OdishaPlus Bureau

With situation at home and abroad galloping back to normalcy each passing day in the drawdown phase of Covid-19, Odisha Tourism, in partnership with various stakeholders from tourism, travel and hospitality sectors, has once again pulled up its socks to hoistthe state, dubbed ‘India’s Best Kept Secret’ as the country’s most preferred tourist destination.

With a spectacularly calibrated bouquet of products and enticing offers for the promotion of the sector through public-private partnership, Odisha Tourism has embarked upon creating a massive infrastructure to cater to several niche segments of the sector.

This is essentially aimed to pitchfork the treasure trove of India with its pristine beaches, enchanting lakes, abundant rain forests, teeming wildlife, striking handicrafts, marvelous monuments, traditional tribes, colorful fairs and festivals, captivating music and exotic dance forms, before the national and global audience.

The flagging of the fourth edition of the Odisha Travel Bazaar (OTB) 2022, in collaboration with FICCI, is the outcome of a resolve to once again invite guests from far-off corners of the country and the globe with an open arm to see &visit this fascinating and largely unexplored land of unforgettable memories in the Post-Covidera.

The promotion of ‘Brand Odisha’ through this edition of the OTB carnival alsotypifies a paradigm shift in the focus areas of industry stakeholders from tourism point of view —from the stereotypical ‘Centre for Pilgrimage’ to a vibrant destination for all kind of tourists.

Or, as said by the Director, Odisha Tourism, Sachin R Jadhav,“Odisha has much more to offer than just being a pilgrim centre.  Of course, Odisha remains the land of Lord Jagannath. But, Odisha has everything that India as a country has to offer, and much more. It has everything to offer in a complete family set up.”

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 FTOs Hail Destination Odisha

As many as 22 Foreign Tour Operators (FTO) attended the 4th Odisha Travel Bazaar. The FTOs were taken of familiarization trips to various locations at Bhubaneswar, Puri, Konark, Chilika etc. Julie Ngo, a foreign tour operator from Vietnam was impressed with the heritage sites in Bhubaneswar as well as the temple architecture. “I have taken lots of pictures and I will show it to tourists back home and bring them to Odisha”, exclaimed Julie.

Neeracha Wongmasa, from Thailand praised OTB 2022 for bringing together buyers and sellers from India and abroad together under one roof so that they can work out ways to promote Odisha Tourism. “OTB helps me connect with many sellers and tourism products in Odisha. I will go back, prepare and itinerary and bring Thai guests to Odisha”, she said.

Similarly, Godfrey Willy, FTO from Tanzania was amazed at Odisha’s diverse tourist offerings. “You have beaches, wildlife safari, temples and others which we don’t have back in Tanzania. I am sure tourists from Tanzania will be happy to visit Odisha.”

FTO exploring Odisha

It will be no exaggeration to say that the State is endowed with rich bio-diversity, culture, climate, culinary tradition, heritage, religious tradition, architecture which it has jealously preserved over the centuries to be crowned as India’s Best Kept Secret.

The largely unexplored lush jungles, lofty peaks, untapped valleys and network of unspoiled rivers, waterfalls, brackish and fresh water lakes & over 400 km long coastline swept by the towering waves of Bay of Bengal makes Odisha a must visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts, nature-lovers, trekkers and adventure sports aficionados from home and abroad.

Following the inclusion of ‘Tourism’ in the State’s Industrial Policy in 2016, the sector received the proverbial push and a concerted effort was made by the State Govt for a complete overhaul of the approach towards its promotion, on par with other industries. The result being, the focus of branding Odisha Tourism began assimilating new-age tourist preferences while not losing spotlight on the mainstay: culture, religion, tradition, architecture, tribal life, wildlife, art & handicraft.

Tribal art & handicraft

The culmination of the new discourse was the hosting of the first edition of the ‘Odisha Travel Bazaar 2017’ offering a splendid market place to stakeholders of Odisha Tourism (including hoteliers, state Tourism Department and the industry as a whole) to sell their products before leading Foreign Tour Operators (FTOs) and Domestic Tour Operators (DTOs).

