It would not be any exaggeration to say that Korean movies, dramas, music and television serials have struck a chord with the people of Manipur, particularly the youngsters. Even Korean hair-styles have become quite popular among many punky youngsters. It was in this backdrop that Republic of Korea’s ambassador to India Cho Hyun expressed keen interest to establish business relations and foster better people to people contact between South Korea and the North East region. While underscoring the crucial importance of enhanced connectivity, the ambassador was quick to pick up tourism sector as a possible booster for trade relations between South Korea and the North East region. Frankly, it came as no surprise when the Korean diplomat picked out the North East region among all the other regions of the country for close people to people contact with his country. There is already some sort of synergy between the Korean contemporary popular culture and the people of the region. Again, there was no element of surprise when Cho Hyun pointed to tourism sector for establishment of a thriving, mutually beneficial trade relation. The region’s tourism potential has been acknowledged and trumpeted time and again yet tourism remains a non-starter in the region so far. One need not delve deep to find out why tourism sector fails to take off in the region. The answer lies in one single sentence, “There is no infrastructure’. Connectivity is still poor as compared to other regions of the country. Intra-regional connectivity as well as connectivity between the North East region and the rest of the country is pathetic. Except for bus service and train service between Tripura and Bangladesh, the region is literally locked away from all foreign countries although it neighbours Myanmar, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
While considering about improving connectivity inside the North East and beyond, it must not be overlooked that the region is landlocked which means maximum emphasis should be given to highway networks. Of late, some of the existing highways have been developed while a few others are under construction. Yet, the overall situation regarding transport networks in the region is quite grim. For instance, Manipur is connected with the rest of the country only by two national highways. Out of the two so-called life lines, one is unreliable for most parts of the year due to incomplete construction works, unfit bridges, landslides etc while the threats of blockades and bandhs always loom large on the other. Though known for its poor infrastructure all along, some infrastructure projects are coming up in the North East region including Manipur since the past few years. Not only the Government of India, even the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and many multi-national companies have shown keen interests to take up infrastructure projects in the region. But a lot more needs to be done before the region finds its rightful place in the world map of tourism. There is no denying the fact that the North East region is economically underdeveloped. For the region to move ahead, the region needs to tap its rich tourism potential. To enable the region tap its tourism potential, there must be adequate infrastructure. Herein lies the pivotal role of the State Governments and the Government of India. Even if there is good transport infrastructure, tourism will remain one non-performing sector until and unless the region is opened to its neighbouring countries. While welcoming Koreans, we should also welcome tourists from neighbouring countries. It would be too far-fetched to expect a thriving tourism sector when the region is kept isolated from its neighbouring countries.