Ministry of Shipping is spearheading the excercise to convert some noted lighthouses in the country into vibrant tourism products. This could well be yet another manifestation of the NDA government’s intent and commitment to add new dimensions to the Indian tourism profile. In a country where innovative ideas to promote tourism have been few and far between, the proposition to add on tourism components to some of the existing lighthouses in the country is subtly taking a concrete shape and some noticeable action is clearly in the offing.Pushed by the Union Shipping and Road Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari, the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (which is spearheading the move) is ready with its first list of lighthouses which have been spotted as potential tourism products and where surrounding land will be offered to the potential investors for addition of tourism specific components.
“Our first list comprises as many as 78 lighthouses spread across 12 states and union territories. We have already undertaken the feasibility study of 15 lighthouses which are expected to comprise the first bunch to draw investment. We are soon kicstarting a series of Road Shows to explore development of tourist facilities around the lighthouse by the potential investors,” Captain A M Surej, Director General, Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships told Tourism First in a recent exclusive conversation. 15 lighthouses where feasibility study has already been undertaken include: Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari & Muttom, Kadalur Point, Agauda, Dolphin Nose, Chandrabagha, Gopalpur, False Point, Dwaraka, Verawal, Minicoy Kanhojee Angre and Sunk Rock. In the list of 78 lighthouses which have been identified by the Directorate, 12 are in Gujarat, 11 in Maharastra, 4 in Karnataka, 8 in Kerala, 10 in Lakshdweep, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 1 in Puducherry, 6 in Andhra Pradesh, 5 in Orissa, 2 in West Bengal and 12 are in Andaman & Nicobar Islands (see the accompanying chart). The list also includes 34 island lighthouses which are also covered by the ambitious Sagarmala Project of the government. Quite a success and generally considered to be unique products in many European countries, the idea of lighthouse tourism was first mooted about fourteen years ago. “The idea of developing lighthouses as a popular tourist spot came when the 47th parliamentary standing committee on transport and tourism observed in 2001 that lighthouses in the country can be beautified for the development of tourism without changing their basic character of helping the mariners and local fishermen. That cardinal principle stays in its place now that we are trying to turn the proposition into a reality,” Capt. Surej underlined. The present dispensation has given its verdict for developing these projects under the public-private-partnership (PPP) mode. As per the proposed arrangement, while the land provided by the government would become its equity, it will be leased out to the private parties for the addition of tourism components for a minimum specified period. “It is difficult at this stage to say how much of land will be released on lease. In some lighthouses, the area offered could be just half an acre. But in some other places, especially 17 lighthouses created during the British era, the offering could be fair enough in size for tourist facilities,” responded Captain Surej when pressed to quantify the size of the land parcel which the government plans to release for the development of lighthouses as tourism products. For eight lighthouses, the Directorate is expected to invite Request for Quotation (RFQ) from the interested parties. But for the rest, the usual mode of bringing in private investment would be through direct interaction with them wherein the potential investors would have to present a sound business plan. The private parties once in possession of the land (through the lease model) will have to set up basic amenities like small resorts with bed and breakfast facilities, and in places closer to the cities, the company bagging the management rights can even set up a small conferencing facility. According to government estimates, each lighthouse will need an investment of at least Rs 1 crore and more depending upon the kind of amenities which will be put in place. “The investments per lighthouse could be Rs.1 crore and above. The investor can even initiate light and sound show or a laser show on subjects like the history of navigation in India. Just to cite an example, a private investor managing a lighthouse in Tamil Nadu can well opt to put up a laser show to depict Chola period. The whole idea behind this exercise would be to make the spots as much experiential as possible for the incoming tourists. These places already have unique scenic beauty as a natural draw and that will have to be complemented with attractive activities,” underlined Captain Surej. According to the Directorate of Lighthouses, the project is open for all kinds of investors including big hospitality companies to the prominent local firms who may well find a long-term asset for their business. Meanwhile, the government is also expecting that development of these lighthouses as vibrant tourist spots may well give a boost to local economic pockets. “Most of these lighthouses are in the remote areas of the country. And if they start receiving tourists, it will definitely help the local economy in terms of sales of local merchandise and handicrafts. So in that sense, the project could result in lighthouse led development,” Captain Surej pointed out. Later this month, the directorate will be interacting with the potential investors for the first time on this unique proposition through its three road shows – in Vizag, Cochin and Chennai- which will be followed by a larger investors meet in Mumbai. And the outcome of these road shows is slated to decide how soon this programme can be turned into a reality. “We are confident that potential investors in the tourism business will like this idea and this project will take off soon. This idea has been backed by the Ministry of Tourism and all Coastal States appears to be quite enthusiastic about it. There is an overall positive mood about the project,” summed up Captain Surej.