With tourist footfall going up by 23 per cent in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, the authorities have decided to heavily invest in the sector as well as in information technology (IT) to ensure holistic development of the islands, stakeholders say.
"Tourism and It would be our prime focus. At least four lakh tourists come to the islands every year and stay for four days on an average. The amount of money tourists would spend on amenities like drinking water, food and lodging, would be a major boost for the island's economy if the number keeps on increasing," local MP Bishnupada Ray told a select group of visiting mediapersons in this capital of the Union territory.
"Development is needed as it is a secluded place, far from the mainland. However, with proper connectivity and infrastructure, the amount of natural resources and potential the Andamans have, can feed all of India," he added.
According to the Andaman and Nicobar administration, the number of tourists increased by 23 per cent from around 3.25 lakh in 2015 to over 400,000 in 2016.
"The administration does not levy any tax on the tourists. With the boom in tourism, the revenue that would come from the food and hospitality sectors would certainly benefit the region's economy," Chief Secretary Anindo Majumdar told IANS.
"According to our estimate, from the tourism sector alone, the government would earn revenues of nearly Rs 400-500 crore ($61-77 million) every year," he said.
The archipelago, endowed with picturesque landscapes, sterling beaches and nature's generous gifts, is eyeing a sustained flow of high-end tourists.
"Promotion of tourism, including high-end tourism, in a sustainable manner is one of the developmental priorities of the administration," Majumdar said.
The islands -- nearly 1,300 kilometres west of the Indian mainland in the Bay of Bengal -- are a tourists' paradise. The Union territory comprises 608 emerald islands with exotic names, out of which only 31 are inhabited. It overall enjoys a whopping 94 percent of forest cover.
One can laze around the enticing beaches at Havelock Island, or Ross and Smith -- the twin islands joined by a bewitching sandbar. Sea-bathing and sun-basking at the Corbyn's Cove beach helps one to unwind and de-stress while the Hilltop Gallows on Viper Island and Port Blair's Cellular Jail are sure to overwhelm visitors with a sense of patriotism as the clock ticks back to the days of India's freedom struggle.
The majority of tourists visit Port Blair, Ross and Havelock, which are home to various adventure sports like scuba diving, snorkeling and sea-walking.
Havelock, probably the most coveted tourist destination for its famous Radhanagar and Laxmanpur sea beaches, stands tall among all the islands, that are far less accessible for the majority of tourists.
Ray said massive infrastructural development has taken wings for the expansion of National Highway 4 that would connect north, middle and south Andamans.
Also the civilian and army airports are being upgraded and the number of flights from the mainland as well as within the islands would significantly increase in the near future under the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) flight scheme.
Conceding that building heavy industries in the islands was difficult due to its distance from the mainland, Ray said a massive Rs 1,102 crore project for laying an undersea optical fibre cable (OFC) between Chennai and Port Blair will open up new horizons for the IT sector.
"We are also focusing on building the Andamans as an IT hub as the fibre optic is coming from the mainland. All the major islands like Port Blair, Havlock, Long Island, Diglipur, Rangat, Nicobar would get the benefit of internet in the coming days."
(Milinda Ghosh Roy visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the invitation of the Press Information Bureau. He can be contacted at email@example.com)