The verdant valleys, hills, greenery, and the sheer thrill of romancing the bounties of nature are luring tourists across the country to the picturesque Northeast. Figures are available, and are encouraging: according to Cox & Kings, which deals with various aspects of tourism in the country, tourism in the Northeast is expected to grow by at least 10-12 per cent next year, and bookings for the region have gone up by 18 per cent as compared to the same period (April-June) last year. This increased interest in the Northeast has been attributed to improved infrastructure and air connectivity. Not only have new hotels, both luxury and economic, come up in the region in the recent past, but the intensity of flights from prime cities to the region has also added to the boom of tourism here. Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are the chief attractions. What is interesting is that Arunachal Pradesh, a virgin land if one would call it so, should have figured as prominently in the tourist’s imagination as does Sikkim usually, or for that matter the all-time favourite duo of Shillong and Cherrapunji. Add to this the addition of Assam, long considered a land held hostage to the senseless ULFA violence and hence a region that ought not to be visited. Thanks to the waning of militancy, Assam today seems attired with a new look, though not an fanciful as Sikkim or Meghalaya is, but yet its promise to metamorphose into a tourism attraction seems credible – at least this is what the impression seems to be in the minds of tourists from metros. It has been reported that the residents of Delhi, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad and Jaipur top the list of people desiring to travel to the Northeast. All eager to travel to this hinterland – long neglected, long underrated, long misconstrued – include in their interests not just the usual mode of sight-seeing but also a desire to know about the culture and tradition of this region as also its uniquely exotic and varied culinary offers. At the same time they seem to have adventure tourism in their minds – trekking, rafting, mountain biking, hand gliding, para sailing et al. All of this is refreshing news.
What is nonetheless imperative now is the sustenance of the region’s tourism potential and its mutation into an industry. To put it another way, let the Northeast tourism sector evolve into an industry – a roaring one, a thriving one, a well-sustained one, all of which will doubtless not only alter the perception of the region vis-à-vis its impression of it being a militancy hotbed in the mind of the so-called mainland, but also help generate employment, whose need cannot be overemphasized, given the soaring unemployment rates across the region as well as the fact of the youth being not employable despite employment avenues because he has a mere university degree to showcase without having to have any skills for employment in the 21st-century job market with all its vagaries and uncertainties. This will prove to be a defining factor then – the ability of Northeast tourism to evolve into an industry, Sikkim apart of course, because in Sikkim tourism has already graduated into an industry. And what will define that defining factor is the ability of the governments of the northeastern States to think out of box, to innovate, and to actualize, more importantly, any ideas that have germinated out of box. Take, for instance, the case of tea tourism in Assam. Here lies a huge scope, given the sheer exotica that its many lush tea gardens are. Or, for that matter, take the case of countryside tourism in unexplored places like Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao – the two districts that have everything exotic to offer but which, due either to misconstruction or to the pathetic lack of infrastructure development, fall short of unveiling their true tourism colours. The ball, however, is not just in the courts of governments; it is, as importantly, in the hands of private players too – tourism entrepreneurs, who have come up of late but who still await a good level-playing field, which they deserve too, given the scope it has to contribute to employment generation and thus to the making of a farewell to militancy in its own way.