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Ms. Rakhee Gupta Bhandari, IAS, Principal Secretary of Tourism & Cultural Affairs for the Government of Punjab

by Kanchi Batra - 4 January, 2024, 12:00 1189 Views 0 Comment

We are privileged to present an exclusive interview with Ms. Rakhee Gupta Bhandari, IAS, Principal Secretary of Tourism & Cultural Affairs for the Government of Punjab. In this interview, she shares her vision for promoting tourism and cultural affairs in Punjab and outlines strategic initiatives to enhance the overall tourist experience.

Interview by Kanchi BATRA

Can you share your vision for promoting tourism and cultural affairs in Punjab? How do you plan to leverage the rich cultural heritage of the state to attract tourists?

Tourism has contributed approximately 10% to the Gross State Value Added (GSVA) in Punjab, encompassing revenue generated from a range of tourism-related activities such as hospitality, transportation, and attractions.

Our vision is to elevate Punjab Tourism as a prominent offering within India and position it as a leading domestic and international inbound destination by 2030. The government is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the state’s rich heritage, culture, and natural beauty while ensuring that tourism brings tangible benefits to local communities and the environment. This overarching vision involves investments in eco-friendly tourism initiatives, the promotion of community-based tourism, and the enhancement of tourist services and amenities to position Punjab as a premier destination for conscientious travellers.

These aspirations are substantiated by a comprehensive tourism development plan that encompasses various facets. This includes impactful marketing campaigns to raise awareness about Punjab’s diverse attractions, infrastructural enhancements to improve accessibility, and the diversification of tourist offerings to cater to a broader audience.

Can you share your vision for promoting tourism and cultural affairs in Punjab? How do you plan to leverage the rich cultural heritage of the state to attract tourists?

Tourism has contributed approximately 10% to the Gross State Value Added (GSVA) in Punjab, encompassing revenue generated from a range of tourism-related activities such as hospitality, transportation, and attractions.

Our vision is to elevate Punjab Tourism as a prominent offering within India and position it as a leading domestic and international inbound destination by 2030. The government is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the state’s rich heritage, culture, and natural beauty while ensuring that tourism brings tangible benefits to local communities and the environment. This overarching vision involves investments in eco-friendly tourism initiatives, the promotion of community-based tourism, and the enhancement of tourist services and amenities to position Punjab as a premier destination for conscientious travellers.

These aspirations are substantiated by a comprehensive tourism development plan that encompasses various facets. This includes impactful marketing campaigns to raise awareness about Punjab’s diverse attractions, infrastructural enhancements to improve accessibility, and the diversification of tourist offerings to cater to a broader audience.

The integration of technology has become crucial in the tourism sector. How do you plan to incorporate digital innovations to enhance the overall tourist experience in Punjab?

We intend to utilise digital marketing channels, social media platforms, and collaborate with travel influencers to extend our reach to a broader audience. Additionally, the government is planning active participation in travel trade shows and fairs to position Punjab as a compelling tourist destination. Special campaigns will spotlight the state’s distinctive cultural, historical, and natural attractions. Thematic tourist circuits have been established for devotional, border, wellness, and eco-tourism, with efforts to fortify collaborations with travel agencies and tour operators for the effective promotion and distribution of these diverse tourism packages.

Punjab is proactively advancing eco and farm tourism initiatives to elevate its appeal for travellers seeking sustainable and rural experiences. These initiatives encompass the potential development of eco-friendly accommodations, guided farm tours, and educational programs to enlighten tourists about local agriculture. The focus on eco and farm tourism is geared towards not only enhancing the income of rural communities but also promoting environmentally responsible travel practices. The overarching aim is to achieve a multifaceted impact, offering tourists distinctive and sustainable experiences rooted in the region’s rural heritage. This includes guided farm tours, hands-on agricultural activities, and stays in eco-friendly accommodations. Simultaneously, these initiatives strive to strengthen the local economy by providing rural communities with additional sources of income. By diversifying the tourism landscape beyond urban centres, Punjab aspires to showcase its natural beauty, endorse responsible travel practices, and foster a deeper connection between visitors and the land.

Are there any collaborative efforts with other states or international partners to boost tourism and cultural exchange in Punjab? Can you provide examples of successful collaborations or future plans in this regard?