Alongside, Brand Odisha was reinforced with a new tagline to Odisha Tourism i.e ‘India’s Best Kept Secret’, from the earlier ‘Scenic, Serene Sublime – Incredible Odisha’. The hosting of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2018 heralded a chapter in Odisha Tourism, i.e Sports Tourism, with the slogan: ‘Odisha by Day, Hockey by Night.’

Much water has flown under the bridge since then. The State was battered by horrific back to back cyclones in the next two years. However, a resilient and determined State government braved all odds to reaffirm Brand Odisha by sticking to the OTB annual calendar. This infused esprit de corps in the stakeholders and the sector bounced back with renewed vigour, until the catastrophe of the millennium, Covid-19, struck the world. Odisha was no exception.

Odisha Hill Stations

The pandemic that ravaged lives and livelihoods had the most telling effect on tourism and hospitality, leaving the sector gasping for life. The horrors of the pandemic nevertheless, it was a time for reflection by policy makers and industry stakeholders to look for new ideas and pastures that would ensure a remarkable comeback once the ominous clouds of uncertainty were dispelled.

Sunny actionable ideas and a set of pragmatic planning was the answer of Odisha Tourism in the post Covid times that have now been put into action to woo tourists to explore the hitherto untapped facets of Odisha for a life time experience.

Odisha Art & Culture

The package offered by Odisha Tourism is a perfect blend of tradition and adventure which is aimed at attracting tourists of all ages and preferences.

Like, for example, those having a craving for art, culture, heritage, tradition or religion, a visit to the ‘Golden Triangle’ offers it all. The magnificent architectural wonder at Konark (Sun Temple), the edifices of faith and region built over ancient and medieval periods sprinkled in and around Bhubaneswar led by the Lingaraj Temple, Mukteshwar Temple, Rajarani temple and the Bharateshwar group of temples, or the symbol of Sanatana Dharma, the gigantic Lord Jagannath temple in Puri, are reminiscent of the civilisational glory of the State.

The rock-cut Khandagiri-Udayagiri caves at Bhubaneswar are also holy sites for Jains while or the Peace Pagoda at Dhauli, Viharas and Stupas at Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and numerous other places have strategically positioned Odisha as the second most important Buddhist heritage site in the sub continent after Bodhgaya. The Rock Edicts of Emperor Ashoka engraved on stones at Dhauli and at two more places are reminiscent of the might of the Kalinga empire during pre-Christian era while the ramparts of Barabati and Raibania forts are reminders of the State’s great military tradition in the middle ages.

Odisha Art & Craft Museum

The Heritage villages at Raghurajpur and Pipili in Puri district or the Ekamra Haat handicraft village at Bhubaneswar are perfect destinations for tourists looking out for the exotic art and handicrafts of Odisha, while the spectacular weaving prowess and tradition of Utkala artisans are reflected in the fine Sambalpuri & Sonepur handloom silk and ‘Pata’ sarees.

The intricate silver filigree works of Cuttack, stone art, brass and metal works of Balipatna or unique tribal art of Mayurbhanj, Phulbani, Malkangiri & Koraput districts are traditional attractions for tourists of all gender, race or ethnicity.

The Odisha Tourism has also started aggressively promoting the great culinary tradition of the state with the opening of the first ever multi-cuisine quintessential Odia food restaurant, ‘Nimantran’ in Bhubaneswar and Puri which has been adored by connoisseurs. More of its kind are in the pipeline at popular tourist spots.

Odia food

Popular Odia delicacy ‘Pakhala’, recently vetted as a ‘super food’ by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Bhubaneswar is a must savory food with assorted like Mati Handi Mutton (tender goat meat cooked over slow wood fire in earthen pot), Badi Chura, Dalma, Saga, Mushroom Besara, Machha Besara, Mudhi Mansa (a delicacy of Baripada), varieties of chutneys and non-vegetarian dishes. Odisha’s culinary attraction also includes a large number of home-made steam cakes, pan cakes and baked items sold across the state.

And last but not the least, world famous sweetmeat delicacies of the state like Rasogola (GI tagged), Chnenapoda, Chhena Gaja, Khir Mohan and a host of others made out of cottage cheese (chhena) are just not exotic, but leave one craving for more with their unique taste and flavor, not to be found anywhere outside Odisha.

World famous sweet delicacies

Of late, the state has made great strides in coffee and tea plantations. The emerging tea gardens in Kendujhar district and the coffee plantation in the southern districts of Kandhamal and Koraput are pipped to be the next tourist attractions of the state with ‘Koraput Coffee’ having already carved a global niche for its unique aroma and taste.

