Kolkata, Oct 7

In a bid to showcase internationally the city's rich heritage and passion for football, the West Bengal government has come up with a bouquet of initiatives, from guided tours to screening short documentaries, during the U-17 World Cup in which 24 countries are participating.

The eastern metropolis, a key host venue of the six-venue tourney across India, is slated to hold 10 games, including the October 28 final at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan -- also called Salt Lake Stadium. The FIFA headquarters for the competition has also been set up here, with 60 delegates from the globe's apex soccer body camping in the city.

Besides, Kolkata has been adjudged the referee hub and the training centre for rookie referees.

As the city gears up for the country's biggest football extravaganza, with four foreign teams arriving here with a few thousand of their supporters, the state government is keen to provide a taste of Kolkata to the guests from abroad.

The state Information and Cultural Affairs Department is planning to screen documentaries, two to five minutes long, on various aspects of Kolkata and its cultural heritage in between the matches and during the half-time intervals in the stadium.

The first two matches in the city are scheduled for October 8.

"We plan to run short documentaries on our city on the giant screens available in the stadium in between the matches or during the half-time intervals. The length of these films will be decided after discussing with the FIFA officials," Minister of State for Information and Cultural Affairs Indranil Sen told IANS.

"Kolkata has a wonderful cultural heritage and its love for football is eternal. These snippets and documentaries would help our foreign guests get acquainted with the city in a better way," he said.

With England, Chile, Mexico, Iraq, Japan and New Caledonia playing in Kolkata, the state tourism department has taken various initiatives to promote tourism in and around the city before the foreign and delegates.

The FIFA tournament is being highlighted as a major event happening in the state on the West Bengal Tourism Department's website, and leaflets and advertisements of Bengal tourism have been circulated among the major city hotels that would become the temporary address of the football fans from abroad.

According to tourism officials, the department has engaged a number of tour guides -- christened "atithi bandhus" -- who would take the tourists to iconic places in the city like College street, Victoria Memorial, Kalighat temple and the house of Mother Teresa.

Tourism and hospitality students from the city have been chosen as atithi bandhus and given a guided tour of the city alongside the necessary training in soft skills to attend to the foreign guests interested in avaiing their services.

"The atithi bandhu is a new concept. We have chosen young boys and girls from tourism and hospitality institutes and held an orientation programme for them," Tourism Secretary Atri Bhattacharya told IANS.

"The students were trained in soft skills, foreign languages and culture. Their contact details have been updated on the Tourism Department's website so that the people interested in engaging them can directly get in touch with them," he added.

The Tourism Department is also in discussions with various consulates to arrange tours for the players and officials staying in the city for the tournament.

"So many players, coaches, officials would be coming here during the tournament. It is an honour for the state to have organised such an event. We are in discussions with various consulates so that some tours of Kolkata and its surrounding areas can be arranged for them," Tourism Minister Gautam Deb told IANS.

He said the department is also planning online and offline advertisements to promote the diverse tourist destinations around the state.

Youngsters who have registered themselves as atithi bandhus are equally excited about the opportunity.

"It is not every day you get a chance to interact with so many people from other countries. I love my city and it is a great opportunity to introduce our guests to our wonderful City of Joy," said Sreya Biswas, a tourism student at a Kolkata college who is looking forward to being an atithi bandhu.

(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at milinda.g@ians.in)

 

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