Hindustan Times, in a bid to shine light on new-age travel experiences in India, hosted the second season of its Tourism Conclave during September 24 and 25. The event was focused on the theme, Indian Tourism – Road to Recovery ‘Refocus, Reboot, Revive’. As marketplaces and economies start getting back on their feet, there is an urgent need to fill the void that has taken over the industry in these past few months.
The e-conclave, divided into eight sessions spread over two days, had a host of State heads, industry leaders, business owners, and filmmakers looking at the problems of various sectors and charting out a future course for Indian travel and tourism in the post-pandemic world. In the true spirit of Incredible India, the discussions veered towards the revival of travel and tourism sector, and their auxiliary sectors. Domestic tourism remained a common talking point among the panelists. The top priority, however, remained the safety of the tourists. The unanimous outcome of these discussions was to gain the trust of travellers by ensuring safety protocols.
Ritu Mehrotra, country manager, India, Sri Lanka and Maldives at Booking.com, says, “Until travellers feel comfortable travelling, I don’t see recovery happening any time soon. But there are green shoots of recovery throughout the business, such as alternate accommodations. It is a question of when. The most important thing for travellers is safety… There is a pent-up demand for domestic holidays; weekend destinations are favoured. Stay windows have increased because work from home could be from anywhere.” In the initial phases of the pandemic, businesses had to undergo massive right-sizing. Rajesh Magow, co-founder and group CEO, MakeMyTrip, feels that it was all about resilience. “The short-term focus has been on survival, globally. The second track is to map changes in consumer behaviour and how to come out of the crisis. Leveraging technology and proactive strategic thinking, plus the agility to go back to the drawing board would work out well to bounce back,” he says.
For Pratik Mazumder, CMO, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India limited, the biggest challenge was to follow new protocols and regulations, and after that, engaging with lakhs of members. He says, “We have launched programmes to assure members of travelling safely from home to resort and back, with other offers. At locations with lesser restrictions, membership bookings are up. Other resorts’ occupancy numbers are going north… We believe in the philosophy of being physically distant but social active and present.”
While Covid-19 brought problems, it gave solutions, too, believes Rajni Hasija, director tourism & marketing, IRCTC. She says, “In the first quarter, only shramik trains were running, and subsequently few more trains were added. New trains are being added where situation is improving and the load is more. As an organisation, we are not just a booking agency but we also have to arrange for hospitality simultaneously.”
Time to focus on India and travellers
Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog
“I’ve been associated with tourism for a long time. Globally, World Tourism Organisation tracked 217 destinations, out of which 72% had closed borders to international tourists [amid the pandemic]. Covid-19 has impacted the tourism industry, which is a big job creator. We must follow proper precautions, promote domestic tourism and become an adventure tourist. We need to discover hills and mountains and seek fresh air. This time is an opportunity to make India the safest place for travellers, particularly women. It is time to build good protocols and guidelines, sensitise the local community, create world-class infrastructure and make the community a part of tourism’s growth process,” Kant says.
Safety and hygiene are priorities
Anbalagan P, IAS, Secretary (Tourism), Government of Chhattisgarh
“Almost everyone in this sector — travel, tourism, hospitality — is affected. The first priority is to fight Covid-19; we have to be ready to adapt to the new normal. We have issued our own safety and hygiene protocols to all restaurants, hotels and places where people stay,” he says. Shedding light on domestic tourism, he adds, “We have to tell people about the travel options available within the country — from mountains to beaches and forests, we have everything. In Chhattisgarh, one-third of the population is tribal, and they have very distinct and valued traditions and culture. So, to showcase that is also one of the best efforts that the tourism board here is making, along with the credit players in the market.”
Expecting footfall by early next year
Rakesh Mohan, Director (Tourism), Government of Bihar
“We are planning advertisements so that tourists may come with confidence. We have spoken with travel agents and hotel associations for precautionary measures. We are providing training to all persons associated with the sectors so that when tourists start coming, they are prepared,” Mohan shares. Giving a peek into tourist favourites in Bihar, he says, “Gaya is a hub for international tourists and we have taken precautions. Tourists will get the confidence in due course of time. I expect it to start by February, as it is the peak season for Gaya.”
