guides.

Pamphlets showcasing attractions on a particular Leikai/Zone may be created by local clubs (or tour operators) for the benefits of businesses and people in that Leikai/Zone. Local 'Leikai Mandap' and community halls can be redecorated occasionally for exhibitions and tourist events; thereby allowing 'Leikai clubs' to participate in maintaining Leikai roads/streets and also welcoming visiting tourists altogether during the big festival. Also, individual houses and properties (if interested) can be allowed to adapt for businesses providing some benefits to visiting tourists. Rickshaws and horse-charts can be reused rather in a fashionable way for shorter travel within village/town routes by tourists.

State govt has to start delegating more (i.e. give work/opportunity with responsibility and accountability) to non-govt entities and local businesses on tourism related activities within Manipur. Necessary support for finance and resources (on demand) should be made available to social and private bodies working in the area of tourism and hospitality services. State govt (or delegated authorizes) may also act as auditors or benchmarking bodies to check quality specification and conformance by tour operators and businesses in tourism sector - such as hygiene level, business operations under valid licenses, maintenance of registry for foreign nationals and outside-state visitors at hotels, customer support ethics, extra care support for disable visitors, upholding diversity in work-force, maintaining dignity for children and women, etc.

State govt should provide an integrated tourism framework (i.e. a basic diagram) that explains in a simplified manner how various stakeholders are interacting to each other on day-to-day basis within Manipur state. This approach will allow local people, business owners, tour operators, and govt officials to work alongside towards tourism promotion and tourism related business growth. Rather than conducting only one big festival at Imphal municipal area per year by state govt (incurring heavy cost in crores rupee), many smaller festivals and events throughout seasons in a year ought to been conducted by local people and businesses (with support from state govt) in their respective locations within Manipur state.

State govt also need to keep in check about the side-effects (i.e. implications) of tourism related activities in Manipur due to inflow of large volume of tourist visitors - such as air population due to excessive exhaust from motor vehicles, noise population due to festivals, resource scarcity due to over-consumption, road traffic chaos due to extra tourist vehicles, cultural and social influence from tourists, etc. Accordingly, new policies and support services need to be established to tackle tourism induced problems by state govt, and people should be sensitized on these topics periodically.

Thus, involving local people into tourism planning and making local people to take ownership of tourism related activities across villages/towns of Manipur is one of the best ways toward achieving the comment of 'Nice People, Nice Place' from tourist visitors. Giving 'an amazing experience' from the moment a tourist lands in Manipur and letting to return back home after spending few memorable moments in Manipur should be our focus on how tourism promotion activities and growth related projects ought to be.

* Shanjoy Mairembam wrote this article for for People's Chronicle - English Daily
Shanjoy Mairembam (BEng, MBA) is a Business Strategy Consultant based at London (UK). He supports mentoring of young entrepreneurs in 'conceptualization of ideas into business case', and offers role of a 'Business Doctor' to local NGOs/SMEs in Manipur.
For further info, visit; E-mail: shanjoym (at) gmail (dot) com
This article was posted on January 11, 2013.

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