Haryana can take the credit for some pioneering initiatives taken to promote tourism in the state. Way back in 1974, when Haryana Tourism Corporation was born, it was decided that Haryana would be developed as a tourist destination and the need of the hour was to provide good quality but affordable hotel accommodation along with all related amenities like dining, travel, tourist guides, souvenir shopping, etc. The objective was to make tourism affordable to all.
Two distinct niches identified at that time were, highway tourism and weekend tourism. Both were very new concepts at the time and Haryana was the first to develop it into a profitable business model. With a rich history and tradition that goes back to the days of Mahabharata, there were several sites in Haryana that had archaeological value. These were further developed as sites to cater to historical tourism.
With its ancient history came a tradition of religion for various communities that has been passed from one generation to the other. Haryana has several such religious sites for most religions and these still have devotees visiting from all over the country. Therefore, some of these sites too were identified to be developed for religious tourism.
In all, the Haryana Tourism Corporation is managing 42 properties across the state.
With Haryana developing as a state, there are several projects promoted by private companies that are catering to the leisure and sport segment and some have brought in a heritage feel to hospitality to add to the aura.
So what is the state of hotels in Haryana today?
With its early history in developing affordable hotel sites at tourist locations, it would have been expected that the tourism flow into and within the state would be flourishing but a closer look at the 42 properties being managed by Haryana Tourism Corporation tells another story.
Haryana has completely failed to bridge the gap between affordability and contemporary tourist expectation, in keeping with the changing times. Today's tourist is well travelled and has experienced all kinds of hotel facilities ranging from budget to luxury, both within the country and overseas. Therefore, the tourist is more demanding of better facilities in rooms, room service, housekeeping and food & beverage. Besides these, they also expect a friendly and courteous staff that makes them feel very welcome.
Unfortunately, the various properties maintained by the government agency falls far short of expectation. The properties are badly maintained and look old. The interiors in most places have not been renovated for a long time. The rooms are in bad shape and general cleanliness is a major issue.
One of the most critical areas that clients are very demanding about is the food and related service. The menu spread in these places is very limited and does not cater to the changing tastes and variety that today's contemporary Indian traveller seeks. The range is even more limited when it comes to catering for international travellers.
As far as the room standard goes, a very good comparison can be made with the motels in USA which are managed by leading hotel chains. They are frugal in facilities offered, yet offer a fairly high standard of room amenities. Therefore, it is not beyond the state government's capability to provide a far better standard of facilities than what is currently being offered.
Then there is the staff at all these locations. Very often one hears of clients reporting about rude and unfriendly staff. This is an issue of mindset, training and attitude. The government has not paid due attention to these, as a result, we have some staff that have been recruited because they were recommended by someone influential rather than on merit.
After all, most private sector hotels, especially those run by established chains, are doing a fine job with their staff, who are also locals from Haryana. The state government has to revamp its approach if it wants to remain in business otherwise these will continue to languish and be a drain on the state exchequer.
Another problem plaguing the government-run hotels is the misuse seen by officials from various departments and politicians who treat these hotels as their personal properties. These people tend to bring undesirable elements to these places and after consuming liquor they end up creating a ruckus, much to the discomfort of the other genuine tourists.
This patronising of government officials and politicians has to end, if affordable tourism in Haryana is to survive. The Hooda administration is very much responsible for the current state of affairs in these hotels, which have seen a steady decline in number and profile of tourists to the state.
In fact it may be a good idea for the state government to explore the possibility of a tie-up with leading hotel chains and get them to upgrade and manage these properties but within an affordable tariff range, so that they remain within reach of the average middle class. Today's traveller is willing to pay but in turn expects a certain standard.
The potential of the private sector in creating top class facilities in hospitality is best seen in properties developed in Karnal (Noor Mahal) which is a top class hotel built with a heritage theme and Hansi (Sheikhpura Kothi) which is a heritage property converted into a top hotel. While these hotels cater to the top end, creating a high quality hotel which is also affordable, is very feasible, especially since all existing properties of Haryana tourism are located in very good spots.
There are so many potential places that can be developed for heritage or archaeological tourism. Besides there are plenty of religious places that can be developed as a religious tourism circuit. All these can create new job opportunities for all those related to the tourism trade in the state.
With India now looking at the Japanese and Chinese investment in the country, there is definitely a case for investing in tourism-related infrastructure in the state. But is the Hooda administration even interested? It has neglected this sector for 10 years, therefore expecting it to wake up now would be futile.
Haryana has great potential for vibrant and dynamic tourism and this potential is being wasted due to the lack of initiative from the Hooda administration that has been in power for a decade.
With political will, a lot can be achieved. After all the Prime Minister has chosen the riverside project along the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, to meet and showcase the project to the Chinese President on his first visit to the city. Can we expect that one day the US President looks forward to visiting one of our 42 properties for Summit level talks?
It's possible but not with this government in power. It will require a Nayi Soch in a Naya Haryana.