Beach Bounty: India will soon have 17 coastal tourism circuits jostling for attention
Sekhar Koti, a student from Andhra Pradesh’s Kakinada district, is a regular visitor to the Coringa wildlife sanctuary, located on the outskirts of the coastal district. The long stretch of mangrove forests, home to more than a hundred species of birds, including rare ones such as white-backed and longbilled vultures, is a big draw for birders and nature lovers like Koti. Mechanised boats take visitors out to the sea. The adventurous ones go further to Hope Island, five km off the coast.
But Koti, who travels 18 km to Coringa, does not visit Kakinada’s main beach. He finds it boring. “There’s nothing much there. Some local tourists come to the beach daily. But why will anyone from Vizag (Visakhapatnam) or other cities visit it?”
The Kakinada beach is among the 17 spots around the country the government is developing, in a bid to leverage India’s bountiful coastline and become something of a beach tourism super-destination. India has had limited success in turning its 7,517-km coastline into tourism gold. In all, the country got 10.4 million inbound tourists in 2017. Thailand, with 3,219 km of coastline and a tremendous beach tourism success story, received 35 million inbound tourists in 2017.
The Kakinada beachfront development in Andhra Pradesh is the only completed coastal tourism project in the recent past.
The potential of India’s unheralded beaches has long been a subject in Delhi’s tourism policy circles. The government has undertaken 17 coastal development projects across the country in the past four years. The Rs 2,000-crore project, mostly under the tourism ministry’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme, is aimed at boosting beach and coastal tourism. The projects are part of Sagarmala, an umbrella project for developing ports, roads and rail networks to ports. The Centre funds these projects and the state governments execute these.
The beach now has a musical fountain, a glass pedestrian bridge, modern landscaping, an art gallery and a food court.
Of the 17 projects, only the beachfront development at Kakinada has been completed. The beach now has a musical fountain, a glass pedestrian bridge, modern landscaping, an art gallery and a food court. Arrangements have been made for daily laser shows, with the sea and the harbour in the backdrop. This has managed to generate some excitement. “The main attractions here are the laser show and the glass bridge,” says Vamsi Y, 28, an entrepreneur from Hyderabad on a business trip to Kakinada. “I feel Kakinada will soon give competition to Vizag beaches.”
The other components being added to the project include the development of a tourist circuit connecting the beach with Hope Island and the Coringa sanctuary. A Rs 8.5 crore audio-visual and exhibition complex has also been built at the sanctuary. The tourist circuit cost Rs 70 crore to develop.
At New Delhi’s Parivahan Bhawan, which houses the transport, shipping and tourism ministries, tourism secretary Rashmi Verma explains how the push to create new beach destinations will help decongest popular beaches. “A number of tourists from Russia and East European countries are interested only in beaches. They come on chartered flights to Goa, stay in hotels near the beaches for two weeks or more, and return home. They don’t travel to other destinations,” she says, adding how good beaches always attract quality tourists.
The number of Russians visiting India has gone up from 32,432 in 1991 to 2-2.5 lakh now. In 2017, according to ministry data, 10.4 million foreign tourists came to India, earning the nation $27 billion. There is no separate data on the number of tourists who visited a beach destination.
But there is consensus all around that India can become a hot destination for beach tourism. There are about 200 beaches with tourism potential, tourism ministry officials say. Developing these areas with suitable infrastructure and connectivity will give tourists more options.
The ongoing projects include a Rs 700 crore ropeway project between Sewri fort and Elephanta Island near Mumbai; a Rs 100 crore Sinquerim-Baga, Anjuna-Vagator, Morjim-Keri, Aguada Fort and Aguada Jail tourist circuit in Goa and a Rs 85 crore Digha, Udaypur, Mandarmani, Shankarpur, Tajpur, Bakkhali, Fraserganj and Henry Island beach circuit in West Bengal. Another development is around the Chilika Lake in Odisha.
“Tourists always scout for local flavor — art, culture, local cuisine. Also, every beach must have a calendar of events; for example, beach volleyball, sand art, food festival, and dances of the fisherfolks community, to name a few.” The tourism ministry expects most of these projects to be ready by the end of this year. But there are some glitches.
Famed artist Sudarsan Pattnaik visits beaches in India and abroad as part of his work.
For example, a project in Goa linked to heritage sites such as the Aguada jail and fort was delayed due to late clearances from the Archaeological Survey of India. The project was sanctioned in 2016. The Sewri fort-Elephanta Island project, off Mumbai, is also having similar problems. Even in Kakinada project, which this writer visited recently, the private party selected to operate the audio-visual room and the information centre outside the Coringa sanctuary has not installed the required machinery. The company has also not furnished the rooms, though the building is ready to move in.
Beach destinations gain reputation among the hordes of global travellers by word of mouth and Instagram popularity. Tourism infrastructure is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the success of a beach as an international tourism destination. So it might be unrealistic to expect immediate and dramatic change in tourism fortunes at these locations.
But perhaps some of these beaches will indeed benefit from the development, and in the not so distant future, chartered flights with foreign tourists will land in an Andhra airport in search of a new and mostly undiscovered global beach destination.
Union Tourism Secretary Rashmi Verma tells
Shantanu Nandan Sharma some foreign tourists come to India on chartered flights, spend two weeks or more only on beaches and return home without travelling to any other destination. There is opportunity there, she says.
Beach tourism is important as it attracts quality tourists. A number of tourists from Russia and East European countries are interested only in beaches. They mostly come during winter and travel straight to coastal areas. They come on chartered flights to Goa, stay in hotels near the beaches for two weeks or more, and return home. They don’t travel to any other places. We had 10.4 million foreign tourists last year. But it’s difficult for us to segregate the number of foreign tourists going only to beaches.
Among the coastal tourism projects, one in Andhra Pradesh is completed. Two of the Goa coastal circuit projects are near completion. Under the coastal circuit projects taken up since 2014, there has been an emphasis on increasing tourists’ beach experiences by providing more amenities. Tourists often travel to Goa, Kerala and parts of Maharashtra to experience beaches. But other states are catching up now. In Maharashtra, there have been some issues regarding clearances from the Archaeological Survey of India. For example, Elephanta (a Rs 700 crore ropeway is being made to connect Sewri fort with Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour) is a heritage site. So work has not started in some of the places.
Beach wedding is a new trend catching up in India. Goa and Kerala beaches are becoming attractive venues for such weddings, popular among NRIs and domestic tourists. Even the religious ceremonies take place at the beach itself.