SHRINIDHI HANDE writes from Madras: During the past year, I have travelled a lot more than in my previous years. I visited Bidar, Hampi, Hoskote, Jog falls, Shimoga, Mysore, Talakad, Srirangapatna, Udupi and Maravante in Karnataka; and Bekal and Wynad in Kerala.
What makes Kerala tourism score big time over Karnataka tourism?
Or, where does Karnataka need to improve in order to achieve increased revenue from tourism?
# Build better roads: Excellent road connectivity is extremely critical to ensure the comfort of tourists and this is where Karnataka never seems to improve upon. When someone experiences bad roads in a State and tells/writes about them on internet forums/ blogs, the damage caused to the image of the State will be permanent. If prospective tourists read on the internet that roads to a particular place are bad, the probability of them dropping plans of visiting that place is very, very high.
There may be a few like me who might enjoy off-roading, but most tourists and visitors prefer not to travel on a road that may take them to a hospital at the end of the journey, instead of the intended destination, due to bad condition or non-existence of roads altogether.
Government after government, no one seems to understand the importance of good roads. Even if the roads are improved later, it is extremely unlikely that the user who mentioned about bad roads will notice it and update his content accordingly. So information that roads are bad remains permanently and deters prospective tourists.
Some of my experiences with respect to roads in Karnataka:
Hyderabad to Hampi, January 2007: Roads were excellent all through Andhra Pradesh. From the moment we entered Karnataka, bad roads started. Not just for a few kilometres, but the entire stretch totaling 60-70 km. We could have reached Hampi by breakfast time, but it was lunch time when we actually made it to Hampi, resulting in loss of half a day. Heavy duty trucks carrying granite and iron ore were blamed for bad condition of roads.
Status of NH 17, from Mangalore to Kundapur, Mangalore and Udupi district, March 2008: When I had visited, the national highway was in its all time worst condition. When I visited again in September 2008, it was again in the same condition. I learnt that the road was repaired once in between but monsoon spoiled it again.
Why is that we are not able to build a road that can survive for few years? Why blame trucks and monsoon for our inability to lay stronger roads? Aren’t rest of the states affected by rain and trucks? How are they managing?
Nonexistent roads between Talakad, Somanathpura and Shimsa, Mysore, June 2008: Roads leading to above said places were literally nonexistent when we visited during June. A journey of a few kilometres took a few hours—damage to vehicle and discomfort to people is another thing.
Nagarahole Forest road that connects Manthanavady (Kerala) and KD Kote, Mysore-September 2008: While we were returning from Wynad trip, the roads were excellent in Wynad district, but the moment we crossed Karnataka border and entered Nagarahole reserve forest, the nightmare started.
Again no roads at all. Deep pot holes, big rocks, water filled ponds all welcomed us in place of what was supposed to be a road. Localities told us that this road has been in the same condition for the past 30 years.
Can you believe that? Not just one or two places, the entire stretch of 20+ km, as if it is not made for vehicles but for forest animals. We were in a SUV and somehow managed.
What about localities who have to travel on this roads every day? What do they do when they are in emergency situations, say, a medical emergency? We were one-time visitors and could take it as just a bad experience. Imagine the plight of bus drivers who have to drive on these roads every day.
Even the Shiradi ghat road that connects Bangalore and Mangalore, is believed to be in its original bad condition, though it was reformed earlier this year.
Just imagine what impression outside tourists will get when they suddenly see pathetic roads soon after they enter Karnataka (particularly after cruising through nice roads in neighboring states)? Is that a good way of welcoming tourists into the state?
Unless roads are upgraded to world class (that may be too much to expect-shall I say ‘decently motorable’?) tourism will never really take off. Those manning the government and tourism department better understand this. Only good roads in Karnataka currently is the Golden Quadrilateral and the Bangalore-Mysore expressway.
# Stop fleecing parking charges and entry fees: All over Wynad, we had to pay only Rs 10 as four-wheeler parking charges, and even entry tickets were at Rs 10 per head.
On the contrary, most of the places around Mysore-Talakad, Somanathapura, Srirangapatna and others, this amount was more than 2-3 times, at Rs 20-30 per vehicle or even more. After reaching a place with lots of trouble and pain surviving very very bad roads, someone suddenly appears in front and demands 20-30 rupees, it naturally raises a concern: why are we paying this much when there’re no facilities at all?
Also, in places like Srirangapatna and Talakad where there were multiple places within few kms of each other, money was demanded at each places. I don’t think that is fair.
# Place curbs on annoying hawkers and guides: No one bugged us anywhere in Wynad to hire their services, say guides, photographers, hawkers etc. But at many places in Karnataka (Hampi is the worst place in this aspect where entire town is determined to loot the tourists, especially international tourists, as much as possible) guides, photographers and hawkers would surround us the moment we got down from the vehicle and insist that we hire their services.
Even after telling in clear terms that we’re not interested, they would continue to tail us with their special offers/services. This irritates any tourist a lot.
Unethical practices like quoting exorbitant prices, insisting on “little extra” even after paying the previously agreed amount all create a huge negative impression, about the State and its people. On the contrary, there were people giving free assistance inside Edakkal caves in Wynad, who explained about the significance of symbols carved on the rocks.
# Get web savvy: I find Kerala tourism official website more informative, well organized and lively with regular updates and high level of user interaction by means of forums and message boards (these can be improved though), compared to Karnataka tourism website which has a traditional flash animation and some generic info.
# Get responsive: I remember reading Vishveshwara Bhat‘s editorial in Vijaya Karnataka long time ago, as to how Kerala tourism officials promptly responded to him for an article about a place in Kerala within days of its publication. That kind of sensitivity and responsiveness Karnataka Tourism is yet to develop.
By addressing some of these issues, I believe, Karnataka tourism can increase its tourism revenues manifold.