REGENERATING THE ROOTS: DEVISING STRATEGIES TO REVIVE AND THRIVE DOMESTIC TOURISM

 

While this pandemic has sent most of the countries into a tizzy and an economic shock, which culminated into a dreadful loss from no tourism revenues, this crisis, on the other hand, seems to be an opportune time for the countries who have a lion’s share from tourism in the domestic segment. For the travel and tourism sector in India, economic growth from international tourist arrivals was not as predominant as domestic but the segment was never observed with a preferential glance. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 shifted the priorities and we see the government now working on changing the game plan. But if we take a bite of the reality sandwich, the webinars, armchair discussions and assurances are not precisely aiding the travel agents/ tour operators who suffered major revenue losses and even the umbrella associations who have been putting forth the countless requests to concerned ministries for reworking on the regulations, taxation policies and financial grants. Therefore, the need is to have collaborative efforts from all stakeholders including the Government of India, state boards, various ministries and do the on-ground implementation of forming a standalone domestic tourism policy, rolling out confidence-building measures and reassuring the best of health and safety standards. While we assembled the opinions of industry stalwarts on what and where the push is required on the central, state and individual level, the state tourism administrators specified how they are using this crisis as the right opportunity to hit the reset button for making domestic tourism the sustainable engine for economic growth in India!

TS Gagneet Kaur

 

Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi, Minister of State for Tourism, Odia Language Literature & Culture (I/C), Govt. of Odisha

“States need to pull out their most successful offerings and present them in a fresh package”

The tourism sector was hitherto assumed to be amongst the most sustainable for inclusive economic development. But it has proved paradoxically vulnerable to disasters and pandemics. Odisha, while being a pioneer of disaster management had to face consecutive blows of Cyclone Fani in 2019 and COVID-19, this year. The key segments hit by the pandemic are MICE tourism, sports tourism, spiritual and festival tourism. While we plan for strategic revival, we need some springs for a short-term jumpstart.

While international tourist inflow has been restricted, Odisha Tourism’s focus for this year is on attracting domestic tourists and the key to reviving the tourism and hospitality sector is to market our way into the dormant tourist’s conscious. We started off at the correct time in late February by conducting sensitisation sessions for hospitality units and travel agents in coordination with their associations. We have now designed exciting road itineraries to attract road-trippers’ attention and to do that, Odisha Tourism has embarked on a campaign – “Odisha by Road”. Seven itineraries covering virtually the whole state and the experiences it offers have been developed and are being promoted digitally for tourists within Odisha and from neighbouring states. Simultaneously, we have ensured that all tourism service providers – hotels, travel agents, local communities, guides, transport services – have been familiarised with COVID-19 Prevention and Risk Mitigation Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and that they scrupulously follow them.

Also, the policy draft prepared and under consideration, we have accorded priority to encouraging niche tourism segments such as houseboats, homestays, heritage hotels, camping sites, caravan tourism, water sports and more. Encouraging locals to become brand ambassadors and owning initiatives for localised tourism and further adding that to the state brand is a sure way to attract seekers. We at Odisha Tourism will soon launch a scheme to incentivise homestays with curated local experiences in select areas. Besides, we are looking to build upon our award-winning model of community-managed ecotourism. We have also carried out stakeholder consultations and inputs received on easing land allotment process, a greater focus on improving ease of doing business as well as consistent handholding are being incorporated.

For the post-COVID kickstart, states need to pull out their most successful offerings and present them in a fresh package, tweaked to respond to demand undercurrents. Odisha will be back with the hugely successful glamping event – Eco Retreat. We replicate the Eco Retreat to boost peak season tourist activity at five locations in 2020 – Chadrabhaga Beach at Konark, Hirakud Reservoir, Daringbadi, Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Badmul Sandbars on the banks of Mahanadi River.

 

Jawahar Chavda, Minister of Tourism, Government of Gujarat

“The new tourism policy once put in place, will lay the foundation for next decade of tourism growth in Gujarat”

The contribution of the tourism sector to the economy of our country is very significant as it supports a large number of direct or indirect employment. The impact of the pandemic on the travel and tourism industry is worldwide. Every country is looking at tourism as the main driver to revive its economy. The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India has also undertaken a number of initiatives, such as the Incredible India 2.0 campaign focusing on niche tourism products including wellness and adventure tourism, as well as investment into the industry through schemes, such as PRASHAD and Swadesh Darshan.

