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Plan to brand Maharashtra as tourist destination

Nina Varghese

CHENNAI, Aug 8

AS a destination Mumbai, stands tall, especially compared to any Indian metro. By sheer size and variety the city offers visitors myriad experiences and options in almost all activities whether it is shopping, cuisine, entertainment, heritage or business.

Mumbai attracts lots of visitors both domestic and international. By its strategic location and historic background almost 40 per cent of the international arrivals into India are through Mumbai. In 2000, the international arrivals were 7.8 lakh.

Spearheaded by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), the State is getting its act together. The process of branding Maharashtra is on, Mr Ashish Kumar Singh, Managing Director, MTDC, said.

The baseline "Maharashtra Unlimited" signifies the size of the State, which is not just one of India's most industrialised States but also the one with the longest coastline of 720 km, the largest number of cave architecture and forts.

Mr Singh said that road shows are being planned in the West Asia and in European capitals where meetings will be held with tour operators and focus groups.

One of the tourism products, which will be on offer when the Maharashtra Tourism road show takes off, will be the capital of the State. Mr Singh said that Mumbai as a destination will be packaged separately. It is a destination which has everything a destination requires like a variety of cuisine, shopping, heritage, art, culture and above all the city is home to the world's largest film industry.

Mr Singh said that the city has been badly hit by the September 11 incidents and more recently by the tensions between India and Pakistan. The city has an inventory of 10,000 five star rooms. The road show will help to market these properties, he said.

Mr Singh said that with the kind of offering that Mumbai and the State have, the competition is Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.

Another tourism product would be the grape growing regions in Maharashtra such as Nashik, Sangli and Solapur. This region is also conducive to the growing of fruits like strawberries and oranges, he said. A whole cuisine evolves from these fruits like wines, crushes and jam. This would be similar to parts of France. Mr Singh said that a package is being built around this region.

The Ajanta caves will be a major draw for tourism, Mr Singh said. The conservation project of this World Heritage site is nearing completion. The conservation work includes roads, lighting, signage and a shopping complex.

The MTDC is also working on a strategy to woo the Arab tourist, once a mainstay of the Bombay hotels, Mr Singh said. Arab tourists are now moving away to European destinations, which are seen as more prestigious, he said.

One of the main elements of this strategy would be to project the hospitals in Mumbai, which offer world-class treatment at economical cost. The other target groups would be the Western expatriates who would find Mumbai closer and cheaper than Europe. The third is the non-resident Indian, Mr Singh said.

MTDC is also coming out with a deluxe tourist train on the lines of the Palace on Wheels. The cost per person would be $350. The coaches are being manufactured at the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai. The total project cost is Rs 32 crore and is expected to be flagged off on January 26, 2003.

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