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Unlocking the real value of “India’s Best Kept Secret”

Puri Odisha

Odisha Tourism is on a global mission to publicise the recently opened Indigo air links from Bhubaneswar to Bangkok, Singapore and Dubai, with more cities on the way.

Bangkok, Thailand – In his welcoming remarks at the inaugural Odisha Tourism Roadshow in Bangkok Mr. J.K. Mohanty, Co-Chair of the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Tourism Committee, highlighted the historic significance and value of visiting the East Indian coastal state via its capital, Bhubaneswar. The people of Thailand are Buddhists, he said, but how did Buddhism come to Thailand? He responded to his own question by noting that the Indian emperor Ashoka, deeply distressed by the death and destruction caused by the bloody Battle of Kalinga (B.C. 261-262), underwent what the official roadshow press release called a “reform of … character”.

In other words, Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. This is how an official guidebook of Odisha Tourism describes it…

Odisha

The Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Kalinga also provides a graphic description of the carnage, specially citing its importance as an event of great global geopolitical and spiritual significance. Nearly 2,500 years ago, that lone act by an Emperor ended an era of wars, violence and suffering caused by the mindless pursuit of conquest, power and territory and replaced it with an era of peace and calm.

Kalinga War

Odisha

Following his “reform of character”, Emperor Ashoka dispatched Buddhist monks on missions to Southeast Asia and worldwide. That’s how Buddhism reached Thailand and beyond. Now, thanks to the airline Indigo’s twice-weekly direct flights from Bhubhaneswar to Bangkok, Buddhist devotees can visit the site of the Battle of Kalinga and its commemorative Shanti (Peace) Stupa (pix below).

Odisha

The story of Emperor Ashoka’s conversion is not generally well known in the non-Buddhist world. That it happened in Odisha is truly “India’s Best Kept Secret.” Given the social, ethnic and geopolitical conflicts raging in India, Asia and beyond, it no longer deserves to remain so. In fact, it has become more relevant than ever.

Odisha

Commercial contacts are only a starting point. For Mr Mohanty to have prominently mentioned this Unique Selling Proposition itself is noteworthy. As Chairman and Managing Director of the Swosti Group, Mr Mohanty’s objective, as well as that of all the members of the Odisha tourism roadshow who visited Bangkok in the last week of July, is primarily to attract visitors and boost business. That will come easy. The more challenging — and the most valuable — deliverable will require profound reflection on what Emperor Ashoka did, why and what lessons can be learned in an era when peacemakers are facing extinction.

Odisha Tourism is on a global mission to publicise the recently opened Indigo air links from Bhubaneswar to Bangkok, Singapore and Dubai, with more cities on the way. On July 26, about 130 Thai Tour and Travel Operators held B2B and B2G sessions with Odisha tourism stakeholders. Director of Tourism Mr Sachin Jadhav flagged Odisha’s ancient maritime connection with what was then known as Siam. He said Odisha Tourism is focusing on strategic master planning and development of priority destinations to attract multiple categories of travellers, ranging from backpackers to high-end spenders. Niche tourism offerings include houseboat and cruise tourism, camping, homestays, caravan tourism, culinary tourism and a lot more.

Odisha

Odisha

Sachin Jadhav

Odisha Tourism Director Mr Sachin Jadhav

Speeches lauding the economic and cultural outcomes of the roadshow were made by Indian Ambassador Mr. Nagesh Singh, Vice President, Tourism Council of Thailand, Mrs. Somsong Sachaphimukh and Customer Service Supervisor Indigo Airlines Ms. Prapaporn Junmuenwai. Those were followed by a discussion moderated by the Indian embassy’s First Secretary (Economic & Commerce) Mr. Dharmendra Singh featuring panelists Director Belgadia Palace Mrinalika Bhanj Deo, Managing Director Vikash Eco Resorts Srinivas Valluri, CMD Swosti Group J.K. Mohanty, Secretary Odisha Tour Operators Association Yugabrata Kar, President Mayfair Hotels and Resorts Manoj Gouda and Head PMU Odisha Tourism Lokesh Kumar.

Odisha Tourism delegation

The Indian ambassador to Thailand Mr Nagesh Singh (holding bouquet of flowers) with members of the Odisha Tourism delegation.

Imtiaz Muqbil and Anshuman Mitra

Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil with Anshuman Mitra, Managing Director of One World Thailand and a member of FICCI Tourism Committee.

Just focusing on business and commerce diminishes the true value of the product. The key to unlocking India’s Best Kept Secret and globalising the benefits of that roadshow lies in flipping the value of the commercial-spiritual nexus.

The press release described Odisha as “a land of cathartic spiritual experiences.” What value can be attributed to promoting a better understanding of these experiences? Will a visit to the Peace Stupa and reflection on the Battle of Kalinga lead merely to higher visitor numbers and room occupancies? Or will the visitors themselves, like Emperor Ashoka, become peace-makers, whether as leaders of families, communities, societies, companies or countries?

Will they help reduce conflicts and suffering? Will they improve the state of humanity?

Such questions are sidestepped in Travel & Tourism industry forums; they transgress all its sensitive comfort zones. Today, however, that pre-Covid era mindset is badly in need of a reset. Mr Mohanty clearly reminded the audience that the Battle of Kalinga was the catalyst for the global expansion of Buddhism. As an industry, Travel & Tourism, too, needs to undergo a similar “cathartic spiritual experience”, a “reform of character” to pursue peace, not just profit.

As one of the world’s newest destinations ready to counter its own marketing slogan of being “India’s Best Kept Secret”, this is the wondrous lesson that Odisha can share with the world.

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Imtiaz Muqbil is the Bangkok-based executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire. Born in India, Muqbil lived for many years in the Middle East where he started his journalism career as a stringer for Newsweek magazine and McGraw-Hill World News. He moved to Bangkok in 1978 as a report/subeditor for the Bangkok Post and began covering travel & tourism in 1981, as Thailand Bureau Chief and Chief Correspondent, TTG Asia, PATA Travel News and associated publications (1981-1992). He wrote a weekly column, “Travel Monitor”, in the Bangkok Post between July 1992 – July 2012. Imtiaz Muqbil has conferred a 1997 PATA award for his reporting on the growth and development of Asia-Pacific tourism and another PATA award for coverage of the 1994 tsunami disaster. Between 2017-20, he edited and published The Olive Tree, the first and only publication designed to help Travel & Tourism meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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