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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

Thomas Cook India has announced the extension of its partnership with Visa - to include its Borderless Card, that empowers India's consumers with simple, secure and smooth transactions while travelling overseas.

The Thomas Cook Borderless card can be loaded with nine global currencies on a single card - US Dollars, British Pounds, Euro, Australian Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Swiss Francs, Singapore Dollars, Thai Baht and United Arab Emirates Dirhams. Additionally, the partnership benefits customers with access / acceptance across the extensive Visa network over 70 million merchant establishments and ecommerce sites worldwide.

The pandemic has witnessed a rapid acceleration in India's shift to digital-first commerce. Consumer concerns on health/safety have only served to fast track the deployment of technology - reducing dependencies on physical touch points and enhancing contactless, fast and secure payment options.

With this trend expected to have a significant and long-lasting impact on payment solutions long after the pandemic, the Thomas Cook multicurrency Borderless Prepaid Card in association with Visa is designed to be future-ready.

Madhavan Menon, Managing Director, Thomas Cook (India) Limited. said, "As India sees a rapid shift to digital-first commerce, our sustained focus on technology led innovations has seen extension of our portfolio with the introduction of our Borderless multicurrency prepaid card in partnership with Visa. The card offers significant consumer benefits. In addition to nine global currencies, the chip and pin security enabled Borderless prepaid card provides customers with access to the largest global network of merchant establishments, ecommerce sites and ATMs. The top up and seamless shift to multiple currency wallets makes cross border travel smooth and effortless."

T R Ramachandran, Group Country Manager, India and South Asia said, "As economies around the world gradually open up, international travel is expected to gain momentum over the next few months. With a post pandemic world increasingly biased towards digital payments, cards have emerged as the default choice for international travellers the world over. We are delighted to partner with Thomas Cook as they launch Borderless Multicurrency Prepaid cards. The ubiquity and worldwide acceptance of the Visa network clubbed with the security and convenience of using a Visa card, will truly empower consumers looking for a digital payment solution for their international travel needs."

Iyad Rasbey, Executive Director, Destination Tourism Development, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, shares on various initiatives taken by the Authority for tourism 

Ras Al Khaimah offers an entirely unique experience and has firmly established itself as one of the most authentic destinations in the Middle East with magnificent landscapes, breath-taking coastlines and rich and terracotta desert planes. Excerpts from the interview:

Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) recently launched ‘SelectRAK’ scheme. What are your expectations from this on developing tourism infrastructure in the Emirate?  

SelectRAK was launched, together with Arton Capital – a Government Advisory Company, as a strategic initiative to boost tourism and economic activity through investment. Our goal is to further drive the reputation of Ras Al Khaimah as the place to invest in and as an affordable luxury destination with one of the region’s most picturesque settings.

A seamless and stress-free process, it supports investors not only in registering and operating international businesses from Ras Al Khaimah but also in finding a home in the Emirate and organising financial packages and medical insurance. It also provides long-term residence visas for those who meet the Government mandated criteria. 

RAKTDA also launched summer campaign WANASA. How is the response from the market this year?

Our 2021 summer WANASA campaign was the first ever tactical campaign launched across both our domestic and international markets. The response to the campaign has been very strong, and we have seen a strong growth in the number of both domestic and international visitors.

WANASA was designed to capitalise on the positive momentum of previous campaigns, such as our summer 2020 ‘Shortcation’ campaign, which generated more than 15,000 room nights over three months and produced 65 million media impressions. This was followed by the equally successful ‘Funderful’ winter campaign, which boosted awareness of the diverse terrain of the Emirate, spanning expansive terracotta deserts, towering mountain peaks and pristine beaches. 

According to Colliers International, RAK hotels may witness 90% occupancy in 2021. What is your take on this?

We are recording robust tourist arrivals and hotel occupancy this year, and the projection is in line with our strategic outlook. In fact, we lead the region in ADR (average daily rate) and RevPAR (revenue per available room) in 2020 and we see the same healthy performance in our ADR and RevPAR figures this year.

A key part of our success in driving high occupancy was due to the Emirate’s early and sustained action to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in global recognition as a safe destination for inbound tourism. The Emirate was the first city in the world to be certified ‘safe’ by the ‘SafeGuard Label’ from Bureau Veritas and the ‘Safe Travels Stamp’ from the World Travel and Trade Council. We were the first in the world to provide free return PCR testing and it's a service that we continue offering today. This complimentary service is now almost a year running and it helps mitigate the expenses for travelers, especially for families. 

