Agra Tourism: Facing the challenge of change
It is said that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who have seen the Taj Mahal in Agra, and those who want to. Clearly, everyone – yes, no need to qualify it with “almost” – wants to come to Agra and see the iconic Taj built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan.
But ironically, the city is facing some problems and issues, many of which can be tackled with will and dedication by all stakeholders and the administration. Some of the issues are macro in nature and can be applied in many parts of the world.
During a recent study tour of the city, this correspondent spoke with a cross-section of the players and observers, many of whom felt that it is not a question of money only, as the Taj gives adequate revenue from entry fees, but that money is not ploughed back for upkeep and maintenance of the monument and surrounding areas. Also, receptivity of bodies like the Archelogy Survey of India must increase.
Sunil Gupta, of Travel Bureau, a strong player and keen observer, points out that some of the problems are as simple as the dustbins at the monument are too small for the water bottles that are dumped in after use. Incidentally, giving complimentary water bottles to high-paying foreign visitors was an excellent idea, but surely there was no rocket science needed to make sure the right-sized dustbins were employed to avoid overflow soon after the Taj opens.
In recent years, several lounges and bars have opened in Agra which help prolong the stay of visitors, many of whom use the Yaumuna Expressway to reach Agra from Delhi in a couple of hours.
The city has seen many new hotel chains setting up shop in Agra, which has increased confidence among guests. Domestic traffic also continues to grow.
Arun Dang, a long-time hotelier, feels that lighting of monuments, beautifying flyovers and crossing, and making entry from Jaipur – part of the golden triangle – more friendly will mean a good visitor experience.
Both Sunil Gupta and Arun Dang have headed the TGA – Tourism Guild of Agra – for several years and have taken up causes to help both the community and tourists. It is a unique body, which has helped the industry and locals alike.
TGA is at present headed by Hari Sukumar, Vice President of Operations for Jaypee Hotel and Convention Centre. He is in Agra after several years in the US and other countries. Sukumar is also a pilot and is now piloting the TGA in the Taj city. During the recent elections, election tourism was promoted in Agra, with TGA encouraging tourists to visit the model polling booth set up. Training, hygiene, and food safety are some other concerns of the industry leader.
Weddings and conventions – part of MICE tourism – is also getting the attention of the Taj, Mughalm Oberoi, Sarovar, and other hotels. The Grand Imperial, built in 1904, has been refurbished and has added facilities for weddings and conferences. All suites are also being redone. The cultural show, Mohabat E Taj, operated in season, has been a great success but the sound and light show has had to close down, much to the regret of its stakeholders.
Vivek Mahajan, General Manager for Crystal Sarovar Premiere hotel, says that occupancies have grown but the issue of tariff remains, as the hotels are so far unable to attract a very high tariff. Still, the Sarovar remains popular with its 3 restaurants, spa, kids’ corner, and warm hospitality.
Home to one of the 7 Wonders of India, the Taj Mahal in Agra is a sneak peek into the architectural history of the Mughals along with other structures such as UNESCO World Heritage sites Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. History, architecture, and romance all come together to create the magic of Agra which is almost the lifeline of Indian tourism.