Beyond the Taj Mahal

Known globally for its famed monument of love, Uttar Pradesh looks to diversify its tourism offerings and promote lesser-known experiences and products of the state.

The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, home to the Taj Mahal, introduced its new tourism policy in November 2022, which sets out to provide a conducive business environment with an investment-friendly approach to encourage and sustain private sector participation.

The policy also focuses on marketing and promoting new tourism products, events, and the lesser-known destinations of the state globally to attract incremental tourist footfalls.

Forts in the Bundelkhand region will be developed as new centres of tourism; Kalinjar Fort pictured

The government of Uttar Pradesh recognises that it expects the tourism sector to play a key role in the state’s ambition of becoming a trillion-dollar economy.

Mukesh Kumar Meshram, principal secretary & director general, tourism, government of Uttar Pradesh, said: “We want to promote theme-based activities like wellness, heritage, adventure, cuisine tourism, eco-tourism and film tourism – to name a few. Investment-based subsidies have been offered to the hotel industry in the new tourism policy. We are also offering a two per cent extra incentive to film shoots that highlight lesser-known tourist destinations of the state.”

Rajiv Mehra, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), said: “Uttar Pradesh has many hidden facets that international travellers (have) yet to explore. From the forts of Bundelkhand to the state’s rich flora and fauna, the tourism products of Uttar Pradesh are diverse. A large number of international travellers travel to Agra (to see) the beauty of the Taj Mahal but the majority are unaware of places like Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, which is a heaven for birders and nature lovers conveniently located on the Delhi-Agra highway.”

The government of Uttar Pradesh is planning to give a facelift to the forts located in the Bundelkhand region in order to develop them as new centres of tourism.

“We are looking to work with private partners to introduce light and sound shows and trekking facilities at the Kalinjar Fort. We also plan to introduce water sports activities in Barua Sagar lake which is located adjacent to the beautiful fort complex of Baruasagar,” revealed Meshram.

The state’s tourism department, Eco-Tourism Board and forest department are working closely together to promote eco, nature and wildlife experiences in both domestic and international markets.

“We believe that a holistic and collaborative approach to nature-based ecotourism and cultural tourism is essential for sustainable progress as they are both undeniably co-dependent. While efforts have been ongoing to promote these circuits, we are now taking more active measures to develop an awareness of these possibilities to the world of travellers,” shared Mamta Sanjeev Dubey, principal chief conservator of forest & head of forest force, government of Uttar Pradesh.

The UP Nature and Bird Festival 2023 was organised from February 1 to 3 at Vijay Sagar Bird Sanctuary in Mahoba district to highlight the biodiverse-rich wildlife reserves and sanctuaries of Uttar Pradesh. The festival welcomed an audience of national and international experts in the fields of birding, nature conservation, and wildlife tourism and photography.

As Uttar Pradesh is blessed with expansive and picturesque rivers, the tourism department of the state is also keen to develop and promote river tourism, especially in the luxury segment.

The commencement of the world’s longest river cruise journey – Ganga Vilas on January 13 this year – is expected to bring the spotlight onto the river cruise tourism potential of the state. Operated by Antara Luxury River Cruises, the journey starts off from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and ends at Dibrugarh in Assam.

“The government of Uttar Pradesh is very keen to showcase the potential vested in its river cruise tourism market. Within the state, we are planning to begin river cruises between Prayagraj and Ballia as well as Ayodhya and Varanasi. These river cruises will also allow tourists to explore remote areas of the state,” said Raj Singh, founder & chairman, Antara Luxury River Cruises.

The new tourism policy of Uttar Pradesh has also identified wedding and business event segments among its focused areas. The tourism department is spotting wedding destinations to be listed in an online inventory system that will aid wedding planners and event management firms. Furthermore, locations 
are being finalised in destinations like Agra and Ghaziabad for the establishment of convention centres that are supported by an event ecosystem to project the state as an attractive business event destination.

Sarbendra Sarkar, founder & managing director, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts, said: “Uttar Pradesh’s new tourism policy is designed to be investment-friendly and to promote a variety of tourism offerings.

“To capitalise on this, we are planning to open a property in Vrindavan by the end of this year, with a focus on the wedding market. We are also eager to open our hotels in other parts of the state.”

Uttar Pradesh had a valuable chance recently to show off its hidden gems to an international audience. As part of India’s G20 Presidency, 11 meetings were held between February 13 and 15 in various cities of Uttar Pradesh. These meetings were used to offer foreign delegates a taste of unique local experiences, like Braj culture through folk song and dance performances. Braj is a region in India of which a significant area (Mathura-Vrindavan) falls in Uttar Pradesh. Eco-tourism experiences were also presented to the visiting delegates.

Stakeholders believe that the new tourism policy is key to promoting the state’s diverse tourism offerings, but careful implementation is needed.

“A high-level committee should be set up under the chairmanship of the chief minister or a senior officer from his office to monitor the implementation of the policy. A destination like Agra needs no promotion, but it should be made tourist-friendly by ramping up infrastructure and amenities in the city,” opined Sunil C Gupta, managing director, Travel Bureau.

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