Punjab is actively engaged in improving connectivity with key states and longstanding international markets, emphasising enhancements in road and rail networks, increased flight frequencies, and streamlined travel processes. Collaborative efforts with neighbouring states are in progress to establish tourism circuits that encourage the exploration of multiple destinations within the region. Concurrently, initiatives to strengthen connections with traditional international markets, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, are ongoing, supported by tailored marketing campaigns to attract tourists from these regions.

I must mention that the first edition of the Punjab Tourism Summit and Mart held in November 2023 witnessed an unprecedented response, with a record attendance of over 2000 delegates from India and countries including France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, UAE, Qatar, and Singapore. Esteemed investors such as Annapurna Studios, Ramoji Film City, ITC, Club Mahindra, IHCL, Imagicaa, Skyjumper, and Balaji Entertainment, among others, graced the event.

The summit featured a series of thematic sessions, each delving into different facets of Punjab’s tourism potential, covering topics like heritage tourism, eco-tourism, culinary tourism, and adventure tourism. Delegates praised the event for the invaluable knowledge sharing, networking opportunities, and business collaborations it fostered. The summit proved to be a significant platform for the tourism community, offering avenues for stakeholders to leverage new policy initiatives, explore innovative ideas, form partnerships, and collectively contribute to the growth of Punjab’s tourism sector.

Infrastructure plays a vital role in the development of the tourism sector. What projects or plans are underway to improve the tourism infrastructure in Punjab, including transportation and accommodation facilities?

Punjab is actively advancing several crucial Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects to elevate its tourism infrastructure. These initiatives encompass the establishment of heritage hotels, adventure sports facilities, and theme-based tourist attractions through collaborative efforts with private investors. The primary objective of these partnerships is to capitalise on the expertise and resources of the private sector, ultimately enriching the overall tourism experience in Punjab.

Are there any financial incentives or investment opportunities for businesses operating in the culinary tourism sector?

Culinary tourism stands as a pivotal component of Punjab’s thriving tourism industry. Recognizing its unique significance, the state actively fosters the growth of culinary tourism, extending special incentives to the Tourism and Hospitality sector through its Industrial and Business Development Policy 2022. Punjab is dedicated to creating various opportunities within culinary tourism, including the organization of culinary events, food festivals, support for restaurant startups, and collaborations with esteemed chefs to showcase the region’s diverse and delightful cuisine. Through these initiatives, Punjab aspires to celebrate its culinary heritage, draw in gastronomic enthusiasts globally, and cultivate a dynamic ecosystem of culinary experiences that seamlessly enhance its broader tourism offerings.

Cultural events and festivals are integral to the tourism experience. What major events or festivals can tourists look forward to in Punjab, and how do you plan to promote them on a global scale?

The vibrant cultural celebrations of festivals in Punjab have garnered popularity among international travellers, contributing to the rise of festival tourism in the region.

The Department of Tourism, Government of Punjab is organizing various fairs and festivals in the State to promote its rich culture and heritage. Punjab Tourism has announced that 24 fairs which will be held in the State throughout the year with the aim of making Punjab a Rangla Punjab. Specific festivals such as the Maghi Festival at Sri Muktsar Sahib, Basant Festival at Ferozepur, Kapurthala Heritage Festival in January and the Kila Raipur Rural Olympics in Ludhiana, Heritage Festival and Baisakhi fair in Bathinda, Patiala Heritage Festival, Hola Mohalla at Sri Anandpur Sahib in March, Inqilab Festival at SBS Nagar in September, Doon Festival highlighting the culture and cuisine of Malwa at Mansa, Punjab Handicraft Festival at Fazilka, Equestrian Fair at Jalandhar in November, Military Literature at Chandigarh, Rivers Fair at Pathankot, and Sufi Festival at Malerkotl will be celebrated. In January, the Rangla Punjab festival will be held in Amritsar, showcasing all aspects of Punjabi culture, with participation from notable novelists and poets. The festival will include delicious dishes of Punjab, colourful cultural programs, and displays of Punjab’s arts and crafts. Various heritage festivals like Baba Sheikh Farid Aagman at Faridkot, Inqilab Festival at Nawanshahr, Hari Singh Nalwa Josh Festival at Gurdaspur, Chhinj Festival at Tarn Taran and Military Literature Festival at Chandigarh have already been celebrated.

To further promote festival tourism, the government has implemented targeted marketing campaigns and enhanced infrastructure and services during peak festival seasons.

Kanchi Batra
Kanchi Batra is the Business Editor of The Diplomatist.
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