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Ayodhya set to develop into a far bigger tourism destination after SC verdict

After the landmark Supreme Court judgement on the disputed Ayodhya land, hotel and tourism players are assessing opportunities in the city. The apex court on Saturday ruled that Hindu parties would get 2.77 acres of disputed land, and a trust would be set up by the central government in three months to monitor the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Vibhas Prasad, director at homegrown hotels brand Leisure Hotels says that he's planning to pick a heritage property in Ayodhya city which he would like to convert into a boutique hotel with about 25 rooms. "We have been operating as an upscale operator in Uttarakhand, and specifically in tourist destinations like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. We would like to expand this portfolio as things are looking up in Ayodhya. I am sure the government wants to make it as big as Gujarat's Statue of Unity or even bigger from the tourism standpoint," says Prasad who currently operates 26 properties, including in partnership with Taj Hotels and Club Mahindra Holidays.

Experts say that the tourism sector in the city is expected to get a leg-up after the SC verdict. It's believed that initial investments would come from the tourism sector, and once the temple is constructed, there will be a plenty of business activity which would further boost tourism. While there's some bit of Hindu tourism in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Prayagraj (especially during the Kumbh mela), central and eastern Uttar Pradesh is largely dependent on Buddhist pilgrimage. But that's set to change after the temple is built.

"If you look at mass tourism, the largest segment is spiritual and pilgrimage travel across the country. In Ayodhya, while the market is expected to be skewed towards domestic travelers but there would be some inbound [foreign] tourist potential as well. We expect the city to develop into a far bigger tourism destination with potential for spiritual, social events, business, luxury and MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] travel over the next three-four years," says a travel consultant.

Of late, the state government has been allocating large funds to develop the tourism market in the city. Recently, the UP government sanctioned about Rs 446 crore for the construction of 725-feet tall Ram statue on the banks of the Saryu River as part of Ram Nagri project. The state government has already approved Rs 640 crore for the development of an international airport over 285 acres at Ayodhya to attract domestic and foreign tourists in large numbers. Having an airport would not only uplift the city's economy but generate higher number of jobs. According to ministry of tourism 2017 report, Uttar Pradesh was the second-most visited state by the domestic tourists after Tamil Nadu.

Spiritual tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the domestic tourism. The role of India as a religious hub for different cultures has helped it attract millions of tourists every year. In 2014/15, the central government launched a dedicated National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD) scheme that aimed towards strengthening the infrastructure for tourism across the country.

After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir that opened up the tourism opportunities in the hilly state, the latest order from SC is going to galvanise Ayodhya into a tourist hotspot.

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