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Reviving travel and tourism in the post pandemic era

As the world faced a global health emergency since March 2020, travel and tourism industries came to a halt. The Covid-19 pandemic not only impacted the travel decision of tourists but also disrupted the lives of those associated with the industry, and affected economies and public services. But now, with surging vaccination rates, travellers are gaining confidence to make holiday plans, leading to tourism industry seeing early signs of rebound. To discuss this and more, a two-day event, HT Tourism Conclave was organised in the Capital recently.

The theme of the conclave, ‘Reviving Tourism – Responsibly in the post-pandemic world’, brought together prominent names from the tourism and government sectors to express opinions on the trends being witnessed as the country takes steps to recover and revive the tourism business.

The first day of the event started with a session by Yugal Kishore Pant (IAS), Add. CEO, Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), and Vivek Singh Chauhan, Add. director, UTDB, on climate change and newer ways to promote tourism. It moved on to a discussion by Narayan Prasad, tourism minister, Bihar Government, on building better hotels and safe stays. The next session by Ajay Bhatt, Minister of State for Tourism, Government of India, discussed how travellers discovered domestic spots when international destinations were shut. It was followed by a dialogue on promoting Chhattisgarh tourism by Atal Srivastava, chairman, Chhattisgarh Tourism Board, and how Jharkhand remains an unexplored destination by Nitish Kumar Singh, director, Jharkhand Tourism.

The second day saw virtual dialogue exchange. Aditya Thackeray, cabinet minister, Tourism and Environment, Government of Maharashtra, spoke about new travel trends in the world after Covid-19, while Madhavan Menon, MD, Thomas Cook India Limited, shed light on increased travel to domestic destinations. Dipak Deva, co-chairman, FICCI Travel, Tourism and Hospitality, focused on social media campaigns for rebuilding the sector. It concluded with the session by Rajni Hasija, director, Tourism and Marketing, IRCTC, on introducing new packages to attract travellers.

Yugal Kishore Pant (IAS), Add. Chief Executive Officer, UTDB

As climate change is a big issue, we are planning for sustainable tourism in the long run. In the last three-four years we’ve put emphasis on rural tourism, promotion of homestays and upgrading tourist-related infrastructure in those villages, and ensuring that people have activities to do there. Homestays are being made only at places of tourist importance. Three things have emerged from this: people are shunning highly dense urban areas and going to lesser-known destinations; they don’t want to travel in big groups now; and the road less taken is one of the things which has come out. We have begun promoting adventure tourism to newer heights.

Vivek Singh Chauhan, Add. Director, UTDB

As climate change is a big issue, we are planning for sustainable tourism in the long run. In the last three-four years we’ve put emphasis on rural tourism, promotion of homestays and upgrading tourist-related infrastructure in those villages, and ensuring that people have activities to do there. Homestays are being made only at places of tourist importance. Three things have emerged from this: people are shunning highly dense urban areas and going to lesser-known destinations; they don’t want to travel in big groups now; and the road less taken is one of the things which has come out. We have begun promoting adventure tourism to newer heights.

Narayan Prasad, Tourism Minister, Bihar Govt.

After the pandemic is over, we will create roadside cafes on all national highways. For investors, Bihar government will offer subsidy up to 50 lakh and also provide employment opportunities. We will avail the benefit of PRASHAD scheme to highlight the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi in Champaran district. In Bettiah, there are historical buildings of kings. We have a hospital and medical college named after Maharani Janki Kuwar, and in the vicinity, we plan to start a light and sound show over the king’s palace. While around 650 crore was allocated in the previous budget, in the upcoming budget, we will seek further funds for improving tourism. We also request UNESCO to invest in Bihar.

Ajay Bhatt, Minister of State of Tourism, GOI

When foreign tourists stopped coming to India, people of India started exploring our own country, under our scheme – Dekho Apna Desh. From October 15, charter flights have been allowed to enter India. And from November 15, foreign tourists will be able come to India through normal flights. We are allowing five lakh free visas on first come, first served basis in a certain time period. We have also decided to implement e-visas in 169 countries. Given the way tourism sector suffered for a year, the government is ready to provide all sorts of services and take measures to overcome it. In future, a loan of 10 lakh will be given to consultancy tour operators and 1 lakh to tourist guides affected by the pandemic, to give industry status to various tourism projects.

Atal Srivastava, Chairman, Chhattisgarh Tourism Board

oAfter the formation of the state of Chhattisgarh, the work that should have been done for its tourism could not be done for some reason. And I think there is a limitless potential in our state because God has given us the gift of Nature. So, in order to move forward and promote tourism, our chief minister Bhupesh Baghel announced Chhattisgarh tourism policy in 2020. It includes many things which will be very beneficial for investors and tourists. They have talked about developing many such areas on public-private partnership (PPP) model where there is a lot of potential to bring tourism in Chhattisgarh and the state government is working continuously in this direction.

Nitish Kumar Singh, Director, Jharkhand Tourism

Jharkhand, as a tourist destination, remains unexplored. The state has abundant scope in the field of eco-tourism, religious tourism, cultural tourism and rural tourism. The state government is trying to devise numerous plans to attract tourists by rolling out different activities such as adventure tourism, jungle safari, etc. Our new tourism policy is in the pipeline, and it seeks to boost community participation and attract private players by providing requisite incentives. Government is moving towards putting Jharkhand on the travel map as a top-notch tourism destination.

Aditya Thackeray, Cabinet Minister, Tourism & Environment, Govt. Of Maharashtra

I’m really optimistic for the tourism sector, because whenever we speak about a post-Covid world and whenever we have had those gaps with low Covid-19 cases, we have seen this whole concept of revenge tourism. People want to step out, look for places they have not been to, be it isolated villas or staycations. We are one of those few regions in the world that have been painfully slow and staggered in terms of opening up, and that will continue because for us, healthcare is a priority. So, we have been a little harder on double vaccination protocols. We need to add a sustainability climate test for every policy that we are bringing and to reiterate the fact that we need sustainable development, not just development.

Madhavan Menon, MD, Thomas Cook India Limited

We are witnessing tourism across the country transform — a major aspect is local travel. It may decrease in proportion to other forms of travel, but the reality is that local travel continues to play an important role. At the moment, there are not enough routes that are available for airlines to fly. A lot of airlines put their aircrafts in storage due to closed borders amid the pandemic. I think they are waiting for borders to start opening up. I use November 1 as a marker, when you would start seeing the liquidity of airline capacity returning.

Dipak Deva, Co-Chairman, FICCI Travel, Tourism & Hospitality

Every country, today, is standing at the same start line because they have all opened up and everybody wants the same customers. There is a huge opportunity for incredible India. We need a campaign that brings back trust in India, that people feel safe and secure. We should go to four-five key markets. UK, France, Russia, Germany and Japan are key source markets of Indian tourism. It should be a 100% digital campaign. The most important thing is to find new products, experiences and ideas. People won’t travel just to go into a monument. People will travel to live life and gain experience. Luxury is about finding the right experience now, and luxury experience can also be at zero cost.

Rajni Hasija, Director, Tourism & Marketing, IRCTC

The time has come for the industry to explore — not only to go beyond its traditions and the way it used to sell, but also to find new methods as to how tourism will be accepted. IRCTC believes in reselling diversification and, over a period of time, we’ve really diversified. It’s only due the Covid-19 that we were pulled back a little. You will see IRCTC coming up with new products very soon. There is pent-up demand as people want to go out. You have to bridge the gap. Make affordable packages. People are ready to spend. Give them the platform, ensure them of the services and we will be able to help our country by contributing to its economy.

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