The role of tourism in Assam’s economic development

In today’s world, many countries are actively working to boost their economies through tour- ism.
The role of tourism in Assam’s economic development

 Dipak Kurmi

(The writer can be reached at

In today’s world, many countries are actively working to boost their economies through tour- ism. This is not a new concept, especially for developed nations, which have been using tourism as a means of economic growth for a long time. Tourism serves several important purposes, such as promoting economic development, preserving culture and heritage, supporting environmental conservation, generating job opportunities, fostering self-sufficiency, showcasing national resources globally, aiding infrastructure development, attracting investments, and improving communication networks.

Tourism isn’t limited to any specific product or service; it encompasses a wide range of elements, from small businesses like barbershops and laundries to luxurious five- or six-star hotels. This makes the tourism industry incredibly diverse. It’s a booming sector in many countries, and even smaller nations have successfully boosted their economies by capitalizing on tourism. Some of these smaller countries have done so by preserving and promoting their cultural heritage, harnessing the strength of their ethnic communities, providing tourism as a social service, combining art and commerce, and valuing their unique heritage. Notably, neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, and Thailand have made significant progress in the tourism industry, leveraging their rich social and ethnic heritage and available resources.

The organized history of tourism in Assam may not be very long, but the region has been drawing tourists for centuries. During the six hundred years of Ahom rule and the two hundred years of British rule, many travellers visited Assam. As far back as the seventh century AD, during the reign of Kumara Bhaskarvarma, the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang explored Assam. Analysing the history of tourist arrivals in Assam goes beyond a simple examination. Assam has been a magnet for various tourists throughout history due to its natural beauty, diverse geography, cultural variety, and historical richness from the days of kings and maharajas. When we look at the history of tourism in Assam up to the early 21st century, it becomes clear that the region possesses numerous attractions. Besides its stunning natural features like rivers, mountains, and landscapes, Assam also offers visible and hidden treasures created by its society, making it increasingly appealing to tourists from both within the country and abroad.

The tourism industry has the potential to be a unique and significant resource for Assam’s economic development in the near future. However, the Assam government has yet to tap into various possibilities to attract tourists through artificial means. Currently, tourism is not widely recognised as a major income-generating sector in Assam, but it may become one in time. One of the challenges is the lack of sufficient research and discussion on how the tourism sector can boost Assam’s economy. Due to this gap in understanding, many people are unaware of the benefits that the tourism industry can bring. There is also a lack of dialogue about how tourism can promote unity in society and increase income to drive the state’s progress. In these circumstances, some may point to the poverty of the majority of the population as a reason to avoid investing in tourism. However, it’s worth noting that the tourism industry has the potential to uplift the poor, as it has done in many other countries.

The foremost task in promoting the tourism industry is effective marketing. So, how can we market the tourism industry in Assam? To begin with, we can promote Assam’s tourism resources internationally using various channels such as media, social media, and websites. An essential aspect of tourism development is having a reliable transportation and communication system. Without proper road infrastructure and transportation facilities, a place usually doesn’t attract tourists. Another key factor is having knowledgeable guides who can explain the significant places and resources in Assam to tourists. Additionally, there’s a need for official blogs or information platforms to publicise the attractions effectively. Building positive relationships and cooperation between various government departments is crucial for successful tourism development. While the tourism department can work on beautifying tourist areas and making necessary arrangements, it’s equally important that other roads, including highways leading to these destinations, are well-maintained by the relevant authorities. Ensuring cleanliness is another responsibility. If municipalities don’t keep cities clean or village panchayats neglect their villages’ cleanliness, it discourages tourists from visiting and leaves them with a negative impression. The development of the tourism industry encompasses a wide range of businesses, from barbers, laundry services, and tailors to drivers, hotels, restaurants, shops, banks, insurance, and the overall environment of the area. The tourism department can’t handle all these responsibilities alone. The key to successful tourism development lies in collaboration among all relevant departments and stakeholders.

