By Mohammed Shafeeq
Araku coffee to Bongu chicken, the specialities of the picturesque Araku valley in the eastern ghats, are set to get a push as part of ambitious plans by Andhra Pradesh to promote tourism.
Araku, about 100 km from the port city of Visakhapatnam, is rich in bio-diversity and natural beauty -- and is known for Araku coffee, one of the finest in the world.
Riding on the popularity of the high quality speciality Arabica coffee, the state's Tourism Department plans to reach out to tourists, telling them the story of Araku and marketing the product.
Passengers flying into Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Tirupati on Spicejet flights from 27 destinations in the country will soon start getting a complimentary cup of Araku coffee from the Tourism Department.
The organic coffee is grown by tribals at an elevation of 1,100 metres above the mean sea level under the shade of jackfruit, silver oak, mango and banana trees. It has a delicious, fruity flavour intertwined with caramel and a finish of bitter sweetness.
Unripe Araku Coffee. Image: Wikimedia_commons/Amartyabag
About 90% of the total Araku coffee production is exported to countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
Along with the coffee, every passenger will also told the Araku story as the department will showcase through publicity material the things the tourists can see and do in the scenic valley.
"If a passenger is lucky, he may get a fully-paid complimentary holiday," Kaushik Mukherji, Principal Advisor to the Andhra Pradesh Ministry of Tourism, told IANS.
This comes as part of the efforts by the tourism authorities to rebrand the state with a focus on developing products for different segments of the market.
As Araku coffee has emerged as a popular brand in recent years, the authorities decided to use it to attract more tourists to the valley.
Mahindra group Chairman and Managing Director Anand Mahindra, who is promoting Araku coffee along with some others, last year set up a retail store in Paris. Mukherji feels local entrepreneurs can take Araku coffee forward and make it desirable at par with some of coffee brands coming from the African market.
The Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC) last year procured more than 1,500 metric tonnes of coffee beans.
Both GCC and the Coffee Board have separately applied to register Araku coffee under Geographical Indications (GI) to protect its unique identity.
The Araku story will also tell air passengers about Bongu chicken, another speciality of Araku.
Bongu, or bamboo, chicken is a traditional tribal cuisine cooked inside a piece of green bamboo stalk without oil, making it healthy and delicious. Locally found herbs are used in its preparation, giving it a unique taste.
"The Tourism Department has to bat on a multi-sensory level to create a brand," Mukherji pointed out.
As part of the brand-building, the authorities last year organised the Araku Balloon Festival. The move was aimed at promoting adventure sports.
The department is creating other products as well to turn Andhra Pradesh into a compelling destination. The Vizag Music Festival and the Vizag Yatching Festival were the other events launched to promote tourism.
"People ask, 'What is there in Andhra Pradesh?' Charminar and Hussain Sagar and even the famous Hyderabadi biryani have gone to Telangana. What is worth seeing in Andhra Pradesh? We are telling them what they can see and what they can do here," Mukherji explained.
Currently tourism contributes seven per cent of the state's GDP. He believes powerful tourism brands can help the sector contribute 24-25 per cent.
Out of India's 29 states, four states earn 82% of the total national tourism revenue while the remaining 25 fight for 18%.
Mukherji is confident that with new initiatives and an approach like a marketing company, Andhra Pradesh can leave the four leading states behind. "If we can't do it, it will be an opportunity lost because Andhra Pradesh, with a nearly 1,000 km coastline, has the best tourism products," he said.
He pointed out that one of the biggest current holiday craze in the world is tree-top living as it takes mankind back to its early footsteps.
Thus, at Tyda, a small village on the way to Araku from Vizag, the Tourism Department has built cottages on trees.
Mukherji proposes to build similar tree cottages in Bhavani island in Vijayawada, where each tree is 150 years old.
Explaining the idea behind developing different tourism products for different segments, he said selling Andhra Pradesh as one tourism product will be wrong strategy as the state has much more to offer.
"There are different products for different segments and for different reasons. For instance, some can send their parents for spiritual tourism as the state offers a full circuit from Simhachalam to Tirupati. Or send their son on his 18th birthday for an adventure holiday like Tyda treetop living or ziplines or diving," added Mukherji.
(Mohammed Shafeeq visited Visakhapatnam at the invitation of the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. He can be contacted at email@example.com)