“After the poaching incidents, which surfaced in 2007, we have taken several measures to change the entire perspective about Gir. The staff has been changed totally and about 400 of them are new recruits and that makes a lot of difference. The old staff had been working as typical forest department staff whereas it needed something more than that because it was all about attracting more tourists,” Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh, R L Meena told The Indian Express.
Roping in Amitabh Bachchan as tourism ambassador has done wonders for the department. “There is no doubt that his presence has made direct impact on the tourist flow. After all, he is a superstar and people do acknowledge him,” said Meena.
During 2009-10, a total of 2,06,563 persons visited the sanctuary and Devaliya Safari Park. During 2010-11, 2,71,745 persons visited GWS and Devaliya Safari Park, he said. “There is an increase of 65,182 tourists in the financial year 2010-11 in comparison to 2009-10, which shows 31.55% increase in the tourist flow. During the current financial year, 1,08,996 persons have visited the sanctuary and Devaliya Safari Park. The sanctuary remained closed for tourists from June 16 to October 1,” said Meena. The tourism campaign has also benefitted the private hospitality sector, with the first large foray into the area booked full for the Diwali season.
The newly opened Gateway hotel at Sasan Gir — a part of the Taj hospitality chain with 28 rooms and a regular jeep safaris — has already been booked to capacity for the Diwali holiday season. “We are completely sold out. It’s a mix (of foreign and domestic tourists), but a lot of domestic,” said Chaula Mazmudar, hotel’s general manager.