Ras Al Khaimah aims to attract 3 million visitors per year by 2030. What plans are in place to achieve this? How are you tweaking your marketing strategy in the changed scenario?

As the global travel and tourism industry starts to recover, destinations must operate in a ‘new normal’ and navigate the pandemic’s long-lasting effects. With our goal to welcome 3 million visitors per year by 2030, we have launched several new initiatives.

We announced a strategic vision for the Emirate in the new era of travel, aimed at tapping into the growing wellspring of traveller requirements – ambitions that go beyond the traditional holiday experience to encompass a sense of purposeful travel. In fact, we have announced plans to invest USD136 million in 20 sustainable tourism developments across the Emirate, in partnership with RAK Hospitality Holding and RAK Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as part of our new strategy.

We are also focusing on promoting the Emirate as a leading sporting destination in the Gulf.  Ras Al Khaimah International Airport is currently undergoing its biggest expansion strategy and we are constantly adding new strategic airline partnerships to make the Emirate even more accessible to key source markets.

Where does India stand in your global scheme of things now?

India is a key source market for us, and we are continually assessing ways in which we can welcome more guests from this market. Ras Al Khaimah International Airport has recently welcomed expanded operations by SpiceJet, bringing in guests from six key cities in India, spanning Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin, Amritsar, Lucknow and Jaipur. Furthermore, we have a growing number of investors from India, who appreciate the robust business environment that Ras Al Khaimah offers.

Efforts are also underway to create safe and attractive offerings for MICE and wedding travel. We anticipate increased interest in our Emirate for destination weddings with travel restrictions from India continuing to lift.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are attracting lot of Indians. How do you plan to tap this traffic? Or, are you looking at positioning RAK as a standalone destination in India?

India is a top source market for the UAE and Ras Al Khaimah has been successfully tapping into this market, with 80% of our international guests coming through Dubai International Airport (DXB). Aligned with the government’s supportive efforts, we have seen the destination gain the appeal of Indian visitors for its natural scenery, adventure tourism and more.

Which segments of travellers will your focus be on once tourism restarts?

Our tourism sector already records strong tourist arrivals, underpinned by the status as the world’s first ‘Safe’ destination. We welcome not just leisure tourists but also the MICE segment, which has recorded consisted growth in recent years.  

Ras Al Khaimah is well positioned to provide an authentic and accessible Arabian experience that is diverse in its appeal. We are looking to diversify in Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism portfolio to attract a wider segment of tourists and higher yield visitors looking for authentic and unique experiences.

As a MICE friendly destination, we are ideally suited to business visitors and for hosting wedding celebrations.

 

Kanika Tekriwal, CEO and Founder, JetSetGo Aviation shares her perspective on the growth potential of private aviation as well as her company

JetSetGo will continue to focus on the upper end of the market with larger play in either mid-sized or the larger long-range private jets. The company has a dedicated fleet of 20 aircrafts and a few others are on marketing contracts with us on a lease, globally. Excerpts from the interview:

How would you explain the unfolding scenario of private aviation in India?

Given the present disruption in-flight services, charters offer a high degree of flexibility and dependability. With more flyers becoming mindful of their safety, the demand for chartered aircraft is at an all-time high. The increasing complexity and disruptions in flying commercial, for which there is no clarity on when or what the new normal will be, are resulting in a significant spike in demand for private aviation.

The private charter business is therefore witnessing an all-time high demand right now. With safety added to the list of other benefits flying private offers, such as on-board comfort, ease of booking, discretion, speed of service, timing, seamless ground transportation, etc., the industry is all set to witness a boom like never before.

There has been a paradigm shift in the consumer’s behavior and the private aviation the sector has witnessed sustained growth. JetSetGo itself has witnessed a nine-fold increase in booking requests since the pandemic hit, of which 70% guests are new flyers.

Also, after the air travel suspension was lifted for both domestic and international destinations, charters are witnessing a lot of leisure travel requests out of safety concerns. As a result, we are experiencing many international one-way trips from India as people are looking forward to leisure trips. The international destinations that are currently witnessing maximum demand include Maldives, Russia, Greece, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany etc.

What is the impact of the pandemic on the private jets’ segment?

