Has the annual Taj Mahotsava helped promote tourism in Agra? Tourism industry leaders and hoteliers say the ten-day cultural extravaganza has been reduced to a local Mela-Tamasha.
Despite misgivings and the swine flue scare, people in Agra were in a celebratory mood as reflected in the surging crowds at the Taj Mahotsava, which was opened by Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik on Monday at the Shilpgram complex, barely 500 metres from the iconic 17th century monument.
But the event seemed to have failed in attracting foreign tourists.
After a long and cold winter, the city appears to have woken up from its deep slumber; a week after Basant Panchmi, it is time for celebrations with the god of love, Kamdev and St. Valentine still smiling on the romantically inclined to the chirping of birds and fragrance of full bloomed flowers.
Teenagers and those engaged in prolonged courtship look forward to the event which celebrates the spirit of the youth with music, fun and eating out in the open as the cool breeze enlivens the mood.
Tourism officials said a publicity campaign had been launched to keep all hotels and overseas missions informed of the event so that visiting tourists could plan their itineraries accordingly.
Tourism industry leaders, however, say that "though the number of tourists and local visitors to the Mahotsava has been going up, the failure on the part of the organisers to attract foreign tourists calls for a thorough review of our strategies and efforts."
Some tourism industry leaders feel the Taj Mahotsava has made no impact on tourism and has not helped in drawing foreigners. They say the original objectives to organise this fair were not being fulfilled. The fair had got too much localised like some kind of an extended village Haat. It has been reduced to a local mela-tamasha (fun fair) and in no way has helped promote tourism in the city, industry stakeholders say.
The fair lacks a distinct appeal and thrust areas that could interest foreign visitors.
Hoteliers say the tourists fail to get a glimpse of the splendour and opulence of the Mughal era.
Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, said, "Year after year you cannot go on repeating the same old features. The cultural richness of Braj Bhoomi and the Mughal era should be creatively presented and the local artistes should be given an opportunity to showcase their talents."
"It should not remain a government show managed by indifferent bureaucrats. The industry too should share some responsibility," he added.
The annual fair is being organised for 28 years now without a break. It is regular and follows a fixed schedule which is a necessary pre-requisite for advance planning by foreign visitors, and the package of presentations is also more or less fixed.
The number of foreign tourists has been falling each year and the local ambience is hardly "tourist-friendly", said a senior tourism industry leader.
He said there was a clear "disconnect" between government policies, perceptions and the requirements of the tourism industry. Clearly there is lack of planning and of understanding the dynamics of the tourism industry. Though the number of visitors to the Taj Mahotsava has been going up, the failure of the organisers to attract foreign tourists calls for a thorough review of strategies and efforts."