Talking about the state of Gujarat, tourism has been growing rapidly and almost 61 million tourists made a visit to the state in FY 2019-20. The existing tourism policy has brought significant investment in tourism industry and was very successful in creating various tourism assets in the state. The state is now moving onto the next growth trajectory as our government is working with a focused approach in developing new tourism attractions. The government has recently announced the first Heritage Tourism Policy of the state to address the specific need of Heritage Tourism asset developers. The new homestay policy’s aim is to encourage home entrepreneurs in urban and rural areas and promote state culture. New Adventure Tourism guidelines are also published by the Tourism Department to promote adventure tourism in the state keeping safety standards as paramount. The new tourism policy once put in place will lay the foundation for the next decade of tourism growth in Gujarat.

Further, the travel and tourism norms are easing day by day and as situations improve the new normal of travel norms will emerge and will be adopted. Keeping that in mind, our state tourism department is proactively promoting safe travel guidelines and messages through mainstream media and social media channels via audio and visual content. The tourism sites are opening gradually as per the Central Government suggestions till the things become normal. The major focus for tourism department as of now is to engage local domestic tourists as foreign arrivals are yet to return normal. The religious places like Ambaji, Somnath and Dwarka are major tourist attraction among domestic visitors. These places are opened and strictly following the safe tourism rules. Sanitization, social distancing and temperature check are the new norms. We hope with situations getting improved, tourism will bounce back to the pre-COVID level soon.

 

Dilip Jawalkar, IAS, Secretary Tourism, Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), Govt. of Uttarakhand

“It is our collective efforts to constantly be in touch with the stakeholders and mutually come up with apt guidelines”

Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) has been coming up with several schemes during the revival period to support various sectors in the tourism industry. To ease the travel of visitors coming to Uttarakhand, we have removed all kinds of movement restrictions for tourists having the mandatory COVID-19 negative test report. We are also planning to deploy tourist facilitation counters at all important state borders and provide on-the-spot COVID-19 testing facility to visitors not carrying the COVID-19 negative test reports. Uttarakhand also became the first Indian state to launch the ‘Tourist Incentive Coupon’ Scheme. Under this scheme, all the tourists visiting Uttarakhand, who have registered themselves under the Dehradun Smart City portal, will be provided with a discount of INR 1000 or 25 per cent of the accommodation charges per day subject to a maximum stay of three days. It is also noteworthy that apart from Uttarakhand, similar incentive-based schemes were recently introduced in Japan and in European countries Sicily and Cyprus to woo large number of tourists.

Notably, adventure tourism has a major contribution in the overall tourism industry of the state and we are confident that the reopening of adventure activities will benefit the state tourism industry. We expect full cooperation from all the stakeholders.  Simultaneously, it is our collective efforts to constantly be in touch with the stakeholders and mutually come up with apt guidelines, in order to support the industries at every step during these difficult times. Recently we held an online meeting with the stakeholders and effective steps during the revival period of adventure tourism were discussed.

The funds have been made available by the State Government to the District Magistrates for providing INR 1000 / – per personnel as immediate assistance to the personnel of the tourism industry. INR 2.50 crore has already been disbursed for this purpose. Cooperation was sought from the tourism industry to implement the positive initiatives taken by the state government. Also, in a meeting held in July, Satpal Maharaj, Tourism Minister of Uttarakhand met the Union Minister of Tourism and Culture and requested to sanction funds for the” Swadesh Darshan” and “Prasad” schemes.

 

Jyoti Mayal, President, TAAI & Vice Chairperson FAITH

“Governments should prioritise taking balanced, measured and coordinated policy action”

The crisis presents an opportunity to rethink the tourism system for a more sustainable and resilient future. The government needs to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while staying ahead of the digital curve, supporting the low carbon transition and promoting the structural transformation. Policy intervention will be necessary to address structural problems of the sector, avoid the return to issues of tourism management and advance key priorities, such as encouraging new business models, embracing digitalisation and promoting connectivity. Restoring traveller confidence and stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector, information apps for visitors and domestic tourism promotion campaigns should be the mandates.