The demand for efficient and flexible aviation is gaining momentum in these unprecedented times. Before the onset of the coronavirus, we used to receive anywhere between 30-40 requests per day for charter flight bookings mostly for business flights. Post the lockdown, there was a sudden demand for evacuation flights. We were able to fly close to 17 evacuation flights with all the required approvals in place, during this time. Our numbers have not risen when we compare it with the pre -COVID times but have considerably increased if compared with the entire aviation industry.  

Recently, the travel ban was lifted for domestic and international destinations and we have seen a substantial surge in requests for leisure travel. Several popular destinations are now opening up for Indian travelers and vaccines are being rolled out across the globe. We have seen a nine-fold increase in booking requests out of which 70 per cent are new clients of JetSetGo. We have seen approximately 10-12 booking queries each day ever since the air travel suspension was lifted for the Maldives and other European countries.

What is your expansion plan?

Our goal at JetSetGo has always been to aid consumers to get from point A to point B in the quickest time possible. This goal, plus our research into Sky Shuttles means we look at making air travel accessible to all and cost-efficient.

We are also in the process of setting up an aircraft financing and leasing arm at Gujarat’s Gift city and are in the process of acquiring pre-owned aircrafts. The venture will be a fully owned unit. Additionally, our focus is on enabling urban air mobility in congested cities of India by using eVTOLs, as we firmly believe that everyone should be able to use an air taxi at a price similar to an Uber. We are working towards turning this vision into reality with JetSetGo’s ‘Sky Shuttle’ service. This service enables the user to book a ferry ride at the cost of an uber and reach their destination with a same-day return without any wait time.

What sort of challenges do you face in running the operation? What are your suggestions to overcome these challenges?

Since the pandemic, like everybody else, we too are facing few challenges. From overnight changing flying rules and regulations in different parts of the world and doing just limited flights to having a limited workforce on the ground to run aircrafts.  The increase in ATF is also adding to the operational cost. That said, our demand also exceeds the supply, for which, we have decided to overcome this by investing in the GIFT City project and managing an adequate supply. Furthermore, the challenges will be overcome as we move to normalcy. More markets will slowly reopen to Indian tourists and flying in full capacity will no more be a challenge.

Where do you see JetSetGo in the next 5 years?

Our aim is to lead the private aviation revolution and cement India’s spot in the big leagues. By 2026, India is expected to have the third-largest aviation industry in the world and our goal is to further stimulate the surge in India’s private aviation sector. We are also aiming at enabling urban air mobility in the crowded metropolitans of India and eVTOLs will help us reach our goal.  eVTOLs will enable air taxis with intra-city connectivity a frequent mode of transportation in India.

We have recently launched a ‘Sky Shuttle’ service between smaller airports, ensuring zero waiting periods and the shortest flying times achievable. Additionally, we plan on expanding operations in India and other markets, including the Middle East. We also plan on buying pre-owned aircraft in the US and Middle- East through our leasing subsidiary, which allows us the flexibility to tap customers both in India and overseas. We will continue to focus on the upper end of the market, with larger play in either mid-size or the larger long-range private jets.

You have been a successful entrepreneur.  Is there any plan to foray into the commercial aviation business? What is your success mantra?

The obvious development for JetSetGo should have been to launch into the commercial aviation sector but then it is not a viable industry in India. Airlines in India are selling at a much lower per-mile cost. For example, in the US, airlines sell at one dollar per nautical mile. Here, it is 37 cents per nautical mile. As compared to the US and Europe, the cost of operations is much higher in India. The airline industry has never been profitable here. A full-cost airline’s fares are almost on par with those of a low-cost airline.

I believe that brilliant businesses are not built on money, but on great people and great ideas, so focus on cracking that one extraordinary idea that will take you places. Your customers are god so deliver what you promise. There are no shortcuts to success and going lean will never go out of fashion irrespective of whether it’s your money or your investors. Communicate clearly and be transparent whether it’s with your team, customers or suppliers, as transparency is deeply valued by everyone in the long run.

Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), speaks her mind on survival, revival and the roadmap for the industry…  

Industry witnessed some positive signs post the lockdown last year. However, the second wave totally devastated the industry. What is the impact of the second wave on the industry, according to you?

Covid-19 has been a nightmare and has brought in total destruction, both for livelihood and life.  Initially when Covid started in early 2020 I heard everyone saying that it will ease out soon. Then the first lockdown came, and people struggled with it in despair & frustration, but still everyone was positive saying there is surely a light at the end of the dark tunnel. After the first phase people were anxious to get out of the four walls, they were confined in thus we saw a huge surge in revival of domestic travel and slight revival in international destination in “air bubbles”.

