I recently had the opportunity to participate in Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart, the 4th annual such event, in Bhopal, India, the regional capital of Madhya Pradesh.
This is a two-day event, bringing travel agents in to learn more about regional and national destination management companies, resort properties, and other travel services. 50 Foreign Tour Operators visited the event to research and connect with potential partners in Madhya Pradesh, a large state in central India, home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and six Tiger Reserves. One-third of the state is forest. My mission was to discover the best of what Madhya Pradesh had to offer and to see the magnificent tiger in the wild.
Minister of Tourism, Mr. Surendra Patwa spoke to the media at the event. MP Tourism had made good progress in the last year, winning several awards, in fact, but the mission was to build upon that. “If satisfaction is there, then progress will stop,” said Patwa. Tiger populations continue to decline in the world — except here in India. The successful implementation of tiger reserves and the subsequent tourist demand to come see them has actually led to population growth among the tigers.
Secretary of Tourism, Mr. Hari Ranjan Rao held a lengthy talk and Q&A with journalists. Pench Tiger Reserve has over 50 tigers, while Kanha Tiger Reserve may have as many as 100 adults, plus the uncounted cubs. But Bandhavgarh National Park has one of the highest densities of tigers in the world. The authorities rolled out a list of wildlife rules, restricting park access – allowing tours only along the roads of 20% of a park, thus preserving the bulk of the land for the animals to avoid any stress of visitors – and limiting the numbers of tour vehicles in a day as well.
Officials credit the success of tiger watching to better park management, buffer zones around each reserve, and a drastic drop in poaching. At this point the biggest challenge to tigers is a need for greater space. Tigers need wider territories or the biggest threat becomes other tigers defending their own territory.
Another area of progress for Madhya Pradesh is the preservation of historical palaces. Several of these have been restored and repurposed as hotels, while many more are in line to also be so developed. While on a Bhopal city walking tour, organized by Madhya Pradesh Tourism, we saw two such palaces only in the beginning stages of renovation. In fact, my stay that weekend was at heritage-hotel Jehan Numa Palace, just steps from the Travel Mart event.
This combination of opening new lands to national parks and bringing to market historical palaces as inns will keep the positive momentum so far established by the tourism authority. While management of the tourists in the form of well thought out rules and limitations for park visits will maintain the safety of the wildlife population going forward.
After the event, I joined a weeklong tour of four tiger reserves on a long circuitous drive through beautiful Madhya Pradesh. Watch here for more posts and photo galleries from my travels in Madhya Pradesh.