A watershed year for tourism in Agra (IANS Special: 2014 in retrospect)

Agra Dec 30 (IANS) The collective efforts of the state and the central governments in 2014 have begun yielding positive results for Agra’s tourism industry which had seen a low for past several years, as nothing seemed to be moving ahead.

The launch of e-ticketing facility at the fag-end of the year came as a boon for foreign tourists, who are now saving a lot of time and uncertainty. Tourism sources said online booking of tickets will effectively check ticket reselling. Though the number of foreign visitors fell by around 59,000, this year, tourism industry leaders feel the momentum will pick up in the remaining three months of the current fiscal.

Work on the Taj Ganj beautification project costing around Rs 140 crores is continuing and separate cycle tracks are being constructed for tourists.

Two new star hotels opened in December, increasing the number of rooms now available to in the city.
“While the number of rooms in the city hotels are increasing, we witness a trend towards same day return to Delhi due to the opening of the Yamuna Expressway. With the high speed train to Agra about to start any day now, the trend will be further strengthened,” Sandeep Arora, a hotelier of Taj Ganj, told IANS.

The state government has already launched its ambitious Agra-Lucknow Expressway project with a 22-month deadline. Work has simultaneously started in several stretches.

Work is in progress on the Sanjay Khan-sponsored Theme Park on the Firozabad road as land is now being acquired for the sprawling 1,000 acre project that will give tourists a good reason to stay back in Agra.
Despite the tragic death of lions, the Etawah Safari and the Chambal crocodile sanctuary in Bah tehsil of Agra have already begun attracting tourists.

The state government’s bold decision to cut VAT on aviation fuel from 25 percent to four percent is likely to prove a major attraction in coming months to divert the flights to Agra. This will prove a major boost to the tourism sector, as lack of air connectivity was proving a major hindrance.

Work on a new terminal for the Kheria airport has begun as around 55 acres of land is being acquired by the state government for the Airports Authority of India in Dhanauli village.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) chose 25 protected monuments for special attention this year. Both the Taj and Fatehpur Sikri are in the list for streamlining of facilities and addition of new attractions.

At the local level, the Agra Municipal Corporation has announced its plan to make historical monuments totally polythene free from January 1, 2015 and step up its cleanliness drive.
The Mehtab Bagh area at the rear of the Taj Mahal is presently being spruced up and beautified, as a large number of tourists like to see the Taj from the other side of the Yamuna. This area is being particularly patronized by film makers who keep shooting their films at this location.
The ASI has received the green signal from the Supreme Court to clear the debris from the controversial Taj corridor and green the 80 acres of waste land acquired from the river bed. This could be a major attraction for tourists between the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.
However the law and order situation continues to remain worrisome, as a number of tourists became victims of criminals. The police now is stepping up its efforts to sanitize the whole tourists complex area along the Fatehabad road to the Taj Mahal. The new police chief has ordered that cops will go to the tourists instead of tourists coming to the police stations.
Lead Agra, a voluntary group launched an educational programme to train ‘lapkas’ (unofficial guides) in etiquette.

As the year ends, tourism industry seems embarked on a positive path for the coming year, numerous problems notwithstanding.
“The city, as a whole, presents a negative profile and a rather unfriendly posture towards tourists. This mindset must change and people should understand tourism is everybody’s business,” senior hotel industry leader Surendra Sharma told IANS.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])