Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Priceless heritage yearns to strike gold

Tombs of emperors stand beside traffic junctions, forgotten fortresses command suburbs, the titles of lost dynasties are woven in the vernacular, if only as street names.”

These words of the renowned historian Jan Morris describe the grandeur of Delhi. Delhi, a city which has at some point of time belonged to everyone, emperors, politicians, diplomats, journalists, poets, artists, writers and to hundreds of generations of common people. It is one of those cities which has seen dynasties making and breaking and has still safeguarded the reminiscences of time.
So while Archeological Survey of India plans to nominate Delhi for the Heritage city tag, one must try to gauge the benefits that the country could rake in through the three World Heritage Sites already adorning the city.
The three World Heritage Sites which are located in Delhi – Qutub Minar complex, Humayun's Tomb and the Red Fort complex are not only the witnesses of the immortal heritage of India but also speak about the grandiose and affluence of our past.
Out of a total of 981 properties being chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as the World Heritage Sites, 30 are located in India. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are natural or man-made places which are of universal cultural and physical value. The first set of World Heritage Sites were chosen in 1978, three years after the 'Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage' came into force.
In India, the monuments to make it to the coveted list for the first time, in 1983, included the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. Since then 30 places have been given the tag in the country including three in Delhi, the Qutub Minar Complex and Humayun's Tomb in 1993 and the Red Fort Complex in 2007.
A World Heritage Site enjoys an edge over the others.“The budget allocated to World Heritage Sites is comparatively higher than other monuments. They also get extra and better trained staff. All three World Heritage Sites in Delhi have security guard garrisons, whereas other monuments are striving for even a single guard. Besides, such sites are continuously monitored by UNESCO and hence it becomes compulsory for government to take special care of these structures,” Vikramjit Singh Rooprai who runs the Youth for Heritage Foundation said.
These sites, thus, are considered to be of utmost cultural and traditional significance for the world. The tag helps in the conservation and promotion of these sites. Thankfully, Delhi has been able to derive
some benefits of being a home to three World Heritage Sites but if one looks at a comparative picture there are miles to go to actually strike gold with the priceless heritage that the city has.
This is especially true for the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim architecture, Qutub Minar. This 13th century red and buff sandstone pillar tops the chart of the richest monuments in Delhi and comes second to only Taj Mahal when seen at a national level. With the largest number of foreign and domestic visitors, Qutub Minar is the most visited monument in Delhi.
According to a report by Ministry of Tourism, in 2009-10 the monument attracted 2.21 million foreign visitors and earned a revenue of Rs 10.4 crore. In the same year the top grosser Taj Mahal earned a revenue of Rs 14.81 crore.
In Delhi, Humayun's Tomb is the next favourite of tourists. The footfall of foreign tourists in the financial year 2009-10 was 1.8 million and for the Red Fort it was 1.4 million.
The revenue earned through entrance fee from the World Heritage Sites, centrally-protected ticketed monuments, of the top 16 sites in India fell by more than Rs 16 crore in 2009-10 when compared to 2008-09.
Many attribute this loss to the 2009 Mumbai terror attacks and global recession. A feeling of insecurity is the biggest challenge to optimising the revenues through tourism. Like 2009, the flash floods of Uttarakhand in 2013 are supposed to have heavily taxed the foreign tourist arrivals in the country.
“Foreign tourist footfall is negligible after the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Otherwise even in off season Qutub Minar used to be a home to tourists from across the world. I don't have the figures but I am sure that it must be a huge loss,” said Shripal, a ticket seller at Qutub Minar.
Awarded as the 'best maintained tourist friendly monument' in the year 2008-09, Humayun's tomb attracts mostly foreigners and a discerning clientele of tourists. A report submitted by the Ministry of Tourism in the year 2012 also said that the tomb is less popular with the domestic tourists in comparison to foreign visitors. In 2011, Begum Biga's ode to her husband Humayun, could rack in Rs 6.2 crore.
“This tomb is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. The pure Mughal architecture and the lush green gardens make it stand out. In a way, the serenity of the place makes it more beautiful than even the Taj. I wish the weather was a little better. I would have liked to read something in the garden. I can imagine some royalties doing that,” said Susan, a tourist from South Africa.
The Red Fort Complex comprises of the Red Fort, built by Shah Jahan and Fort Salimgarh, built by Islam Shah Suri. According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the red sandstone monument complex managed to earn a revenue of Rs 5.9 crore in the year 2011 from the entry fee.
According to ASI, in 2011, Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal earned Rs 10.1 crore and Rs 19.9 crore, respectively. These figures show that despite better connectivity and availability of all amenities which can support tourists, Delhi has not been able to brand its World Heritage Sites. Taking a closer look can show that in 2011, all the three sites taken together have been able to earn only a little more than what Taj Mahal could earn alone.
According to Discovery News Channel, the Great Wall of China attracts an average of 10 million people yearly which is almost double the number of people visiting Delhi's all three World Heritage Sites.
A study conducted by Stanford University on the economic impact of global heritage sites in the emerging economies said that Red Fort complex alone is capable of driving Rs 20 crore in the economy by attracting at least 2 million people in a year. On the other hand, the Great Wall of China and Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China can earn Rs 288 crore and Rs 192 crore which is five to seven times more than Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Champaner taken together.
These figures reflect the under-utilisation of the tourism sector which is otherwise a high potential area. Undoubtedly, the sector has shown growth but from a global perspective, the management has failed to truly encash one of the most commercially viable resources. Proper branding with effective measures that do not create pressure on the monuments can help in generating revenue. The travel and tourism sector directly contributed Rs 1,92,000 crore to India’s Gross Domestic Product in 2012. This
is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 12 per cent, said a report by Confederation of India Industry (CII).
Restoration projects such as for the Humayun's Tomb and other cleanliness and renovation drives have proven to be beneficial. Although one can still complain about the lack of basic facilities like parking, first aid, government approved guides and easy access to the monument and ticket counters yet the conservation and maintenance projects have made it a point to maintain the authenticity of the monument.
“We have been constantly working on projects to conserve Qutub Minar. Being the identity of Delhi, we can't let it tarnish. Right now the projects are closed for summers but we make sure that the conservation efforts are undertaken in a way that can the monument maintain its originality. Hence, we use only those materials for renovation which were used to built the minaret like sandstone,” Suman Dogra, conservation head of Qutub Minar said.
Talking about the chances of losing the World Heritage tag, he ensured that there was no chance of any of the monuments in Delhi to lose the tag because proper conservation methodologies were being undertaken which were in tandem with the UNESCO guidelines.
In the past, India was about to lose the tag for Manas Wildlife Sanctuary due to excessive poaching. However, after 19 years of conservation efforts the sanctuary could again feature on the list in 2011. “Losing the tag is a matter of shame for any country. Hence, respective agencies are taking special care to protect them,” said Rooprai.

Delhi has a lot of advantages over other cities in the country and can propel tourism in other nearby states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand as well. A heritage city tag for Delhi will not only boost tourism but will also instill a sense or pride. But a proper strategy for effective marketing should be put in place. These Heritage Sites have immense potential to earn huge revenue for the country. Ironically, these untapped coffers of exorbitant wealth are being left largely high and dry.


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