Early this month, the Government announced a Rs 27.6 crore package for providing infrastructural facilities at various tourist spots across the State. The money, it has been specified, will be spent on basic amenities in all these areas. The basic premise is good. Given that all the identified tourist spots are almost completely unknown to the world at large, it will bring them some much-needed development. But what of those that are popular destinations at present? They too lack the same infrastructural facilities and whatever there is, it is shabby beyond description thanks to lack of maintenance. So what does the Government propose to do?
The basic amenities that have been defined in the revival package include toilets, lodging facilities, drinking water, dining hall, cloak rooms and approach roads, the last named taking up almost 50% of the overall outlay. Going by the same yardstick, can we say that these facilities exist in the currently popular tourist spots? Are any of the toilets in public places, such as parks, temples and museums, even remotely usable? And would anyone who can afford to stay elsewhere wish to stay in Government constructed ‘lodging facilities?’ Take, for instance, the best known tourist attraction around Chennai-Mamallapuram. Despite its UNESCO-favoured status, it is so poorly equipped with conveniences and other facilities. What there are, were inaugurated with much fanfare and then left to the elements. What is maintained well is kept locked, only to be used by VIPs who, in any case, prefer the private resorts.
The problem with such Government initiated ‘improvement schemes’ is that they do not benchmark themselves against world standards in plan, execution and, above all, maintenance. They are all put up on the basis of PWD standards which, we all know, amount to little. And all this is done at a tardy pace that would make the ancients who constructed our temples wonder if we have progressed or regressed with time. Finally, there is never any maintenance. Given that even broken fittings are replaced based on a tender, they take ages. So to what end these improvement schemes?
There is talk that the powers-that-be are working on a Tourism Policy for the State. This may, therefore, be the correct time to assess what needs to be done. And here are a few points to ponder:
Evolve a public convenience/infrastructure policy for all tourist locations and highway halts (every 100 km) in the State and not just a few. This way, every destination, be it major or minor, will benefit and have the same minimum standards.
Create a standard design for each amenity that is world-class and ensure that this is implemented across all the locations. This is not the present practice which is why replacements and repairs become specialised, leading to delays.
Standard designs must involve standard layouts and signages so that such conveniences are recognised by people. In our State, where literacy standards are varied, this is of utmost importance. It is necessary also to have leaflets distributed at each location informing visitors as to where amenities can be found.
Man these facilities with staff that is trained and recognises that it is performing a service. Currently, recruitment is mostly local and there is just no training. Training must focus on keeping a place spotlessly clean and will become second nature to those trained and those supervising them. The prevalent attitude is more of doing a favour, if there is any one present, and, more often than not, there is nobody present.
Lastly, begin a public service campaign to educate the visiting public that they too have a responsibility to keep these places clean. In our State and in the rest of the country, vandalising of public conveniences is common practice. So is making a mess of them.
Is all this asking for too much? Surely, if we expect to compete against international destinations, we need to set the bar much higher.