The second phase which was very devastating has touched each and everyone in this life. We have all lost family, friend, colleague, or an acquaintance. Businesses which had slowly restarted, crashed, and the industry is truly struggling with revenue and cash flow. We are now paranoid & it will certainly take us a while to gain total confidence to move out as pre covid era & Vaccination will truly be the driver. We must realise domestic tourism as drivecations would revive much quicker at selected sustainable destinations, but other travel is more of friends & family, urgent business-related or unavoidable travel. It’s not normal tourism travel.

How do you anticipate the revival of the industry?

As President TAAI, I am very confident travel & tourism will revive with new opportunities, new zeal & new outlook. The demographic is totally changed for both the traveller and destination. We need to adopt the new protocols & procedures. Consumers will want more information about their end-to-end journey, such as which aircraft, which airport to transit and the hotel’s ‘COVID’ cleanliness processes – as people want to make their careful decisions to minimise their risk and exposures for themselves and their families. Search engines will need to supply more information to enable filtering and selections.

When people feel safe, they will travel more – as they now know what it is like to be prevented to go to places, they thought they could go anytime. We’ll start to embrace travel in a more conscious way, seeking out smaller brands, hotels and experiences that reconnect us with nature and minimise our footprint. Short stays and weekend trips will be huge. International travel will be limited as international borders will open slowly thus, we will most likely travel locally, more frequently. More road trips for 2021, packing up the car, with a flexible itinerary is a great way to explore our amazing country.

While it’s difficult to predict exactly what tourism will look like in the future, we can expect that travellers will have a greater desire to seek out less crowded attractions and destinations, as well as nature-based experiences. Fortunately, some of India’s key attributes including our wide-open spaces, our relative isolation will be attractive to draw international travellers when they can travel here again. One of the key areas that we are committed to is telling our incredible Indigenous story and celebrating that rich history of the oldest continuous living culture on Earth. Another key focus for us is tapping into an increased desire for, and awareness of, sustainable tourism & wellness products and experiences among travellers.

Travel restrictions are the main barrier standing in the way of the recovery of international tourism, along with slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. The lack of coordinated response among countries to ensure harmonised protocols and coordinated restrictions, as well as the deteriorating economic environment are important obstacles for recovery.

The Traveller will look for safecation, sustainable tourism & proper & correct information on health & medical assistance & most importantly an environment of staying connected.

As one of the leading associations in the country, what role have you played to support members during these difficult times?

As President TAAI we have been in the continuous process of motivating our members, the connect between us has been very strong. The virtual platform gave us an opportunity to have many more meetings on a regular basis. We conducted various webinars, organised meetings, updated all on travel & tourism related issues, interacted with stake holders, various educational programs on tourism & statutory compliances were conducted.  We also conducted a motivational webinar with Gurudev Sri Sri. Supporting each other & working transparently was very vital & established.

We have been able to help our members in getting refunds and to book through GDS. Educating our members, skilling & upskilling is an ongoing process. TAAI has collaborated with a UK-based learning and networking platform to empower our members through up-to-date knowledge of destination and tourism products and to open up new business network opportunities including local expertise around the world.

TAAI has continuously been giving its inputs to the government pertaining to preparing policies and implementation. TAAI’s connect with MoCA, MoT, Ministry of Finance, Health, Skill & Niti Aayog has been appreciated. We have been very vocal with our demands for rebate, reliefs and moratoriums. There have been some initiatives by the Finance Minister & RBI but a lot more needs to be achieved.

After first phase TAAI was able to restore travel by advocating to the government to open businesses, hotels, convention centres even if it is with limited presence. Only if the country opens will the confidence and demand be generated. TAAI had consistently persisted and got RTPCR testing implemented and then cost reduction. We are now working aggressively for driving vaccinations to generate consumer & business confidence. We have held vaccination drives in many cities including Mumbai & Delhi

We have once again advocated for additional flights for more connectivity, flights beyond ‘Air Bubbles’ opening of borders both international & domestic & encouraging domestic tourism with unilateral policies. We are in constant dialogue with Ministry of Tourism & Aviation & suggesting corrects protocols, ways of getting ease of business implemented.

