Agra, March 7 : Tourism industry leaders in this Taj city are upbeat, hoping for a major boost once flights from Bangaluru, Bhopal, Lucknow and Varanasi start from May under the Udaan regional connectivity scheme.
Airport officials said low-cost airline Indigo was keen to connect Agra with major destinations in India taking advantage of the facilities under the Udaan scheme.
Agra is presently connected by air with Jaipur and Khajuraho. The number of visitors who came by air touched 11,907 between April to November 2018. "The lone flight from Jaipur has proved its worth," tourist guide Ved Gautam said.
Work on a new Rs 400 crore terminal building at the Kheria airport, now renamed Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Airport, is expected to begin soon.
In the past there have been several initiatives to connect Agra by air to international destinations but according to local tourism industry leaders, "interest-groups and the Delhi lobby of travel agents and hoteliers" somehow always managed to stall the plans.
Agra Civil Aviation Society Secretary Anil Sharma said Agra's international airport project was hijacked by politicians to Jewar in Bulandshahar district.
Senior tourism industry leaders have been repeatedly complaining about the lack of air connectivity, which had thwarted growth of tourism in Agra, the only city with three World Heritage monuments.
"Smaller cities have regular flights but not India's tourist destination number one," rues Anil Sharma, spearheading the movement for an international airport at Agra for the past three years.
"The city's growth is stunted. Because of the total lack of forward planning, there is neither the will nor any major policy push being contemplated by the state government, which had made many promises at the time of elections," according to senior tourism industry leader Surendra Sharma, founder of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Agra is one of India's top tourist destinations. Yet, it lacks basic infrastructure, and thus cannot take advantage of the interest generated in India and its tourist attractions, Sharma added.
"What could be more amazing than the fact that there are no flights and no air connectivity with Agra? Our demand for a decent civil airport in Agra was for long put in cold storage.
"Surely regular flights to Agra will change the face of tourism. A lot of time is wasted because tourists visit Agra by road. If they could save a few hours, night stay in the city will increase and visitors would be able to see the cultural programmes.
We have to do a lot of work on the cultural front to make sure that tourists extend their stay in Agra.
Only then will the city gain from tourism," said Yashwant of the Kalakriti Auditorium, that daily runs the popular 90-minute-long "Mohabbat the Taj" programme.
Hoteliers in Agra welcomed the initiative which will increase the footfalls and raise the occupancy rate.
Agra is annually visited by over 7 million tourists. "The number is all set to go up, once the city starts receiving international flights," a hotelier said.