The COVID pandemic has impacted the economic activities gravely and tourism is one among the worst affected. To overcome the challenges, the Government of Uttar Pradesh has come up with new Culture Policy which is expected to boost spiritual, adventure, culture & heritage and eco-tourism in the State, says Mukesh Kumar Meshram, Principal Secretary, Tourism and Culture Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh in an exclusive interview with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN).
What steps, the Government of Uttar Pradesh, is taking to reverse the impact of COVID-19 on tourism?
People seek answers to history, spirituality, culture, etc. and Uttar Pradesh serves it best, hence, it is said, “If you haven’t seen Uttar Pradesh, you have seen nothing.” However, with time we have been lagging behind in projecting UP’s vibrance and therefore the tourist attraction has dimmed. Today, the majority of tourism in the State is restricted to Agra. Moreover, in Agra, the tourists stay for a day or two at the most wherein they only visit a few places in the city and do not visit other tourist attractions nearby. This is another challenge and we are trying to improve and find ways out to bring back tourists.
This year our theme is ‘Rural Tourism’ and we have great potential in this subject. We are looking forward to developing tourist spots along the banks of the Ganga river wherein the tourists can experience nature’s touch and can enjoy their stay. Such tourism also helps in leading a healthy lifestyle which is the need of the hour. We will ensure that only organic food with no pesticides or fertilizers is made available at these places to enhance the health factor for the tourists. Also, fresh cow milk, straight from the farms, will be available as it is rural and eco-tourism that we are targeting. Such tourism will be a medium for people to go ‘back to basics’ or back to nature and feel revived. Therefore, today people need to step out of the mainstream and crowded areas and visit rural areas which can offer them an abode in the lap of nature.
If we talk about health, over 50 per cent of diseases are psychosomatic which are caused due to unhealthy lifestyle, stress, restlessness, anxiety, etc. So, the way we are developing rural or eco-tourism, it will offer tourists a healthy and stress-free lifestyle. There are spiritual aspects that are inculcated for tourists like moring prayers at the banks of Ganga, yoga, meditation, etc. Also, for spiritual or religious tourism, Uttar Pradesh offers various circuits like the Ramayan circuit, Mathura and Vrindavan, Sarnath, Prayagraj, Kashi, Varanasi, Jain Circuit, Buddhist circuit, Sufi circuit, etc. Furthermore, the State is developing culture and heritage tourism and adventure tourism for youngsters and enthusiasts.
One of the successful examples of how UP has been developing tourism is a recent status, wherein, it was seen that most tourists visited Uttar Pradesh in the year 2019. And, in the year 2020, as on October 19, the State was named second most visited. As many as 53,58,55,162 Indian tourists and 47,45,181 foreign tourists visited the State in 2019. This achievement can be attributed to the recurring efforts by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led Government of Uttar Pradesh.
Kindly shed some light on the new Culture Policy.
Tourists tend to visit old monuments, temples, popular markets for authentic food and clothes, museums, ecological parks, forests, rivers, etc. So, the new culture policy is an effort to bring together the heritage, tourism and the culture to provide tourists a feeling of completeness with all the three factors combined. Therefore, we are adding the cultural aspects to the tourist spots so that the visitors can experience the real Uttar Pradesh. One cannot expect the tourists to stay longer just to see the monuments so the cultural activities like food, music, dance, art, plays, craft, fairs, etc. become an added advantage for the tourists.
Can culture policy contribute to the economic recovery? How does enhancing tourism help economic bounce back?
Yes, the culture policy will definitely contribute to improving the economic scenario. Through the new culture policy, artisans, performing artists and many more will get employment opportunities. As of today, many of the artists, who do not belong to a well to do family, are struggling to keep their art alive due to lack of apt opportunities. These people are managing their daily household expenses by working as labourers or involving in other such odd jobs. And, the COVID pandemic-induced nationwide lockdown weighed on their agony.
Hence, the policy will be a new beginning for such artists who have been keeping the culture and tradition of UP alive. Moreover, it has been observed that when the State and society join hands together, the results are more benefitting for all. The work of the government is to facilitate or provide apt infrastructure and opportunities, while, NGOs, activists or public agencies should come up to own such facilities to do good for people and good for society. CSR initiatives, PPP models are some successful examples of such an approach.