There is a time tested thumb rule that the Japanese chamber of commerce in Bangkok – the second largest overseas chamber of commerce after Shanghai of this far eastern economic giant – considers as an important indicator for investment climate of a country or region. The nation’s businessmen are always on the lookout for – tourist traffic, an important official of this organisation said during a luncheon organised by them for a group of Indian journalists during an ADB conducted tour of some south east Asian countries two years ago. It has been their observation that wherever Japanese tourists flock to, Japanese investors follow he said with an air of poetic license. Unmistakable was the inferred analogy to instinctual behaviours of migratory bird which have inspired poets in the northern hemisphere to pen such lines as: “if the swallows are here, can spring be far behind.” While the natural clocks would remain the same, for those of us bird-watchers in equatorial and semi-equatorial regions, the season indicated by the sighting of swallows would be radically different. In fact if the same poet were from Manipur, he or she probably would have written “If the swallows are here, can winter be far behind.”
The frivolous discourse on poetic similes was just a digression, but the other observation that tourist traffic is normally seen as a litmus test for investment climate is serious. The presumption is, why would tourists want to go to a dangerous place, why would ordinary people with a little money and time to spare on travelling and relaxing take their families to unfriendly places, why would they like to spend their holidays breathing dusts and exposing themselves to diseases, why would they want to go back home with memories of violence and appalling inhumanity. Therefore, the spots that tourists by individual inclination turn to, are generally seen as friendly, beautiful, safe etc, hence the reassurance to investors that they can without undue risks, put in their money in projects that come up there and hope to reap dividends. Obviously then, from our point of view, putting in the extra effort to boost tourism in the state is important not just from the consideration of tourism as an employment and income generating industry in its own right, but also from the second removed, longer term consideration of the positive message an increased tourist traffic sends out to the rest of the world. The issue is relevant and topical too. As reported in local dailies yesterday, the year 2007 has been declared as India-Japan Tourism Exchange Year. Moreover, a tourism festival is being planned in Imphal. What we however must not forget is, we must not be swept by the popular understanding of tourism as an inflow of foreign tourists only. A look at the tourism records of other hot tourist spots in India such as Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Darjeeling etc, will testify that domestic tourists account for a considerable, if not a major part of tourism related revenue generated.
One or two questions in particular would be pertinent at this juncture. First of these is, why would any tourist want to visit Manipur? Adventure tourism, eco-tourism, outdoors etc definitely would be a potential area, but all of these will have to come with a precondition of good law and order situation, and we all know where Manipur is on this front. The other reason tourists flock to a place is to see the uniqueness of a place, its historical relics etc. Manipur is not too poor in this. There is polo and the grounds on which it was played during its feudal period, then are the relics and memories of the World War II, INA and Japanese disaster, the trauma and triumphs associated with these cataclysmic events etc. Surely, if packaged and sold well, there would be plenty of buyers for these. The doubt again is, would Manipur be able to do a good enough campaign? The second question of relevance is, would tourist feel safe in Manipur – safe not only in terms of law and order but also amenities, drinking water, air pollution etc? Would not all the garbage on the roadsides and dust clouds along the streets be deterrents? Would anybody feel relaxed in a puritanical environment where you can end up tonsured for unwinding in the evening over a drink?