Friday, November 13, 2015

Air India flights from Varanasi to boost Buddhist tourism

BHUBANESWAR: In a boost to Buddhist tourism in the state, Air India on Sunday started operations between Varanasi and Bhubaneswar. The flight will be available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

With 32 passengers, including two foreign tourists onboard, the AI-419 landed at Biju Patnaik International Airport at 2 pm. The flight has 180 seats.

Tourism minister Ashok Panda and secretary L N Gupta gave a warm welcome to the passengers upon their arrival at the airport. The duration of the flight will be 90 minutes. The flight will take off from Varanasi at 12.30 pm and land here at 2 pm. The return flight will leave Bhubaneswar at 2.45 pm and reach Varanasi at 4.15 pm. Fares start from Rs 2,500."A large number of Buddhist tourists from south-east Asian countries visit Varanasi every year. The air connectivity between Varanasi and Bhubaneswar will bring in more tourists from Varanasi to Odisha, which is home to Buddhist destinations such as Ratnagiri-Udaygiri-Lalitgiri, Dhauli Peace Pagoda and Langudi," said Gupta. "We will shortly organize road shows in Varanasi to promote our Buddhist sites. Tour operators in Varanasi will be sensitized about our tourism potential," Gupta said.

Biju Patnaik International Airport director Sharad Kumar said the state government should launch vibrant marketing of the air connectivity between the two cities. "November is peak tourist season in Odisha. Launch of the flight operation at this time is the right moment to promote the state's tourism. Both Air India and the state government advertise the flight schedules," Kumar told TOI.

The question remains whether or not the state government will be able to woo tourists from Varanasi, as it squarely failed to promote the state's Buddhist circuit during the extension of Mahaparinirvan Express, aka Buddhist train in 2013. The interstate special train, which promotes Buddhist tourism and runs through famous Buddhist destinations in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, was extended till Odisha in January 2013. The train, jointly promoted by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and Odisha tourism department, had come to Odisha only once on January 22. The service was discontinued due to poor response from tourists.

"The state government lacks marketing strategies. The Mahaparinirvan Express stopped coming to Odisha as the department failed to promote its potential. We apprehend that the Varanasi-Bhubaneswar flight will also go the same way," said a tour operator.

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