‘Up your service or…’: Odisha’s new bill to define norms for hospitality industry

Odisha government is in the process of bringing a new bill that would not just make registration of hotels, travel agents and tour operators, homestay operators and roadside dhabas mandatory, but also haul them up in case their service is not up to the mark.

The bill titled ‘Odisha Tourism Trade (Regulation and Facilitation) Bill, 2020’ – a copy of which is available with HT – is now in the drafting stage and has been sent to some departments for their review before it is tabled in the winter session of the Assembly next month.

As per the bill, hotels with a minimum of seven rooms, convention centres, restaurants, bars, dhabas with a seating capacity of more than 50 guests, cruise ships, cruise boats, houseboats, tourist boats with seating capacity of more than 10 passengers, roadside motels, PG accommodations, wayside amenities centres would have to compulsorily register as service providers. Even recreational facilities, such as golf courses, arts & crafts village, museums, aquaria, amusement parks, water parks and theme parks, would have to register as service providers with the government as per the proposed bill.

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To ensure that the service providers stick to an acceptable level of service to visiting tourists, the bill says that the state government would declare standards and norms and in the event of non-compliance of the same, they would be liable for a penalty in the form of fine and temporary suspension of operations for a minimum period of one month. If the service provider fails to bring up the service standard, they could be blacklisted and may face prosecution under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

As per the draft bill, all service providers have to register themselves with the government within 60 days of the framing of the rules under the new Act. The service providers would be penalised if they are found fraudulently marketing or selling a product or service which is proven to be bogus or unverified, charging a price or tariff higher than that displayed and/or declared, charging remuneration higher than that fixed or failure in displaying prices/tariff, failure in giving cash memo/credit memo.

Refusal to accept cashless payment for services, use of misleading names and logos – for homestay, hotel, motel, houseboat, museum – even when requisite features of such places are missing or showing incorrect star rating of a hotel or showing names or abbreviations and logos similar to reputed ones shall also attract a penalty. They would also be penalised if they refuse admission/entry to a tourist on grounds of gender, caste, religion, nationality or ethnicity.

To keep beggars and touts out of tourist places, the bill has prohibited their entry in or around any tourist area and anyone found engaging in touting or begging would be produced before the judicial magistrate for prosecution. The bill also has a provision of tourist police at tourist spots who would keep touts and beggars out. The tourist police would comprise specially trained personnel from Odisha state police or other suitably trained personnel of the state government.

The department of tourism would function as the single window facilitator for all tourism and hospitality projects helping all service providers obtain statutory and non-statutory licences, no-objection certificate and necessary authorisations.

Odisha tourism minister Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi refused to comment on the draft bill, saying it would not be fair to speak about it till it is tabled in the Assembly. Hotel and Restaurants Association of Odisha president JK Mohanty also refused to comment saying he is yet to see the draft of the bill.

Over the last few years, Odisha has been betting big on tourism to pump up its economy through a series of campaigns and festivals. In December last year, it organised eastern India’s first ‘Glamping’ festival or Glamorous Camping on the Marine Drive-Eco Retreat on a kilometre-long beach between Puri and Konark. It drew high-end tourists to the state by putting 50 luxurious tents on the beach with provision of bedrooms, luxury toilets, private dining area, spa, air-conditioners, televisions as well as non-alcoholic minibars for the tourists. Last month, the tourism department launched ‘Odisha by Road’ campaign to let tourists explore the state’s tourist circuit through its roads as people were less likely to travel by air or train during the pandemic.

More than 1.5 million domestic tourists visited Odisha during the years 2018-19 while the number of overseas tourists stood at 114,000, registering growth of 8.75 percent and 10.4 percent respectively.

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