With over 24% of Odisha’s population belonging to Scheduled Tribes, the state is home to the maximum tribal population in the country. In fact, Odisha boasts of its glorious tribal tradition which is very much a part of the popular culture. For tourists or academics wishing to get abreast with the as many as 62 primitive tribes inhabiting the State, their art, culture and life style, the Tribal Museum at Bhubaneswar gives important glimpses. Moreover, package trips to tribal heartlands are offered by the OdishaTourism toenable tourists to come close to the lives of the tribes.

However, beyond the traditional attractions, Odisha offers much more to the new age tourists. In addition to the scenic beaches & lush forests, the State is endowed with 19 sanctuaries, 2 Ramsar sites, Asia’s largest brackish water lake (at Chilika), world’s largest concentration of crocodiles at Bhitarkanika, the largest nesting site of the rare Olive Ridley turtles, tiger reserve at Similipal, various estuary areas, river basins & towering hilltops.

Integrated Masterplans

As articulated by Mr. Jadhav, “Odisha offers lot of opportunity for tourism, not just from scenic perspective, but from the perspective of the varieties of products.”

To simplify what Jadhav said, the new thrust of Odisha Tourism is not just to spur up the existing sites in order to attract tourists, but promote holistic development of these and newer areas by giving equal opportunity to various stakeholders.

Bird watching at Chilika Lake

For the purpose, it has taken up 17 integrated master plans at various parts of the state, including most popular destinations like Puri, Konark, Chilika, Bhitarkanika, Bhubaneswar and hinterlands like Satkosia, Hirakud, Deomali and Daringbadi.

The master plan entails not just developing these sites, but making them attractive from the investor’s point of view. Land banks are being created around those destinations in association with IDCO while, to ensure the ease of doing business, all clearances will be facilitated through the master plan only.

The attractive waterfronts are also up for a face lift as works are underway to develop 2 Boat Clubs and beach-front promenades which will transform the State into a destination for Water Sports. On that frontier, on-shore basic infra is being laid for cruise tourism and luxury houseboats while building up facilities for visitors’ safety.

As this year, the 90-day Eco-retreat Glamping Festival, organized on beaches, forests, hilly areas and river basins which provide a perfect gateway to solitude seekers enters its fourth year, it has been decided to expand it to 7 locations. It includes 3 sea beaches: Pati Sonapur, Konark & Pentha, 2 riverine sites: Satkosia & Hirakud and 2 hill sites: Daringbadi & Koraput (near Deomali, Odisha’s highest peak).

Side by side, the Odisha Tourism has also broadened its ambit to hitherto unexplored but attractive destinations in the state. Accordingly, intra-gap assessment projects have been undertaken at 49 of these sites for development.

Bhubaneswar, The Sports Capital of India

Following the integration of sports with Tourism, Odisha took a giant leap in the promotion of the former. No wonder the events and developments in the arena of sports in the last 3-4 years have elevated the State to new heights in the country’s sports map. Or, as asserted by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, “Bhubaneswer has emerged as the Sports Capital of India.”

There is merit in the CM’s words. Odisha is the only state in the country to have sponsored the National Hockey Team. The State is organizing the FIH Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup for successive occasions, which is a record in itself. For that purpose, construction works at India’s largest hockey stadium, the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium at Rourkela, is underway to co-host the world’s biggest hockey carnival along with the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar.

Kalinga Stadium

Four years ago, Odisha demonstrated its readiness and capability to host the Asian Athletics Championship in just about 90 days time which became a talking point in sports circuits across the globe.

The State has not only showcased its world-class sports infra by hosting back-to-back mega sports events, but it has also provided state of the art hospitality to players, spectators, fans and other stakeholders from home and abroad with seamless support system. The upcoming Hockey World Cup is poised to serve as another opportunity for guests to visit and explore another facet of ‘India’s Best Kept Secret’ in effortlessly blending sports with tourism.