Travel to get away from mundane routine
Meenakshi Sharma, Director general tourism, Government of India
“Tourism’s importance goes beyond its contribution to the economy. It is one of those pleasurable recreational activities, and reminds us how life should be. All of us need a vacation at various points in life,” says Sharma. Talking numbers, she adds, “Tourism contributes about 5.07% to Gross Domestic Product and offers about 90 million jobs. In 2019, international tourists visiting India contributed USD 33 billion to the economy. There are some other important figures to note: Around 1.4 billion domestic visits were made, out of which 60% can be religious, historical, cultural, etc. So, domestic travel is also very crucial for India. Tourism covers a wide spectrum — from heavy investment sectors such as civil aviation, railways, road transport to smaller ones such as bed-and-breakfasts, dhabas.”
Preparing to welcome tourists in winter with safety protocols in place
Vikram Kapur, Additional chief secretary, Tourism, Culture & Religious Endowments Department, Government of Tamil Nadu
“Tamil Nadu has been one of the preferred tourist destinations. But the pandemic made it worst affected and it is alarming. So, it will take a while for tourists to come back. However, we have encouraged the sector to set in place standard operating procedures, safety and hygiene at each and every tourist site, hotel and help in making it Covid-19-free. It may take time for tourists to develop renewed interest. We lost the summer season travel but winter is also a tourist season, so we are gearing up for that and counting on the festive season as well as it attracts international tourists. Pandemic was a setback, but we used it as an opportunity to prepare better and ensure that tourists are able to enjoy the holiday,” Kapur says.
A step towards revival
TP Rajesh, MD and commissioner of Tourism, TTDC
“The situation during the first week of April and now are very different. Earlier, people had fear, but now awareness has increased. We are slowly re-opening now, and with effective contact tracing and other safety measures, Tamil Nadu is able to see revival. My forecast is that focus will be on domestic tourism, especially from neighbouring states, with safety norms in place. Hotels and stakeholders are taking adequate measures and sensitising people about safety precautions, giving training. I feel that in the future, travellers will choose destinations keeping safety in mind. Tamil Nadu is taking steps in that direction. And now with the recent re-opening of inter and intrastate travel, people might want to step out,” he says.
Coming back stronger than before
Debojo Maharshi, CMO, Spice Jet
“Due to Covid-19, we were also hit heavily, as shown in our first quarter results. Tourism industry is the worst impacted [sector] in the pandemic; and airlines, in particular, across the globe are worst affected. Some shut down and others are on the verge of collapse. The revenue fell by 83%,” he says. On a positive note, he adds, “Five years ago, we came back stronger, and showed profit for 30 consecutive quarters, and it is a similar story this time. In every adversity, we try to find an opportunity, we have been sensing the opportunities and encashing on them. During first 30 days of the lockdown, we spent time building the existing cargo business and provided medical equipments to keep the supply chain intact, among other measures.”
Interdependence of film and tourism industries is the way ahead
Kunal Kohli, Filmmaker
“Stating the obvious, there is going to be a change in the way we shoot and travel. As far as work is concerned, a lot of shoots have started. This will generate employment in other states and cities as well. We need to help each other – states and the film industry. The heavy film production states should work with the industries for revival. I am getting calls for scripts that require shooting in one bungalow or one location. But you can’t force feed things. We have to change inclusively, taking everyone along,” Kohli says. Talking about his love for the Maximum City, he adds, “Mumbai has so much to offer in terms of tourism. This is the beauty of cities which have evolved over years. “
Controlled crew and crowd for film shoots
Madhur Bhandarkar, Filmmaker
“We have seen a major paradigm shift; the situation is the same everywhere. People are taking baby steps. When we shoot in a particular state, it is great for the local economy. Technicians, junior artistes, daily wagers who worked day in and day out in our industry need to be taken care of. We are prepared to follow guidelines and shoot accordingly. Size of the crew, crowd management — there are a lot of perspectives; a lot of actors are still not okay to shoot such scenes,” he says. On the subject of his favourite shoot locales, Bhandarkar adds, “I am a hardcore Mumbaikar so I am obsessed with this city. We have Mukesh Mills where a lot of movies have been shot and I have also shot there, so I miss that.”
The event was in partnership with Bihar Tourism, Chhattisgarh Tourism, Delhi Tourism, Gujarat Tourism, IRCTC, Jharkhand Tourism, Tamil Nadu Tourism, Spice Jet, and Club Mahindra.
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