DARJEELING: With a view to promote employment in the travel and tourism sector after the coronavirus pandemic crippled businesses, Union tourism and culture minister Prahlad Patel on Monday launched the tourism ministry’s campaign to promote homestays across the country, which he said will give a leg up to rural ‘Aatmanirbharta (self-dependence)’.
Patel also announced the setting up of a ‘Tourism Highway’ – a 250 kilometre-long circuit containing 13 destinations – under which the ministry has partnered with Google to identify and geotag monuments of relevance along national and state highways, prompting road travellers to visit India’s lesser-known cultural, archaeological and religious sites. He added that the Archaeological Survey of India has started the process of relisting ASI-protected state monuments, an initiative that will allow public to recommend lesser-known monuments for possible inclusion in ASI’s protected list.
Launching the three-day skill upgradation training workshop for homestays in the Darjeeling region, the first of a series that will be rolled out in the rest of India, Patel also said home stays will aid off-beat, experiential tourism in addition to increasing options for the domestic and international tourists.
While the Darjeeling launch of the homestay workshop ties in with the impending assembly polls in West Bengal, where Patel has been campaigning over the last few days, the choice of Darjeeling for the workshop, he said was not a political one. “There was no politics in my mind when I chose Darjeeling. It is an old and popular tourist destination which needs support to grow and become better,” he said.
The minister also urged travel service providers to register themselves on the ministry’s National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry (NIDHI) portal, saying that the comprehensive register of hospitality accommodations would help travel businesses find consumers across the globe.
Speaking to TOI, President of the Travel and Tourism Association of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, Surjan Pradhan, said, “We had requested the minister for a training module of this kind because homestay businesses in Darjeeling, though already popular, are very fragmented. The aim, through this, is to up the standards and create an umbrella organisation for them, with the tourism ministry’s help.”
On Monday, Patel also inaugurated the Culture ministry’s three-day Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav, which he said will provide a platform to promote local talent and popularise the music, dances and culture of the hills among a wider audience.