India’s maritime potential is huge and unexplored. The country has a 7516 km coastline, a 23 lakh sq. km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and 1382 offshore Islands and islets. A majority of these islands lie in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep.
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands float in splendid isolation in the Bay of Bengal. The picturesque undulating islands and islets are covered with rain-fed, damp and evergreen forests, endless varieties of exotic flora and fauna and have pristine beaches. These islands also host historically significant landmarks namely Cellular jail, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island, Viper Island, Hopetown and Mount Harriet.
The islands have been declared as two of the 218 Endemic Bird Areas of the world having more than 270 species and sub-species of birds. The islands have 96 wildlife sanctuaries, nine national parks and a biosphere reserve. Andaman & Nicobar Islands is indeed an ideal destination for lovers of island tourism, beaches, ecotourism, wildlife and history.
Lakshadweep, on the other hand, is one of the world’s most spectacular tropical island systems offering a precious heritage of ecology and culture. The unique features of the islands are its coral reef and a huge area of lagoon spread over 36 islands that offer excellent potential for water sports like swimming, wind surfing, diving, snorkelling and kayaking.
The islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep have a strategic advantage for being developed into exotic destinations. With Andaman & Nicobar Islands having proximity to established tourist destinations of South East Asia namely Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore and with Lakshadweep close to Maldives, Colombo and Dubai, the islands have a huge potential to emerge as one of the leading island tourism destinations in the world.
However, the tourism potential of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands remains grossly untapped and unexplored. Andaman & Nicobar Islands received four lakh domestic tourists and 15,000 foreign travellers during the year 2016.
The number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in Lakshadweep during 2016 was a meagre 752 and domestic tourists only 8716. While Andaman & Nicobar Islands registered an impressive growth in domestic tourism almost to the tune of 30 per cent in the year 2016 over 2015, Lakshadweep on the other hand recorded a decline by 35 per cent in the arrival of both foreign and domestic tourists. There are many reasons for tourism remaining untapped on these islands. The islands are still not well connected to the outside world.
There is a huge deficiency of core and tourism infrastructure and the islands have also not been promoted well. The Ministry of Tourism sanctioned a project for Rs. 42.19 crore in 2016-17 for development of tourism infrastructure in Andaman & Nicobar, comprising Long island, Ross Smith Island, Neil, Havelock Baratang Island and Port-Blair under the Coastal Circuit of Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
There is, however, a need for making huge investments not just in the development of core infrastructure like construction of airports, jetties and internal roads but also in the accommodation sector, namely hotels and resorts, on the lines of well-known island destinations around India namely Seychelles, Mauritius and Maldives.
Maldives today attracts 1.5 million international travellers. Island Tourism in Maldives started with just two resorts in 1972. At present there are over 105 resorts located on different islands of the Republic. Seychelles is another success story. More than 3 lakh foreign travellers visited the archipelago in 2016. Island tourism in this country contributes more than 50 per cent to its GDP and about 70 per cent to total foreign exchange earnings. Mauritius is another leading island destination visited by more than 1.5 million international travellers during 2018.
India, today, receives more than 10 million foreign tourists every year. As per India Tourism Statistics Report around 62 per cent of the total Foreign Tourist Arrivals come for leisure, holiday and recreation. Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands can be promoted as a new destination for leisure holiday and recreation to global tourists.
Tourists from Russia, USA and European countries are avid beach lovers and could be major source countries to be tapped for promoting tourism in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. The islands have great potential to attract domestic tourists in large numbers. With India emerging as an attractive cruise tourism destination, the development of these islands will complement each other. Once seaport infrastructure is developed at Andaman and Lakshadweep, the islands can be part of the sea cruise circuit as ‘port of call’ for international cruise liners. Further, cruising between seaports of mainland India and Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands can be a game-changer for cruise tourism in India.
Holistic and sustainable development of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands has now caught the attention of the Union Government and NITI Aayog. The decision of the Union Government to develop these Islands into a world class tourist destination will be a new milestone for India Tourism. The Union Government’s aim is to take up holistic and sustainable development of the islands by:
• Developing basic and support infrastructure to support socio-economic development
• Providing fast, reliable and cost effective connectivity – Intra & Inter Islands
• Taking up capacity-based tourism and economic activities, and
• Promoting green energy, fisheries and job creation for islanders
The Government has drawn broad contours of developing the islands and has taken steps to place well-defined institutional structure with an ‘Island Development Agency’ as the apex body, NITI Aayog as steering body, Union Territory Administrations as Concessioning Authorities and ANIIDCO & SPORTS as project management agencies.
A final site potential development report has been prepared for four islands in Andaman & Nicobar namely, Smith, Ross, Long and Aves islands and five islands in Lakshadweep namely Minicoy, Bangaram, Thinnakara, Cheriyam and Suheli Islands. Among these islands, six eco-tourism projects for private sector participation have been identified on Andaman & Nicobar, with three projects on Smith, Aves and Long Islands, two projects on Little Andaman and one project on Neil Island. Among the identified islands of Lakshadweep, five ecotourism projects are in the pipeline with three projects on Kadmat, Minicoy and Suheli and two water villa projects on Minicoy and Suheli islands.
While Central Govt and NITI Aayog are geared up to invite private players for ‘Ready to launch’ projects on the identified islands, they are also on the way to prepare required infrastructure and connectivity projects for these islands. To augment sea connectivity, the government is preparing projects for improvement of an existing jetty on Long Island and developing a yacht marina on Public-Private-Partnership mode. A roll-on/roll-off ferry project, also on PPP mode, is under consideration to boost sea connectivity. Steps to improve road connectivity on the island include Andaman Trunk Road, connecting Port Blair to Middle and North Andaman, and construction of Humphrey Strait bridge.
Construction of the airport at Minicoy in Lakshadweep by Indian Air Force, is one of the major initiatives to develop air connectivity with the islands. The Government also aims to make Diglipur airport operational for civilian aircrafts; reviving sea plane operations under UDAN Scheme; forming an air circuit comprising Port Blair, Car Nicobar, Campbell Bay and Diglipur Airport; bringing Car Nicobar, Diglipur and Campbell Bay airports under Regional Connectivity Scheme (UDAN) and using existing helipads to promote heli-tourism. The Government has also prepared plans to improve digital connectivity by augmentation of satellite bandwidth and extension of incentives, as contained in Industrial Policy for North East, to both Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands.
Island Tourism in India is ready for launch. The strong resolve of the Indian Government to ensure holistic and sustainable development of the Indian islands is loud and clear. The constitution of ‘Island Development Agency’ under the Chairpersonship of the Union Home Minister is an indicator of intent, vision and focus of the Government towards development of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands into world class tourism destinations.
India’s island territories have so far been under-explored and untapped engines of growth. The focus on the development of these islands will foster growth of tourism in the region, invigorate the economic potential of the islands and provide new job opportunities to the inhabitants in these islands. The day is not so far when India with such a large treasure of island territories will emerge as a leader in the world in the area of Island Tourism outpacing other island destinations in the Asian subcontinent.