A new tourism policy certainly needs to come into place as the new norms of travel need to be put into a document with all the changes to be adopted post-COVID. The demographic of a traveller and the tourism industry needs to be relooked into. The government needs to structure tourism taking into consideration the viewpoint of travel, the traveller and the tourism associations. In order to open up while the virus is still spreading, governments should prioritise taking balanced, measured and coordinated policy action at the local, national and international level, in order to protect people, while minimizing job losses. Preparing comprehensive tourism recovery plans, to rebuild destinations, encourage innovation and investment will help rethink the tourism sector. Accessibility, connectivity and transport should be high on the agenda just as accommodations, restaurants, resorts, events, travel and associations, travel tech companies and tour operators. Also, the state governments’ assistance efforts should include communication campaigns, supports to provide flexibility and relief for companies and workers in the reduction of working hours, temporary lay-offs and sick leave, liquidity injections and other financial instruments, to ensure business survival in the immediate term and actions to help MSME adopt new work processes. Additionally, hotels and travel agents need to be registered on the state tourism website for the traveller to feel safe to travel through reliable travel provider.

 

 

Dr. D K Aggarwal, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry

“MoT along with state tourism boards should look at utilising the 2021 overseas marketing budget for domestic tourism promotions”

The tourism industry has suffered monumental losses due to the pandemic. There is a dire need to have a National Tourism Policy with execution models. The policy can focus on immediate goals, mid-term goals and long terms goals. As the pace of revival of this sector is slow the national tourism policy should focus on survival and revival strategies for tour and travel industry. The policy should have footprints of safety and hygiene protocols in every sphere so that tourists can plan their trips fearlessly. Also, seamless travel across all states is necessary. For this, states and union territories should work in coordination with each other. There should be “uniform” quarantine rules across all States/Airports for both International Arrivals and Domestic Passengers.; this should be put on the Ministry of Tourism website. All States/ UTs should have a targeted marketing campaign to communicate the safety measures taken by the government and private stakeholders. The policy should also focus on reviving domestic tourism with milestone strategies on training, branding, marketing and inter-ministerial coordination. It is suggested that a 100% tax rebate allowed for a tourist’s spend on Domestic Travel to a cap of INR 75,000 and restaurant spend to a cap of INR 25,000 to stimulate domestic demand.

To further give a boost to domestic travel, government should provide tax rebates for spending on Domestic holidays in the lines of the Leave Travel Allowance. India has great heritage and tourism products like Wellness, Yoga, Golf, Religious Tourism, Food Tourism and Rural Tourism; these should be promoted. To promote MICE tourism, incentives should be given to corporates on all domestic conferences.  The State Tourism Boards should look at forming Tourism Circuits with the neighbouring states to promote tourism mutually. The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) along with state tourism boards should look at utilising the 2021 overseas marketing budget for domestic tourism promotions.

 

Sanjay Basu, Sr. Vice President, ATOAI & Managing Director, Far Horizon Tours Pvt. Ltd.

“Govt. needs to promote, assure and facilitate the domestic tourists to step out and explore the destinations of the country”

The challenges being faced by tourism, hospitality and aviation are possibly the worst faced by this sector. It can be called a near existential threat as normalisation is possibly another year away. While the ray of hope is that six vaccines are nearing completion by end of the year, however, it will take the entire 2021 for the world population to be substantially vaccinated for the mood to turn and travel to prosper, especially long-haul travel. In the interim, the lowest hanging fruit will be domestic tourism and on that front, the government needs to promote, assure and facilitate the domestic tourists to step out and explore the destinations of the country. For promotion, the government needs to advertise its Standard Operating Procedures for safe travel and stay, so that the public realises that it is possible to safely venture out of their homes and the tourism and hospitality industry is geared up to take care of them, with a well sanitised environment. The tourism ministry also needs to make the public aware of the innumerable natural destinations in India, which boasts of the 5th Greatest Natural Heritage of the World, where social distancing and a pandemic-free environment is natural. These will get the first strong footfalls and need to be projected and facilitated strongly.

However, while the focus presently is on domestic tourism, we as a country cannot lose sight of the international inbound markets, both short and long haul. We anticipate that due to the development of the vaccines, by the end of September and definitely by October 2021, international tourism will revive back with a surge. We must remember that if the international tourists are to come to India within the last quarter of 2021, the overseas tour operators must be assured of this from the end of 2020 onwards.

 

Rajiv Mehra, Vice President, IATO & Director Uday Tours & Travels

“For domestic travel to revive, the e-pass restrictions should be removed”

Firstly, and most importantly, the new tourism policy that is under consideration is a general tourism policy for the country and not specific to providing post-COVID relaxations. However, for the revival of tourism sector, a separate initiative is required by the Ministry of Tourism so that the tourism industry can revive. For the domestic travel to revive, the e-pass restrictions should be removed and there should be no quarantine in any state.

