This one we have heard before, in fact, many times before, that we have our crown jewels hidden under the sea, off the eastern coast. These are the many islands that have gone undeveloped for decades. This time, however, looks more serious. With the PM personally sitting on a review meeting, convened by NITI Aayog, along with Home and Tourism ministries, the chances are something will get off the ground before the next elections.

Under the government’s plan for holistic development of islands across the country, the Restricted Area Permit Regime (RAPR) has been relaxed and 12 islands, yet off-limits for tourists, have been selected in the first phase to be thrown open, each with an identified carrying capacity, ensuring that development does not intrude upon the ecologically sensitive islands. “Since Lakshadweep is an ecologically sensitive area, great care has been taken in planning the measures. Each island will have its unique features, from fishing to agriculture and development of medicinal plants. We want to showcase Lakshadweep as a jewel in India’s crown,” Balraj Meena, Director Tourism was a quoted as saying to a leading English daily.

Transport and web connectivity will be ensured, private participation with be sought, for opening up tourism and related activities, with an eye on empowering local communities with a livelihood. A private-public partnership package has also been developed and ecologically-friendly resorts and scuba-diving centers have been invited to set up shops by the UT administration.

India’s search for new tourism products could well begin south. The neighbouring Maldives has struck riches after creating high-end facilities for the well-heeled. Sri Lanka is catching up, too. Lakshadweep could well mark a new beginning. Along with the reversal in Lakshadweep fortunes, this development could benefit tourism in cities across Kerala that have a direct air-connectivity to Agatti, besides the sea connectivity from the state through its numerous ports. Denser traffic could also mean longer stays by travelers in popular destinations in the southern state, bringing additional benefits to local stakeholders across the board.

Tourism can be big business. The fact that we start late, could also ensure that we learn from what others have done and do it right, the first time.