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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 04:20 GMT 05:20 UK
Plans for expansion of Andamans tourism
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

North Bay Island
Only 36 of the 545 islands are currently open to tourists
Buoyed by rising tourist traffic after a post-tsunami lull, the administration in India's Andaman archipelago has decided to develop 50 new sites for tourists.

"We want to develop an infrastructure which will attract eco-tourists and Bollywood film-makers," Tourism Secretary Dharam Pal told the BBC.

India's burgeoning film industry currently prefers to shoot in locations like Malaysia and the Maldives.

But environmentalists have raised concerns about the impact of an expansion in traffic to the islands.

"We want tourism to grow in the islands but the administration has to take care of the ecology and the indigenous populations," said Samir Acharya of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE).

He said the new sites selected should not be in islands where water was scarce and where there was a threat to marine life and indigenous populations.

The Andamans are home to isolated tribes such as the Onges, Jarawas and Sentinelese.

'No new islands'

Only 36 of the 545 islands in the archipelago are currently open for human settlement and tourism, and the decision will not mean opening new islands, tourism department spokesman Rana Mathew said.

Map

Mr Pal stressed: "These sites have been selected so that environmentally-sensitive hotels and beach resorts can be set up under our tourism plan."

He said the virgin sites would be leased through auctions to private investors, once the federal government approved them.

"In the first phase, tenders will be invited for a few of these sites.

"Then depending on the response, the other sites will be opened to domestic and perhaps even overseas bidders," he said.

Tourism has revived in the Andaman islands this year after dropping sharply in the months after the tsunami of December 2004.

"We have got nearly 50,000 tourists in the first seven months of this year. What has encouraged us most is the rising number of foreign tourists," said Mr Pal.

Monsoon tourism

He said very few tourists used to come to the Andamans during the monsoon, which is heavy in the archipelago - but in August this year, 1,500 foreign tourists came to the Andamans to experience the monsoon.

In the early 1990s, about 10,000 to 12,000 tourists visited the Andamans each year.

By 2000, tourist traffic had crossed the 100,000 mark.

But in the first few months after the tsunami, the average fell to about 500.

Then the Indian government started encouraging its employees to travel to the islands on holiday, and even offered them extra leave to visit the islands.

As the tourist traffic rose, India's domestic airlines cut fares by almost a half.

"The Calcutta-Port Blair (capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands) ticket that cost you 10,000 rupees ($219) one way is now costing you less than 3500 rupees ($77)," said Partha Chakrabarty of Indian Airlines.

After the tsunami devastation that killed 3,000 people on the islands and left another 5,500 missing, barely 20,000 tourists visited in 2005 - nearly all of them Indians.

"That has changed for the better and given us the impetus to expand the tourism options on the islands," Mr Pal said.


SEE ALSO
Tourists flow into Andaman islands
29 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Andamans volcano is post-tsunami hit
11 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Andamans 'Phuket' plan sparks row
02 Aug 05 |  South Asia
Extinction threat for Andaman natives
05 Mar 05 |  South Asia
Tsunami folklore 'saved islanders'
20 Jan 05 |  South Asia
Indian islands eye silver lining
10 Jan 05 |  South Asia
Fears rise for Andaman thousands
02 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Andaman aborigines' fate unclear
30 Dec 04 |  South Asia

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