Opinion

Towards more inclusive tourism

Manpreet Kaur/Avinash Mishra | Updated on October 07, 2021

North-East Unexplored potential   -  KR Deepak

In the post-Covid era, little-known domestic destinations must be promoted

Covid-19 has created an unprecedented health and socio-economic crisis world over, causing large-scale disruptions across industries and massive job losses. The global travel and tourism industry is considered to be the most adversely affected, owing to the strict lockdowns, interrupted air travel, closed down hotels and other such travel restrictions imposed to prevent spread of the pandemic.

There was a 65 per cent decline year-on-year (YoY) in International Tourist Arrivals (ITAs) during January-May, 2021, recording 147 million fewer visitors. The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, bore the brunt with a 95 per cent YoY drop in ITAs in the first five months of 2021.

India too suffered heavily. The ‘Trade, Hotels, Transport, Communication, and Broadcasting’ category of India’s National Income, which includes the tourism sector, suffered inordinately more in all the quarters of the last fiscal year and contracted by a massive 47 per cent.

Recognising the sector’s potential to give impetus to economic recovery, the UNWTO designated this year’s World Tourism Day, celebrated on September 27, as a day to focus on “Tourism for Inclusive Growth”, suggesting looking beyond statistics and ensuring participation by the vast majority in the benefits accruing from the imminent recovery and rebuilding of lives and livelihoods after Covid.

A three-pronged approach

To embark upon the revival path of tourism in India, with a particular focus on fostering inclusive growth, a three-pronged approach could be considered, along with the conventional push required towards infrastructure development.

First, in large markets like India, domestic tourism is indubitably driving the sector’s resumption. Due to adverse impact of the pandemic on income and employment, travel to familiar and predictable locations, and for shorter durations, is preferred to popular and far-off destinations. In addition, the lockdowns forcing people to work-from-home have led to fatigue. With India’s diverse landscape, various niche tourism segments, especially adventure tourism, can become the much-needed escape hatch.

Almost 27 million Indians travelled abroad in 2019 prior to Covid, spending over $20 billion. This constitutes the potential demand that can be diverted towards Indian destinations. For this, concerted efforts toward identifying and promoting unexplored destinations, such as the North-East region, and their development are essential.

The ultimate responsibility to promote domestic tourism — through increased coordination and cooperation, and formulation of mutually beneficial policies and strategies — lies with the States. The Kerala government’s recently launched State-wide vaccination drive for frontline workers in the sector including tour operators, workers in hotels, tour guides, etc. and several Covid-19 relief packages and schemes like Tourism Employment Support Scheme, Tourism Houseboats and Guides Support Scheme, are noteworthy.

Maharashtra’s initiative to promote homestay tourism in partnership with Airbnb, aimed at encouraging travel to lesser-known destinations and enabling inclusive community-led tourism, is another welcome move. Such tourism promotion schemes can be adopted by other States as well.

Second, and strongly linked to the first, is to promote sustainable and responsible tourism, which involves taking full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impact, while addressing the needs of visitors, industries, environment, and host communities.

Sustainability, the norm

Its significance is aptly described by the UNWTO Secretary-General, “Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new norm”. It is crucial for curbing the impact of the prevalent over-tourism challenge. Unchecked tourism can deplete natural resources causing water shortages, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, and contribute to climate change and pollution. Hence, regular carrying capacity assessment of popular destinations and sustainable management is imperative.

India has performed unsatisfactorily in sustainable tourism as reflected by its low rank in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, 2019. However, several policy mechanisms such as formulating guidelines to classify hotels based on their adoption of eco-friendly measures like Sewage Treatment Plants, Rain Water Harvesting System etc.; devising a National Strategy for sustainable tourism with focus on adventure and ecotourism; promoting ‘Incredible India’ brand to attract tourists even to rural India which may potentially help in mitigating the problems of disguised unemployment and migration, among others, are being progressively implemented.

Yet, a lot of ground is left to cover. A shift towards local and regional tourism products will encourage collaboration with local stakeholders enabling their participation in a more equitable growth.

Lastly, a transition towards digitisation in tourism needs to take the centre stage. A paradigm shift towards touch-less travel through symptom-tracking and contact-tracing apps could be a prospect. Initiatives such as Virtual Reality, webinars, digital walk-throughs offering an immersive experience of popular as well as unexplored destinations, via initiatives like ‘Dekho Apna Desh’, need to be further promoted.

Therefore, it is essential that we leverage this into rethinking business models for the future while also prioritising the preservation of our heritage and ecology through sustainable and responsible tourism. Going forward, the key to an efficient implementation of the recovery plan is the transition towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism model through public private partnerships (PPP) and collaboration between government, employers, and other key stakeholders in the tourism value chain.

Kaur is Young Professional, and Mishra is Adviser, Tourism and Culture in NITI Aayog

Published on October 07, 2021

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