Gujarat's Promising Future as a Destination for Heritage Tourism in India

FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) invited heritage experts to discuss Gujarat’s potential, with Ahmedabad as a World Heritage City, to become a thriving destination for heritage tourism in India.

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With more than three of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites listed in the state of Gujarat – including the walled city of Ahmedabad that was recently declared a ‘World Heritage City‘ – we have been gradually awakened to the realisation that Gujarat, with its rich culture and profound architectural heritage, possesses a lot of potential to becoming a thriving destination for tourism. The influential women of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO), Ahmedabad, organised a gathering at the splendid Renaissance Hotel yet again to discuss precisely this potential. Centred around Heritage Tourism in Gujarat – The Path to Socio-Economic Development’, a full-day seminar was organised on April 6.

FICCI, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, is India’s apex association of business organisations, founded in 1927. Spread across several chapters in India, its women’s wing FLO organises various interactive cultural, philanthropic and informational activities. In Ahmedabad, FLO has previously organised an International Dance Festival, a Round Table with author Shiv Khera, an International Yoga Day celebration and other interactive events. This time, FLO organised a marathon session of discussions and talks from morning till evening, in which intellectuals from various walks of life discussed their vision for how heritage can flourish in Ahmedabad, especially in terms of tourism.

The event kicked off with a promising welcome address by Pavani Bakeri Agarwal, the Chairperson of FLO Ahmedabad Chapter, who addressed the crowd, saying “FLO is about women’s empowerment, enterprise and employment. Heritage tourism can bring a lot of effective economic and social welfare to the state, and will generate a lot of employment opportunities for local businesses.” The discussions had a particular focus on local heritage hotels, museums, eateries, resorts and homestays. According to Shilpa Patel, Treasurer of FLO, “There are about more than 30 heritage hospitality properties in Gujarat and most of the homestays are run by independent women heritage entrepreneurs.”

Many people – mostly women – were present from across fields like heritage, hospitality, architecture, public welfare and the government ,to discuss their ideas on this. They shared how they can, how they will, or how they already are making efforts towards boosting heritage tourism in Gujarat. The session witnessed prominent citizens of the city, including Chairperson of AMC’s Heritage Conservation Committee PK Ghosh, Director of Centre for Heritage Management Debashish Nayak, author and freelance journalist Anil Mulchandani, owners of the historical Bhuj House, Katie and Jehan Bhujwala, and various other personalities who added great merit to the conversations. Several women powerhouses were also present – Maharani Radhika Raje from Gaekwad Royal Family of Baroda, architect Parul Zaveri, Radhika Lalbhai, and Maharani Mandakini Kumari of Santrampur royalty.

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During the discussions, Debashish Nayak, who has played a significant role in setting up the Heritage Cell in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, revealed some fascinating facts about the demography and geography of the Walled City, saying, “It is important to know and feel our heritage before propagating it.” For instance, he explained that no town in the old city of Ahmedabad has a south-facing entrance due to traditional beliefs in Vastu Shastra. “Ahmedabad’s culture is more lively and vibrant than in other cities of India,” he expressed.

Conservation architect Parul Zaveri spoke about how various Rajasthani towns are thriving on heritage tourism today. Through four decades of work, Zaveri has helped preserve many heritage sites and buildings, including the Shiv Niwas Palace, Fort Bharwada Resort and Panna Meena Kund, contributing immensely to the hospitality sector in the cities of Udaipur and Jaipur in the process. She shared about her journey and her process of work. As compared to the number of culturally rich properties in cities like Jodhpur, Jaipur or Udaipur, however, the number of sensitively restored heritage hotels in Ahmedabad is, sadly, far less.

Hearing these enlightening discussions on heritage, I found myself wishing that the conference had taken place in some cosy corner of the walled city of Ahmedabad; this would have added to its ambience. Hospitality plays a significant role in uplifting tourism in any city, but seeing the pace at which the conservation of heritage is being taken up in the city, perhaps I’m not incorrect in sensing that the growth of heritage tourism in Ahmedabad still has a long way to go! But the presence of various significant people at this conference is surely a positive indicator, suggestive of the fact that Ahmedabad is seriously looking to uplift its heritage hospitality sector.

Photo courtesy: The organisers at FICCI FLO 

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