Soon a heritage cell or a special cell that will address issues relating to heritage tourism in the state may be put in place by the state tourism department, after members of the Heritage Hotels Association-Gujarat(HHAG) recently met with Principal Secretary (Tourism) S J Haider and were assured of the same.
Comprising of erstwhile royal families, entrepreneurs and owners with heritage properties wanting to turn them into tourist destinations, the association has a total of 32 members currently – who have heritage properties including operational and non-operational ones in the state.
Close to 23 members attended the 33rd meeting of the association held in Ahmedabad on Thursday which was marked by absence of any tourism department official. Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Harendrapal Sinh who owns Darbargadh Poshina in Sabarkantha said, “Close to 7-8 of our members recently met with the tourism secretary SJ Haider and he has shown interest in forming a heritage cell or a special cell to address issues of heritage properties. Currently there is no authority to classify heritage properties and the guidelines for them are not spelled out. We want soft loans and a dedicated or nodal officer to interact with the association on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. We are currently readying a common portal for listing all our properties and are also coming up with a common brochure listing all member properties together for wider promotion.”
The association members also made a written representation to S J Haider in April and raised 7 crucial points including amending (tourism) policy draft to classify heritage properties differently from normal tourism projects, notification of heritage properties & future single window assistance, representation of heritage hotel owners in local bodies like zilla parishad committees and in policy making for rural communities, signages and approach road to heritage hotels, representation from tourism department in meets held by the association, inclusion of heritage properties on tourism maps of state, representation of association members in policy framing committees- related to culture and tourism.
Somraj Singh Jhala from Sayla added that while rural tourism and heritage tourism need to be promoted in state, the Gujarat government needs to address needs of heritage properties many of which are between 200 to 400 years old and cannot be clubbed with other hotels and resorts. “Our business is seasonal and we are not operational several months in a year. Due to this the Return on Investment (ROI) on our properties is less. So since heritage hotels operate under different conditions and employ local people, the government should enable soft loans with sufficient gestation period and moratorium on loans, for us.”
Sources said that while the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat (TCGL) officials have asked the HHAG members to sign up for empanelment with TCGL for room bookings and marketing of their property by submitting an EOI (Expression of Interest) by 30th June, few seem to be interested in the same. A member said, “Apart from a fee of Rs 2000 – Rs 5000 per property to be paid, we also have to give 15% commission for every room booking made to TCGL post empanelment. So TCGL is just acting as a marketing body which is not very helpful for us as we need more hand-holding support and incentives in other areas. It doesn’t make much sense for us to go for empanelment and I think it is a ploy to make TCGL to show that it is making profits.”