Luxury Tourism on The Rise

Odisha is not a destination for backpackers and budget tourists only. With the robust support offered by the private sector, the State’s luxury tourism segment has witnessed a phenomenal growth. The full occupancy of luxury resorts, five star hotels and home stay destinations is a testimony to the growing preference of high spending tourists for Odisha. The exotic gateways, awe-inspiring architectural wonders, exquisite art& handicraft, traditional cuisines and idyllic beaches are preferred bythe classy guests.

Eco Retreat Odisha

Connectivity Still an Issue

The aggressive efforts put in by the government to promote tourism in the state notwithstanding, air connectivity still remains a stumbling block in increasing the projected tourist footfalls, observed JK Mohanty, Chairperson of FICCI Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Committee and CMD Swosti Group, a leading hospitality brand from Odisha.

On the sidelines of OTB 2022, JK said Odisha occupies a unique position in the tourism map of India as it offers everything which all other states in the country together have. However, the absence of direct international flights, especially from South-East Asian destinations in the post Covid period, and connectivity with tourism hubs in the country, has substantially hindered the projected growth of the sector.

“The highest tourist traffic is within Delhi-Jaipur-Kerala-Agra and Goa sectors. If we have connectivity with Agra, Bodhgaya, Kerala, Jaipur and Goa our domestic tourist footfall will rise and multiply,” he said while stating that domestic tourism would be a key focus area in the long run as the spending capacity of domestic tourists is much higher than their international counterparts as has been observed over the years. “Yes, foreign tourists give an additional income in terms of Forex,” he added.

Another key issue coming on the way of expected tourist inflow into the state is the unavailability of adequate hotel rooms. “To increase the footfall in order to be among the top 10 states in the country, we need robust infra. The number of existing hotel rooms is quite inadequate. We need at least 10,000 more hotel rooms to compete with our neighbouring states,” he said.

And the new hotel rooms need not be restricted to Puri, Bhubaneswar, Konark or Bhubaneswar alone. Those should come up in places like Deomali, Similipal, Bhitarkanika, Satkosia, spots in Phulbani & Dhenkanal districts and the like. “This way, we can ensure Odisha as a 21-night destination for tourists,” he said.

He however, hoped that the scene is bound to change in the coming days with the government playing a pro-active role in promoting the sector.

“Today, there are more number of hotel rooms under construction than those in operation. The flagging off the Bhubaneswar-Jeypore flight is a good sign at the right time (in tourist season). Operation of bigger planes will multiply tourist inflow into the southern districts,” he said.

On international flight operations, Mohanty said the state Tourism department has assured to provide viability gap funding. “Once that is officially announced, airlines operators would be interested to fly to Odisha and the requirement for international connectivity will be met with.”

He said once the capacity building process is over in the next 2-3 years, the state would become a most sought after destination for tourists.

Home Stay: Live Like Royals

Several palaces and mansions belonging to royal families of erstwhile princely states have now been thrown open to tourists for what is known as ‘Home Stay’. In his address at the inaugural function of OTB 2022, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said ‘Home Stay’, along with Camping and Caravan tourism will herald a new chapter in the state tourism and make Odisha “The most happening place in the country”, in the coming years.

Though the royals of Odisha were a bit late in catching up with the trend, which was started by their counterparts in the western parts of the country notably Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra many years ago, they are making great strides at present. And the future looks promising.

The royal families of Odisha have formed a consortium called the, “Association of Heritage Palaces of Odisha,” which has started actively developing and popularizing palaces and properties in the hinterlands that are the repository of the state’s culture and heritage. “We will be acting as a force multiplier in the State’s tourism growth,” said His Highness Braj Kesari Dev, president of the association.

While several royal properties in the coastal districts of the State have already been put into use as home stay destinations, Deb said 5 such properties are coming up in Western Odisha. Plans are afoot to develop several of such properties in the southern parts of the state.

Home stay allows the tourists not just to explore the culture and unique native cuisines of the hinterlands, but provides easy access to various hitherto unexplored tourist points, reserve forests, sanctuaries where these stately properties are located. It also gives an opportunity to witness and feel village life from close quarters along with the exquisite handicrafts, handloom and weaving tradition.

The hosts play guide to the guests in these palatial mansions, some of them dating back to the 17th century, with safe sightseeing and sumptuous royal cuisine.“The guest will relish the local taste and flavor.” Dev summed up, adding, “Perhaps that is the best kept secret of Odisha.”

Watch OTB 2022 Inaugural Session

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