Development of tourism not only brings great financial dividends to a country, but it also strengthens the ties of the people and culture. A similar interaction between the Southeast Asian Nations and the Northeast of India promises to create a market of great economic potential for both the regions.
The Northeast India is a viable tourist destination with a galore of eco-spots, national parks, cultural monuments, pilgrimage sites, wildlife and regions of pure scenic beauty. Apart from this, Northeast is also favorably situated in close proximity with the Southeast Asian region, sharing borders with Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Thus, Northeast India can become the grand gateway to the Southeast Asian nations. If a smooth functioning transit corridor is established, it will not only boost tourism but will benefit trade linkages between the regions. Although steps are been taken in creation of such a corridor, but it still requires a vehement approach in order to strengthen this linkage.
Knowing the viability of tourism prospect between Northeast India and Southeast Asia, it is time to put forward actionable plans to reap benefit of such ties. There are certain steps needed to be taken on priority basis such as developing connectivity – be it by air, road or water.
Currently air connectivity fairs poorly in propagating an easy flow of people or trade, to and fro, between the two regions. Proposals for Greenfield airports in the Northeast have barely taken root, and the future of an Open Skies Policy as introduced by the ASEAN-India Aviation Cooperation Framework, is also unclear. These policies need to be reviewed and implemented soon. The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway is an ambitious road connectivity project which is still underway. When constructed, the road is expected to boost not only ASEAN-India Free Trade Area but increase tourists’ inflow and outflow to both the regions.
In a bid to strengthen connectivity, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his keen desire for early completion of the ‘Road to Mandalay’ project. This 3,200 kilometer long highway has the potential to act as a game changer for the entire Northeast region. The project will drastically enhance connectivity between the Mekong sub-region and India. The highway project, which begins from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay in Myanmar, will throw open India’s eastern border to a new bus route from Imphal to Mandalay – which would enable travellers to reach Mandalay from Manipur in just over 14 hours.
The Northeast state governments and the Indian government should attract tour operators – both the national and international levels – to establish offices where Northeast region specific tours are made available to the population. If pre-packaged plans can be arranged, it may ease the travel planning for potential tourists to Northeast India.
In order to fulfill the goal of the Northeast as a bridge between mainland India and South East Asia, the Northeast tourism websites and operators must provide details in Southeast Asian languages and perhaps have updates stressing the historical and cultural linkages between people and places in the Northeast with the South-East Asian countries which would garner a feeling of belongingness and increase the chances of Northeast being chosen for a holiday or tour.
Review of the Restricted Area Permit (RAP), Protected Area Permit (PAP) and the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to promote tourism is also another crucial aspect. The ILP is required for Indian citizens who wish to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram; the PAP and the RAP are applicable to foreign nationals who have to be granted special permission to travel on recognized routes by the relevant authorities. Easing of such permits, provided they do not hamper the security of the region, will go a long way to flourish the inflow of tourists to these places.
Forging on the shared religious and traditional history of Buddhism, creation of tourism route based on Buddhist circuit is a great medium to attract tourists. ASEAN member countries have already been working on the development of Buddhist circuits within their own countries, on a bilateral basis and at the regional level, including taking it up with India. The idea of marketing ASEAN and India as an integrated circuit was endorsed at the ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting way back in 2008 and is seen as an area of enormous potential.
Also in the gamut of India’s Act East Policy, tourism opportunity ushers in a pool of economic development in varied areas. A well-planned tourism activity will usher in development, create jobs and provide additional source of revenues which is particularly significant for Northeast India.
Always shrouded in isolation with insurgency perils and underdeveloped infrastructure, Northeast thus have much to gain from investments in tourism as it will surely ripple effect into development in general for the region.
The article was earlier published in LinkedIn.