(BHUBANESWAR/KONARK): Confined to her home for most part of the pandemic since March last year, when 70-year-old Savitri Rout finally got the opportunity to go for a weekend getaway with her children and grandchildren in January, the family chose an ‘eco retreat’ along the Chandrabhaga beach in Konark. Sitting with her 20-year-old grand-daughter in the dining area and watching the high tide hit the shore, she said she was happy to be out again.
Safety remains a prime concern for those willing to step out but travelling very far is still not on the minds of many. Those keen on a holiday are clearly looking for spaces that can be the “one-stop shop” for all their vacation needs. Also, while protocols exist, implementation and compliance is what dominates conversations around travel among tourists.
Speaking to TOI, Odisha’s minister for tourism and culture Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi said, “There is no doubt that the tourism sector is one of the worst hit by the pandemic, but it is also a fact that the revival of this sector is a key priority area for us. We also want tourism in Odisha to grow beyond religious tourism so that people experience our coastal belt that is spread over 482 km.”
An experiment to test the waters is underway through the eco retreat model in Konark and four other sites in Odisha. Offering tourists the option to stay in temporary luxury tent cottages, the ‘glamping’ retreats came up in December and despite the pandemic, they have logged over 60% occupancy. According to principal secretary, tourism, Vishal Kumar Dev, the occupancy status was a positive sign. The state set up the first glamping eco retreat in Konark last year which recorded 81% occupancy, prompting the government to expand to four more locations this year at Hirakud, Bhitarkanika, Daringbadi and Satkosia.
Saurabh Tripathi, who hails from Delhi and works in Bhubaneswar, said the eco retreats had provided people like him an opportunity to experience a vacation at locations like Konark and Satkosia rather than travel to far off places like Goa.
Data collected by the state government showed that eco tour nature camps — a community-led project of the forest department — had recorded 80% occupancy with 21,000 night stay tourists at the various camps over the last two months.
Odisha is also trying to reach tourists keen on road travel instead of air and rail during the pandemic. The government has rolled out the ‘Odisha by Road’ campaign and has identified routes with options for people from neighbouring states to make pit stops and take up packages for stay, sightseeing, route maps and information on safety protocols. A large number of tourists to Odisha come from states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.
(The writer was in Odisha at the invitation of the state government).