Post-tsunami tourism valuation in the islands:
Tsunami of Dec 26, 2004, which ravaged 38 islands of the archipelago, including the inhabited islands, was a serious blow to fledgling tourism. More than 3500 persons were reported dead or missing and more than 50,000 people were affected. About 10,000 houses were destroyed and incursion of sea water ruined about 10,000 ha of agricultural land. The annual tourist arrival in the islands, which was below the figure of 50,000 in late nineties; started growing continuously in the years just before tsunami and the tourist arrival figure was around 1.10 lakh in 2004 but the tourism sector suffered a serious setback in 2005 due to tsunami and barely 30,000 domestic tourists visited the islands. Due to intensive efforts of A & N administration, a tourist boom is underway in the islands at present with Port Blair as the fulcrum. Prior to tsunami, mainly in the late nineties; hardly ten percent of the tourists used to visit tourist spots outside Port Blair city. Earlier tourists used to visit the islands mainly between Oct. to Feb months, but now they are arriving throughout the year, thanks to the wider publicity and campaigns by the Directorate of Tourism, information and publicity of the islands. At the same time tourists are arriving in droves at Port Blair and more than two thirds of them are traveling out to the outer places of tourist interest in these islands like Havelock Island for its serene beaches, Baratang Island for Mud volcano and peculiar luminous limestone caves, Diglipur for Saddle peak, Mayabunder for Karmatang beach and Rangat for Curtbert bay beach. Tourist arrival is gradually increasing after tsunami and has touched the annual figure of 1.46 lakh in 2007 . Other reason for tourist influx might be that some public sector undertakings like Steel Authority of India have announced policy of air travel between mainland of India and Port Blair for maximum categories of their employees during leave travel concessions (LTC). Otherwise, LTC can be availed of only for travel by train or ship ( 2007). Travel costs to these islands from mainland India have remained almost constant after tsunami in comparison to the years 1997-01, in spite of world wide upsurge in fuel charges. Main reason for this miracle seems to be better availability and stiff competition among various airlines operating at present and the concept of apex fares, which was not available before 2002-03. The point to be emphasized here is that the travel costs remaining almost same whereas average number of tourists increasing to almost three times during the calendar years of 2006 and 2007 in comparison to the years 1997-2001 . Therefore annual tourism recreational value of the islands which was estimated as Rs. 25 millions during 2001-02, might be safely pegged at Rs. 75 millions in the year 2007-08 i.e. three times than that estimated before tsunami.
Discussion and Conclusion:
The Andaman and Nicobar islands have a natural, untapped beauty that is simply enchanting. The turquoise blue sea, talc-like beaches and shear richness of tropical flora & fauna are the necessary ingredients available for a booming tourism industry. The administration has to frame proper policies to develop adequate infrastructure for realizing the tourism potential. Prior to India’s independence, these islands were known as “Kala Pani” (dreaded black waters for torturing freedom fighters of India by the British) but now A & N administration is determined to bridge the geographical gulf between the islands & the mainland India by creating an infrastructure that would attract both middle class & high-end tourists to these islands and at the same time administration is committed to both revenue & employment generation through tourism (2007). There are certain gaps to be filled up urgently by the administration for sustainable development of tourism in these islands. The most important is about overcoming the water scarcity problem, especially during January to May months. In spite of receiving an average annual rainfall of about 3500 mm for more than two hundred rainy days; scarcity of water for the residents and tourists at Port Blair during lean period is a sad situation. Disposal of solid waste of the Port Blair city is another major issue to be sorted out; otherwise water/air pollution is bound to eat up all sort of paradise beauty of the islands. Village based eco-tourism has tremendous potential in these islands. Raw material for construction of eco-friendly tourist huts in the coconut and areca nut orchards in and around Port Blair is available in plenty. Local people/settlers having farm and orchard lands can be encouraged by local administration for this venture by providing appropriate subsidy for attracting domestic and foreign tourists for staying in eco-friendly huts located in palm groves and to have a feel of sincerity & serenity of village life in the islands. Location of such huts (over private lands) adjoining tropical rain forests would provide a wonderful opportunity to nature lovers for observing rare endemic birds, animals, butterflies etc. of the islands. The lesser number of tourists who can pay more and emphasized need for good and high-value resorts, for this kind of strategy to succeed, connectivity to Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur was also essential and that way the profile of tourists visiting islands could be changed. An example from Phuket city of Thailand, which is hardly 45 minutes flight distance from Port Blair but still not connected, is worth mentioning. The economy of this island city is wholly dependent on tourism. Tsunami of 2004 caused lot of damage to this city but the beauty of Phuket’s beaches, different islands, National Parks etc. was restored very quickly, thanks to the timely and untiring efforts of Thai government and citizens. Phi-Phi Island of this city is one of the most attractive islands in the world. Main reason being minimal use of vehicles and people use bicycles for local traveling. Pollution is almost absent and this helps in maintaining island’s beauty( 2008). A & N administration and local political parties need to take a clue from this example and at least three to four islands in this region must be maintained as vehicle and pollution free. This will attract better quality tourists who can pay more and local people can be compensated suitably by the administration for this act of providing pollution free atmosphere and attractive beaches to the tourists. Though tourism value of these islands has increased considerably after tsunami, a lot remains to be done to achieve sustainable and progressive tourism in near future.
This article credited by,
Arid Forest Research Institute