How AAP government is changing Delhi's tourism and nightlife
The state will promote 15 tourism hubs, starting with Connaught Place and Old Delhi as world-class destinations.
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Restaurateurs, who are among the most taxed and licensed professionals in the country, rarely have a good thing to say about governments because they continue to be regarded by people in power as purveyors of sin who can forever be milked for more money, although, among other economy-building activities, they provide jobs to the equivalent of the population of Switzerland.
It was therefore a pleasant surprise the other day to hear the industry's top honchos talk positive about a government that only makes news in the mainstream media for all the wrong reasons. Yes, they were talking about Arvind Kejriwal's administration and listing the proactive steps it has taken to be food, drink and tourism friendly (and they seem to outnumber vastly whatever little his predecessor could manage in three full terms).
Today, restaurateurs can set up microbreweries in Delhi (an old demand that has only recently been acted upon); the corruption-riddled system of annual excise licence renewals has been made online and a restaurant's papers are deemed renewed unless there's a serious complaint against it; excise inspectors have been forbidden from showing up at restaurants on flimsy pretexts; and a committee is meeting representatives of restaurateurs at regular intervals to make the regulatory environment completely transparent.
"We really don't care about the politics of the government," said Riyaaz Amlani, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), and the man behind the super-successful Social restaurants. "We judge it by its work." I am most excited, though, about the Delhi tourism minister Kapil Mishra's move, which he is giving shape in consultation with the NRAI, to promote 15 tourism hubs around the city, starting with Connaught Place, Khan Market, Hauz Khas Village, Yamuna banks and Old Delhi. The idea is to brand them as culture-retail-food-and-drink destinations, give them exposure around the world and improve their security environment so that they draw contemporary tourists who really don't care about monuments, unless they have restaurants and fashion shows happening in them.
The city has so much to showcase to the world, yet the majority of real tourists spend on average two nights here - the night they fly in and the night they fly out. It's still not too late for all stakeholders concerned to get together and restore to Delhi the sense of awe it inspired in European travellers during the Mughal era. Look at how the Cyber Hub has become a footfall magnet with its fail-safe combination of food, entertainment, location, hygiene and security. Imagine one such hub coming up in Old Delhi - each time I pass by the old Town Hall, I think of the immense possibilities its historic structure offers. These ideas may not remain flights of imagination for long.
The ITC Hotels has taken over an old haveli from a prominent BJP politician and if more such acquisitions (or leasing) take place, we can expect leisure tourists to start checking in at Old Delhi, and eventually this could lead to a slow but steady improvement in the conditions of our heritage city. It took just a Chawri Bazaar Metro Station to bring a new generation to Chandni Chowk's historical galis and koochaas. You have to only go there on a winter weekend to see how many young people, speaking as many languages as India is home to, just walk around to sample the sights and savouries of Dilli-6.
The city's multicultural food tradition, which grew out of Old Delhi, has been attracting a deluge of interest, but the state of hygiene remains a big deterrent.
Women's safety is a nagging concern. With the Delhi government supporting the idea of tourism hubs, these issues will be addressed, and I am sure the consultations it has initiated will spawn bright new ideas. Whenever I see the manicured lawns of Humayun's Tomb or Jamali-Kamali, I can't but think of the immense possibilities they offer.
Imagine having a festival of historians in the shadow of Humayun's Tomb with the city's best caterers presenting our heritage cuisine? It's time to think out of the box.