Covid-19 is the biggest challenge that the global tourism sector has faced till date. In their October (2020) Report, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated a reduction of almost 80% in tourist traffic across the world in 2020. In general, the tourism sector is among the first to be affected and the last to recover during a health crisis. The India chapter of World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTCII) raised the alarm in a letter to the Indian Prime Minister stating that the Indian tourism and hospitality will in all possibility take at least a year to year-and-a-half to recover from the onslaught of the pandemic.
Where does India’s tourism sector stands?
With a peak summer season that went for a toss with the lockdown in place and then an unlocking period that failed to take off, the tourism industry is terming this year as its worst in the new millennium - much worse than the scenario following the 9/11 attacks. CARE Ratings in its May (2020) Report projected that the Indian tourism industry is going to book a revenue loss of `1.25 trillion which is 40% lower than the 2019 revenue level. With the tourism value chain from airlines, travel agents, hotels, destination restaurants, tour operators, tourist transportation to guides breaking down, the cumulative job losses for both the organised and the unorganised categories of the tourism sector in 2020 could be as high as 40 million as predicted by The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH) in their July 2020 Report. Yogendra Tripathi, Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in his statement on 17 August, 2020 had informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture that an estimated 2 crore to 5.5 crore people employed directly or indirectly in the tourism sector in India lost their jobs on account of the pandemic as on 15 August, 2020. FAITH has sharply raised the estimated tourism industry losses for FY21 to `15 trillion from the initial predicted loss of `5 trillion in March 2020 - owing to the pandemic. In an attempt to revive the tourism sector, India announced travel or air bubbles with countries like the US, France, and Germany in July 2020. Air bubbles are systems established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow carriers of both the nations to fly passengers either way without any restrictions. However, when the numbers came in during the month of September, it was not what the sector was expecting as India’s rising coronavirus cases are making other countries sceptical about whether to allow travel to and from India. For instance, India has not been included in the European Council’s list of countries from where travel was allowed last month.
The road to recovery
Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General of the Ministry of Tourism of Government of India pointed out that while the revival of international tourism would take some time on account of international travel restrictions, the focus will be to promote domestic tourism. This has been stressed upon by our Prime Minister as a part of the "Dekho Apna Desh" campaign, which is going to be the key driver of the tourism sector in India in the post-Covid era. The local guests are more likely to go for short weekend trips and the frequency is likely to increase in the days to come. For instance, the Rajasthan Tourism department has already started promoting “short safe stay” at the popular getaway destinations. The effort has been to some extent successful as almost 50% occupancy had been reported from tourist cities as on 30 September, 2020. Visitors, be it locals or foreigners, would prefer a destination where they can be assured of the safety standards. Increase in area per cover, partition per table in outdoor seating, live cooking arrangement for guests, use of digital menus, disposable crockery, cutlery and napkins are going to be the order of the day. For businesses travellers, boarding and lodging places with strict SOPs for Covid-19 protocols will be preferred, however, leisure travel is going to be resort centric with a lot of open space. Once the Covid-19 scare goes away, the tourists would return but safety procedures are here to stay.
Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of State (I/C) for Culture and Tourism, Government of India, highlighted that India has made significant progress in the field of medical tourism and realising the potential to develop and promote wellness and medical tourism as a niche product in the country, the Ministry of Tourism has formulated guidelines in line with the Covid-19 protocol for the promotion of the same. Patel also stressed on the use of SAATHI and NIDHI initiatives of the tourism ministry. With the NIDHI initiative, 27000 hotels have registered under the tourism department as of October 2020 and the number is growing rapidly amid the pandemic. Given the SAATHI initiative of the Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India, tourists are considering these registered hotels safe and capable to mitigate the risks arising out of the ongoing pandemic. The Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Certification programme (IITF), an online programme to train guides, is being seen as a potential employment generator at the pan India level as was mentioned by Patel in his statement last month. Also, FAITH has urged the government to set up a tourism fund that can be used by enterprises to take care of employees and proposed a multi-year moratorium by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on principal and interest payments for tourism, travel and hospitality businesses — which is a welcome move indeed.
As on date, people are reluctant to travel. Some states are quarantining people coming from other states. International flights are also limited in number. In such a scenario, getting back to normalcy still remains uncertain. In the past few days, the number of daily new cases have shown a decline and the situation is hopefully going to improve in the coming months. India should then aggressively campaign and with state support host some of the biggest and best global conventions and events to send out the message that India is safe and back in business.
The writer is the Assistant Professor in Economics, Faculty of Backdrop Commerce.
The opinion/s expressed in the article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policy or position of this magazine.