Sachin Jadhav, director of Odisha Tourism, makes his presentation. (Photo by arrangement)
The newest air route to India from Bangkok ends in Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of Odisha and it operates flights by Indigo Airlines biweekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
To make this announcement, Odisha Tourism held a highly impressive roadshow at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Bangkok. The day-long event included presentations, panel discussions and many lucky draws.
"India’s best-kept secret" was finally unveiled to the Thais.
The first part of the roadshow focused attention on the stunning Buddhist monuments in the state, a big attraction for Thai tourists. After all, Emperor Ashoka who spread Buddhism to other countries, including Thailand, converted to Buddhism in Odisha, post the war of Kalinga (Odisha’s oldest name).
There are at least 200 Buddhist sites in Odisha and this information excited a large number of travel agents and tour operators who attended the roadshow. They were also pleased to hear of Package Tours from Odisha to the sacred Buddhist sites of Varanasi and Bodh Gaya.
But the Odisha roadshow also highlighted more diverse attractions, such as the beach, Chilika Lake, heritage sites, temples, wildlife, tribal culture, festivals, art and crafts. One was also told of a range of accommodation available, from luxury hotels like the Mayfair and Swosti chains, a heritage boutique hotel, the Belgadia Palace, tribal home-stays like Desika, houseboats, eco-resorts, et al.
It was interesting to speak to Mrinalika and Akshita Bhanj Deo of the erstwhile Mayurbhanj royal family who, after studies abroad, have returned to their hometown and converted 12 rooms of their Belgadia Palace to a boutique hotel, complete with artworks, local cuisine and a Mayurbhanj Chhau performance, not to forget a trip to the village to partake of their art and craft sessions. It reminded me of the beautiful Neemrana heritage hotel and its activities.
The sisters stated that 10 per cent of the tourist revenues went to a foundation to help the villagers. They called it experiential tourism and their 18-acre property has featured in prestigious publications, like Time.
At the other end of the spectrum was Yugabrata Kar’s tribal homestay called Desika, which he called a totally niche product. This was community tourism at its best, where foreign tourist lived in a remote tribal village and interacted with the tribals, experiencing their food, culture and customs. Kar was proud that some of the tribals had completed their schooling and were capable of communicating with European and Australian tourists. The Desika Tribal Homestay has featured in the renowned Lonely Planet.
Meanwhile, the state’s best-known hotelier and travel agent Jitendra Mohanty, of Swosti Group, said that he and his team were planning to build one more hotel, this one for 5,000 guests in Bhubaneshwar. They also planned to build an airport in Puri.
Manoj Gauda of the luxury Mayfair Hotel Group informed that his brand planned to expand outside India soon.
As if to compete with the houseboats of Kerala, V. Srinivas spoke of houseboat accommodation in Odisha’s famed Chilika Lake. The lake gets as many as 300 types of birds, and attracts bird-watchers from around the world.
Most impressive to hear from all these tourism professionals was the outstanding support they received from the state government and reports of the seamless integration of public-private enterprises.
Lokesh Kumar was the project director and team leader of a special team of 15 people, who were constantly researching and developing new tourism destinations in Odisha.
He informed that, during the Covid pandemic, they had had enough time to do plenty of research. "We analysed 340 destinations, and are now studying 60 more," he declared with pride.
"Odisha has it all — there are surprises at every corner," said Sachin Jadhav, director of Odisha Tourism, who, in an excellent presentation, portrayed the diverse tourism attractions of the eastern Indian state. "We have 13 festivals a year, which means one Festival every month! This is certainly a big attraction for foreign tourists," he said.
"Odisha is a microcosm of India," said Indian ambassador to Thailand Nagesh Singh.
According to Indophile and veteran Thai travel agent Somsom Sachaphimukh, who is also the vice-president of the Thai Tourism Council, the new flight from Bangkok to Bhubaneshwar was very timely. "The people of Thailand deserve to see Odissa," she declared.
The Odissa roadshow was organised by the tourism wing of Ficci, who held a similar roadshow in Hanoi after Bangkok.
A timely and superbly-presented roadshow for Incredible India.For more details, check www.odissatourism.gov.in.