Tourism is considered as an important industry which has vast scope for the generation of income and employment. It is also considered as one of the world’s fastest-growing industries. Assam is the pioneer state in the North-East region of India and shares her border with Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and also shares the international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Assam is well blessed with nature and is the treasure trove of various economic resources. Tourism has a greater potential for generating income and employment opportunities because Assam has its unique natural beauty with flora and fauna, historical monuments, wildlife sanctuaries, pilgrim centre, ethnic cultural heritage, and biodiversity-rich geographic areas.
It includes 5 national parks, 18 wildlife sanctuaries, 3 tiger reserves, 5 Elephant reserves, 2 biosphere reserves and 2 World Heritage sites (source-Assam Year Book). Moreover, the state has many spots of scenic beauty which can attract tourists from all over the world. The world’s largest river island Majuli, hill stations like Haflong, Jatinga, Maibong will encourage the tourism industry in Assam to a greater aspect. Besides, Assam is a homeland of various ethnic tribes and groups each having its own cultural heritage, so cultural tourism has a broader scope in the state.
The whole tourism potentialities of the state can be grouped together under the following categories-
The dense forests of Assam, its flora and fauna, waterfalls, and wildlife include many endangered and threatened species like One-Horned Rhino, Hoolock gibbon, red-headed vulture, Assamese day gecko, the Golden Langur, Tokay gecko, black soft-shelled turtle, narrow-headed soft-shelled turtle, elongated tortoise brown tortoise, etc. The national parks, numerous wildlife and bird sanctuaries are working very hard to protect these species. But the problem of poaching is quite rampant in the state.
Assam is the land of diverse ethnic groups with a host of cultural heritage. Each of the tribes possesses some unique features in its socio-cultural life including customs, beliefs, language, religion, culture, festivals, food habits, songs and dances. The state’s tourism department also organizes various cultural festivals like Tea Festival, River Festival, Rongali Festival, Dihing-Patkai Festival, and Elephant Festival.
Assam has many ancient monuments, temples, and shrines including the famous Kamakhya Temple, Mahabhoirav Temple, Ambubachi Mela, ‘Satras’ of Majuli- which is a major Vaishnavite centre, Poa Mecca, Bardwa- the birthplace of the Bhakti saint Srimanta Sankardeva, numerous historical monuments of the Ahom Kingdom from Sivasagar such as Rang Ghar, Kareng Ghar, Siva Doul, etc. These places have the potential to attract large numbers of tourists.
The pristine hills, difficult terrains, valleys, high current rivers, and forests offer ideal opportunities to the adventure lovers to go for adventure sports activities like rock climbing, trekking, para-sailing, water sports, river rafting, angling, etc. An annual angling competition is held at Bhalukpung-Potasali side every year in November in which Indian and foreign tourists participate.
Despite the presence of the above opportunities, no perceptible change has been seen in this sector of the economy. There are however several reasons for this. Some of them are described below:
An extremely poor communication network, lack of infrastructure facilities like good hotels and tourist lodges, clean and hygienic food, weak telecommunication infrastructure etc. have restricted the growth of tourism in the state. Most of the places of tourist attraction are not located near national highways and approachable roads are in bad condition. This is a strong discouraging factor which acts against a good inflow of tourists. Besides, polluted environment, political instability etc. have been hampering the expected development and promotion of tourism in Assam.
The media often tends to focus on the ethnic conflicts and underdevelopment of the state neglecting the pioneering development efforts made in the region. It has been engraved in the minds of foreign and domestic tourists by the media that nothing significant is happening in the region other than violence, bomb-blasts, kidnappings, extortions, etc. The foreign and the domestic tourists consider it risky to visit this part of the country, in view of the prevailing law and order situation. The general impression has been that any foreign or domestic tourist could be a soft target of the insurgents.
The most effective way of removing this negative impression is to make the tourists visit the region by providing them protection from insurgents and local thugs and explore this unexplored paradise. Regional media can play a vital role in removing the negative impression of the tourists
Assam virtually does not have any trained guides placed in important places of tourist attraction. Consequently, as the tourists arrive at such places, there is hardly anyone to satisfy their inquisitiveness.
The Department of Tourism initiated a program to train tourist guides. The effort did not yield good result as most of the trainees left the job. Some of them found other means of livelihood while others found the pay to be less pay because of the poor inflow of the tourists to the state.
There is a palpable lack of coordination among several agencies, like the Department of Tourism and the Department of Archaeology, in handling the demands of the tourists in the places of both historic and religious importance. There is virtually no coordination between various public industries and private sectors like tea industry, oil, and coal on one hand, and the Department of Tourism or Assam Tourist Development Corporation (ATDC) on the other. This is definitely a major bottleneck for the tourism industry.
There are several other reasons for the underdevelopment of the tourism industry in Assam. Some immediate, as well as long-term measures, should be taken to remove the obstacles which are disturbing the socio-economic and political set up of Assam.
For this, the Government should make huge investments to break the geographical isolation and remove communication bottlenecks from the state. A proper tourism development policy is the need of the hour and for this, the government should make a thorough survey in the state. The newly formulated Assam Tourism Policy 2017, is an appreciable decision in this direction. Moreover, an honest and strong will of the government coupled with people’s hearty co-operation will definitely boost the tourism industry in Assam in the near future.