Developing the tourism industry goes beyond just thinking about luxury five-star hotels to attract tourists. Not every traveller seeks such accommodations. Some prefer spending the night in natural settings like the jungle, while others opt for ordinary hotels to immerse themselves in nature’s beauty. Certain tourists don’t just want to admire rural landscapes; they also desire to engage with local communities and experience agriculture, education, and cultural heritage in villages. These aspects deserve attention for tourism development. It’s important to note that you can’t regulate the behaviour of small hotel owners, restaurant staff, or shopkeepers where tourists go to eat. The psychological aspects of tourism are also significant. Even if those involved in the tourism industry don’t change their attitudes, it’s essential to align their goals properly to ensure successful tourism development, even if the sector itself is beautiful and well-developed.

It’s crucial that the mindset of drivers in a region or area supports the growth of the tourism industry. They need to recognise that tourism and tourists are vital for their livelihoods. Tourists are their primary source of income. Unless drivers, whether they operate cars or rickshaws, believe that the tourism sector is essential for their future, the industry’s goals won’t be met. Everyone involved should focus on how to ensure tourists have a positive experience. Unfortunately, it often seems that many in our society are more interested in taking advantage of tourists than upholding the reputation of the tourism system, the country, the state, and the local people.

The growth of the tourism industry requires a united effort where everyone is aligned towards the common goal of welcoming and supporting tourists in every way. Specifically, the tourism department should create a thorough plan for tourism development. Success in this sector can only be achieved by devising a comprehensive and people-centric strategy for the advancement of all regions within a state and ensuring the effective implementation of this plan.

The most effective way to boost the tourism industry in a state like Assam is to secure cooperation from all sectors of society. To achieve this, it’s essential to raise awareness among the public, and higher education institutions like colleges and universities can play a pivotal role in this endeavor. These institutions have the potential to greatly contribute to promoting Assam’s tourism industry if they choose to do so, but the tourism department should take the lead. In particular, colleges and universities in Assam can help by first creating awareness among the general public. Many of these educational institutions may not even require funding for this awareness campaign, as they may be willing to use their own resources. Some colleges and universities have already taken steps in this direction. Recognising and honouring the best-performing institutions in these awareness efforts can serve as an incentive to encourage and inspire others to join in raising awareness about tourism development.

The primary and most crucial step in developing tourism in Assam is data collection. This entails gathering information on several aspects, such as the number of tourists who visited specific places, the countries they came from, and their feedback or comments about those places. It’s particularly important to understand which districts attracted tourists from various countries and the reasons behind their choices. Additionally, we need to explore the emotional and cultural experiences of tourists and find out why they are interested in the local cuisine of a particular area. Gathering this data will help us make informed decisions and promote tourism effectively in Assam.

To create an annual report, we must gather relevant data. This report will serve as the basis for thorough analysis by government departments responsible for tourism. The goal is to assess whether we are meeting the expectations of tourists in terms of providing a satisfying experience and identify any shortcomings, as reported by tourists themselves. To facilitate this, we should establish data collection centres not only at Assam’s airports but also in every district. Additionally, appointing a Director of Tourism or Tourism Officer in each district is crucial. These officers would have the authority to make decisions at the local level, working towards transforming each district into a tourism hub. Just like Agriculture Officers, Transport Officers, and Forest Officers exist, having dedicated Tourism Officers is essential for the comprehensive development of tourism in the region.

To enhance and better organise the tourism sector in Assam, it is advisable to appoint sub-division tourism officers, or chakra tourism officers, in sub-divisions, along with district tourism officers in districts. This step is essential for the development of tourism, and it is imperative to establish offices in every district, sub-division, and chakra to achieve this goal. Despite the establishment of the Tourism Department in the fifth and sixth decades of the last century, it has remained centralised throughout its existence. Similarly, the Tourism Development Corporation has also not been able to comprehensively promote the tourism industry in Assam due to the lack of decentralised authority. Therefore, decentralising these functions is crucial for the advancement of tourism in the state.

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