India’s first tourism conclave was organized as a part of the centenary birth celebrations of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Ahmedabad, in partnership with Gujarat Tourism and the Tourism Development Society.
More than 400 tour operators, event managers and hoteliers gathered on 7 January 2023 for the special one-day professional conference titled “Tourism Conclave 2023.”
The conference was led by a panel of prominent speakers, namely Manish Sharma (Founding Chairman and Managing Director, Akshar Travels), Mulu Bera ( Honourable Tourism Minister, Govt. of Gujarat), Hareet Shukla (IAS) (Secretary, Tourism and Aviation, Govt. of Gujarat), Alok Kumar Pandey (IAS) (Managing Director, Tourism Corporation of Gujarat), Manoj Joshi (Leading Bollywood Actor), Captain Ashwin Solanki (Chief Nautical Officer, Gujarat Maritime Board), Atul Bhalla (General Manager, West & East India, ITC Hotels), and Ajay Prakash (Chairman, Travel Agents Federation of India).
In his enriching inaugural address on ‘Values on Spiritual Tourism’, Brahmaviharidas Swami said, “Tourism plays an important role in giving people a change of place and environment. But while places change, people don’t change. We should ask ourselves whether we can create joy even after removing all the instruments of entertainment.”
“People generally do not work without an incentive, yet Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar has turned around the conventions of existing industrial practices. More than 80,000 volunteers from different professions have selflessly created this gigantic complex of 600 acres. In Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar, we have erased the border between temporary and permanent, because while the Nagar is temporary, its positive impact on people’s lives is permanent. Even if someone met Pramukh Swami Maharaj briefly, he was left with a permanent imprint in his mind. In a world where there is a human impulse to change and move on, we should ponder how the tourism industry can create a permanent experience for people. We should strive to add quality to people’s lives.
“People’s lives are transformed when you serve people beyond their expectations. The shift in mindset starts in the initial minutes of interacting with your client. Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar is a clean, green and serene place, where people’s lives are transformed beyond imagination. There are more than 10 million paver blocks and 1 million flowering plants installed here. The visitors are self-disciplined. In all the 1,200 temples built by Pramukh Swami Maharaj worldwide, the annual footfall amounts to half a billion. You need to love your work and make people happy, as the first ‘wow!’ you create will be the last ‘how?!’.”
In the welcome address, Manish Sharma, Founding Chairman and Managing Director of Akshar Travels, said, “Since the inception of Gujarat Tourism in 2003, tourism in Gujarat has increased from 1% to 16%. This Tourism Conclave is the first of its kind to be held on this spiritual venue of Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar. When I was conducting a group tour of Europe, I sought my Guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s blessings. He told me, ‘Ensure that the spiritual principles of the passengers are not compromised, that they are served with good quality vegetarian food and the tour is carried out with discipline.’”
Thereafter, Honourable Hareet Shukla (IAS), Secretary of Tourism and Aviation for the Government of Gujarat, delivered a talk on ‘Investment Opportunities of Tourism in Gujarat.’ He began by saying, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj has been an inspiration for all of us.” He then spoke about the diverse tourist places available in Gujarat and the different policies of the Gujarat Government in helping to increase tourism in the state. He said, “According to the States Survey conducted by India Today, Gujarat consistently ranks in the top 3 states for tourism.” During his address, he also showed a short video on the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Gujarat.
Subsequently, Alok Kumar Pandey (IAS), Commissioner of Tourism and Managing Director of Tourism Corporation of Gujarat, spoke on ‘Tourism Growth & Key Opportunities in Gujarat.’ He said, “It makes me proud to know that Bhagwan Swaminarayan hailed from Ayodhya, which is near my native place.” He further spoke about the different facets of Gujarat Tourism, such as diverse tourism, culture, heritage, state of the art infrastructure, connectivity, sustainability, and world-class tourism capabilities. He further elaborated upon the history of important spiritual heritage places in Gujarat, such as Girnar, Dwarka, Bet-Dwarka, etc.
Manoj Joshi, a leading actor in Hindi and Gujarati cinema, shared, “The land of Gujarat is spiritually blessed as notable spiritual, corporate and political luminaries, including Bhagwan Krishna, Dhirubhai Ambani and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, belong to Gujarat. Gujaratis are immensely industrious and polite, and hence, are successful in different walks of life.” He elaborated on how cinema has developed from theatre to OTT Platforms, and how policies by the Government have made Gujarat a cinema-friendly state. He added, “Gujarat is a haven of diverse tourist locations. Due to its proximity to Mumbai, Gujarat serves as a viable destination for cinema shooting, providing employment to locals.”
In his keynote address, Mulu Bera, Honourable Tourism Minister of Gujarat, said, “I am proud to witness that the State of Gujarat is a pioneer of tourism. My belief is reaffirmed in the largest spiritual festival of the world ‘Pramukh Swami Maharaj Shatabdi Mahotsav.’ In the leadership and guidance of the Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat Bhupendra Patel, new tourist attractions are being added making Gujarat a tourist-friendly state. Many tourists are flocking to Gujarat from around the world to witness different festivals and engage in wildlife, natural, historical and spiritual tourism.”
Captain Ashwin Solanki, Chief Nautical Officer of the Gujarat Maritime Board, spoke on ‘Marine Tourism of Gujarat’, highlighting the development of policies through which the State of Gujarat has become a haven for water sports, cruises, Ro-Pax Ferry services and the National Maritime Heritage Complex.
Ajay Prakash, Chairman of the Travel Agents Federation of India, spoke on ‘Tourism and Global Peace.’ He said, “Tourism by creating jobs offers great opportunities for emerging economies and reduces inequality and poverty. It should strive to conserve the natural environment and cultural heritage and traditions. Travel and tourism are about engaging with humankind and nature. It is about making connections beyond boundaries. In today’s times, travellers are more aware and discerning. The younger generation is much more conscious of the ecological footprint of any activity. So, all businesses need to take heed of this new paradigm.”
In his insightful talk, Gnanvatsaldas Swami, a leading spiritual motivational speaker of BAPS, said, “There are around 3.5 million temples in India. These temples are a source of direct employment to more than 35 million people and a source of indirect employment to many more, such as flower sellers and local market vendors. Promoting religious tourism will not only create a positive impact on the economy, but will also foster spiritual values and diminish social pollution.”
“In the 45 years of his spiritual leadership, Pramukh Swami Maharaj travelled to more than 50 countries, sanctified 250,000 homes, replied to 750,000 letters, created 1300 societal institutions (temples, hospitals, schools, hostels, etc.), initiated 1,000 sadhus and created a permanent volunteer force of 50,000 volunteers. Upon witnessing a glimpse of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life in this Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar, we can learn that faith coupled with hard work and ethics is the key to success. In Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar, one can experience enlightenment, excitement, elegance and entertainment.”
In his concluding remarks, Yogi Trivedi of Columbia University, New York, provided an overview of his new book In Love, At Ease: Daily Spirituality with Pramukh Swami, and shared some of his personal experiences with Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
All the delegates were then given a guided tour of ‘Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar’ where they learned about Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s inspiring life and worldwide contributions for humanity through the various attractions and exhibitions.
Today’s event is the twelfth in a series of 14 such conferences for professionals of various fields, including accountants, lawyers, industrialists, technocrats and entrepreneurs. It is a testament to the progressive mindset of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, whose work and teachings touched people from all walks of life, to ensure the holistic success and happiness of everyone in society.