Secondly, the state governments along with the industry need to diversify their markets, restoring traveller confidence, stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector and harmonise protocols in each state for smooth movement. The state governments should, therefore, implement a few immediate action plans including formation of a task force at the state level, allowing a free flow of tourist vehicles without an e pass, appointing a nodal officer to publicize the new norms of safety and hygiene, ensuring cleanliness and safety at ASI monuments and putting up welcome signs at the state/ district borders and other important places in big cities. Further, the role of State Governments is more important for execution of good governance and implementation of strict rule which shall help not only keep the environment clean and garbage-free but also invite people to participate to keep the spots clean. Therefore, public and private participation is the key to success. Once we do this, then at least the domestic travellers would increase in the coming months.

 

Ravi Gosain, MD – Erco Travels Pvt. Ltd. & Hony. Treasurer – IATO

“Govt. should keenly take necessary measures to safeguard tourism companies in both organised and unorgansied sectors”

COVID-19 has been a complete disaster for the entire travel and tourism industry irrespective of its various segments. In the last six months, we have attended numerous webinars and virtual conferences and listened to the suggestions listed by MoT and distinguish industry leaders but unfortunately, it did not help us solve the question of existence. Going forward, I believe this sector will have an extremely rough patch on the way to revival. MoT has circulated a draft tourism policy to the industry for their suggestions which for a longer vision is a good step, however, the new tourism policy should keep in mind the adverse present situation to have a greater impact.

Indian tourism industry what we see today was built over the years and it was drastically destroyed by COVID-19 pandemic. Govt. should keenly take necessary measures to safeguard tourism companies in both organised and unorgansied sectors, else it would take longer than expected for its revival. If we consider today’s scenario, domestic tourism sector has some hopes but that too will be very erratic due to unstable regulations from different states in India. It will be difficult for domestic tour operators to prepare packages and announce dates unless they are sure about travel conditions and govt facilitation at state levels. It is true no one can have a definite answer to the longevity of coronavirus but with stable standard norms, people’s movement and tourism can be regularised in a better way. This is something where MoT with support of the Government of India can lay forth a definite set of guidelines for the state tourism departments.

Secondly, building confidence among tourists is one of the major areas where state tourism departments must do mandatory brainstorming. It is not possible to give traveller the confidence to visit the destination when we have no policy in place. And it is for a fact that we have to live with the COVID-19 virus, so if we have a good plan for revival of our tourism, we have better and brighter chances for a faster recovery.

 

Chetan Gupta, Hony. General Secretary- ADTOI & Director – S&M, R G Destinations

“It is crucial to win consumer’s confidence and flexible quarantine policies by the states will define the revival of domestic tourism”

Tourism is not just restricted to pilgrim, holidays, adventure or business. These were the traditional sectors that once existed. Now with niche segments like rural tourism, medical, film, wedding, cruise tourism in the pictures, a concentrated action plan by the government is required. There has to be a policy for all these kinds of activities that includes both its necessary infrastructure and development and the sustainable and responsible tourism aspect taken care of. Without a policy, tourism activities cannot be regulated and this becomes mandatory as per the changing times which requires amendments for further growth.

As per the reports, a new draft National Tourism Policy has been formulated which is under the consideration of Ministry of Tourism and focuses on employment generation and development of tourism sustainably. The other features of the policy include the development of core infrastructure as well as tourism infrastructure. It also talks about developing quality human resources in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Road, rail and air transportation have been graduated as per the relaxation of lockdown in phases by states. However, there are still the restrictions in some states that hinder even the domestic tourists to enter the other state’s border and this may deter people from moving out of their homes to visit places. It is crucial to win consumer’s confidence for travelling and flexible quarantine policies by the states will define the revival of domestic tourism.

We as an association have written to Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India to do something for the promotion of domestic tourism. MOT has decided to declare the year 2021 as the ‘Domestic Tourism Year’ and we sincerely hope this sector will get the much-needed thrust from thereon. To infuse confidence in public for travelling, ADTOI in a team of five people undertook a FAM trip to Rajasthan in September alongwith the ADTOI Rajasthan chapter members. We visited a few offbeat destinations and took the palaces & property tours to see how the hotels are following the safety guidelines stipulated by various authorities. Luckily, we returned with a satisfied mind.

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