The announcement by the Ashok Gehlot government of the status of the tourism industry in Rajasthan has understandably been a boost to the beleaguered sector which has yet to emerge from the setbacks of the ongoing Covid pandemic. The announcement was made in the state budget on February 23 and was widely welcomed by hotel and restaurant owners. “For the first time in many years, there was a concrete decision [by the government] it will boost tourism,” says Randhir Vikram Singh Mandawa, Chairman of India Heritage Hotels Association.
Granting industry status for tourism means that the electricity tariff and certain taxes would be at the same level as other industries, compared to the current commercial charges, which are much higher. Hoteliers and restaurateurs across the state faced hefty electricity bills for even minimal load during tough Covid lockdowns because they were subject to commercial tariffs.
Gehlot said the tariff concessions will result in a financial burden of Rs 700 crore per year on the national treasury. He also announced the Rajasthan Rural Tourism Scheme, under which transfer of property would be exempt from stamp duty, in addition to other sops such as repayment of SGST for 10 years and loans up to Rs 25 lakh to 9 % interest.
To encourage the conversion of heritage properties into hotels, Rajasthan will provide concessional stamp duty on purchase and lease contracts for hotels located in buildings constructed before 1950. Land rates for resorts, campsites, amusement parks and animal safari parks will be retained. residential tariffs in urban areas and agricultural tariffs in rural areas.
The state budget has earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for tourism development. The figure is based on a tourism development fund of Rs 500 crore for 2022-23 and a similar amount allocated in 2021-22. Of this amount, Rs 600 crore will be spent on infrastructure, including construction of toilets at places of tourist interest, and the rest on tourism promotion. However, one wonders if the money will be spent wisely. “We want an advisory committee or authority to be formed that oversees how this Rs 1,000 crore will be spent. It must yield concrete results,” says Mandawa.
Diya Kumari, the BJP MP for Rajsamand, said the funds should not be spent on stereotypical ways of promoting tourism. “It is a huge sum which, if spent correctly, can help transform tourism in Rajasthan. So many properties across the state need basic conservation and development to attract tourists,” she says.
Industry stakeholders are expecting Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh and Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) Chairman Dharmendra Singh Rathore to bring innovative changes to the sector. Hoteliers, meanwhile, have begun to explore ways to attract tourists. The focus is on young travelers and creating leisure options for them. Arvind Jain of the Sawai Vilas Resort in Ranthambore says that while initiatives from the state government are welcome, the need is to promote sustainable tourism. “It’s wrong to turn Ranthambore into a fast growing wedding destination. Instead, it should have eco-friendly and heritage tourism against the backdrop of Ranthambore Fort and Chambal River,” says Jain.
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