For the first time TAAI has been able to connect with its members of all region chapters at an open forum where all concerns were addressed. We have been helping our members on refunds, Joint bank guarantee with IATA, contracts & introducing them to new destinations. The lockdown has made us come closer & interact more with our members through the virtual platform.

We have created history by driving a change at APJC and was unanimously appointed as the Chairperson, which has inculcated confidence in the entire IATA membership. We continue to drive a healthier & constructive environment & relationship for both our members & airlines.

Our relationship with media, both print & electronic has been very much appreciated by the industry.

We are continuously in dialogue with MOCA & MOT to work towards establishing ease of business, formulating policies & protecting the consumer & agent’s money. IATA members need to be automatically given MOT recognition as we already evaluated by a statutory body.

Govt has extended some relief in pieces. What are your expectations from govt. to reinstate business?

We are a huge country with a huge population. The government is responsible for each & every citizen and needs to support us in difficult times. We are all taxpayers and investing in our country. The government must contribute to our benefits in challenging times as the pandemic. When the travel, tourism and hospitality is struggling to stay afloat and it is an admitted fact that we contribute more than 9%, both towards GDP and employment, why are we not considered for support for monetary subsidies, statutory rebates & tax-free holidays. Liquidity of cash and continuous fixed costs are making the industry difficult to survive and if then also the government does not directly support us it is certainly a grave concern of the industry.

It would have been a good move if the Finance Minister and others concerned had a direct interaction with TAAI and FAITH to take suggestions, our concerns and pave a path for revival. We are an important sector and need to be reached out to by the government. Only if travel and tourism will revive will unemployment be reduced, foreign exchange earnings will be generated, and infrastructure be developed. A lot can be achieved if there is cooperation & collaboration between both.

As the President of the association, what roadmap you have outlined for your association?

My priority is that our members should be able to sustain. We are a resilient industry and need to continue building on the same. My focus is to establish a mechanism to protect our money from defaulting airlines and other suppliers and introduce new avenues to be able to generate more revenue. Today, specially, post Covid 19 we have witnessed a revolution in technology and for that I would like to give TAAI members a platform to increase their reach. My list is very long but I would like emphasise on getting travel and tourism to be included in the concurrent list to be given an Industry status for many more benefits and a structured sector.

Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, Former Union Tourism Secretary, Govt. of India and Secretary General, Hotel Association of India, shares his perspective on the current status of the hospitality industry as well as road ahead…

Industry witnessed some positive signs post the lockdown last year. However, the second wave totally devastated the industry. What is the impact of the second wave on the industry, according to you?

 The Indian hospitality sector is among the most affected sectors due to the ongoing pandemic. It almost came to a standstill during the initial six months of the lockdown imposed in 2020. As the pandemic-led restrictions were eased, the business started to witness a ray of hope for its survival. With the signs of improvement in economic activities, the hotel industry started its journey to recovery. However, with the sudden onset of the second wave the beleaguered sector is again reeling under the impact of the crisis as travel restrictions and curfews continue to pose challenges leisure and business travelers. All the major tourist destinations are facing the brunt of extended curfews and lockdowns. The preliminary indications are that approximately 40% of small-scale hotels have shut operations across the country while large numbers of others are looking at a possible collapse if no respite is offered in the coming months.

How do you anticipate the revival of the industry?

The industry has the inner strength and core competence to revive its primary position in the tourism and hospitality sector and as the little lull period before the second wave showed it can bounce back quickly. But the devastation has been too deep and extensive, and it requires the helping hand of the government to find its feet. As the country continues to fight against the virus, it is expected that with faster vaccination drives and herd immunity the situation will ease. Furthermore, the recent announcements like increasing the size of the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) from Rs. 3 lakh crores to Rs. 4.5 lakh crore, liquidity support by the Reserve Bank of India and tax exceptions given by some state governments, are some of the measures that will help the sector gain confidence towards recovery.

However, the hospitality is a highly capital-intensive sector. Hotels have a high percentage of fixed costs of operations that have become unsustainable owing to nil or negligible revenues. The recovery of hotels will also be slow process as borders will reopen with extreme caution. The traveler confidence too will take extended time to return to normalcy.

Currently, the sector is burdened with high taxation and excessive licensing and regulations. Therefore, according “Industry” status to the hospitality sector will be game changer for the recovery of the sector as it will allow the sector to avail some benefits like lower electricity and water tariff, lower property tax, rationalization of license fees and simplified approval process for hotel projects and operations. This will strengthen the Indian hospitality industry, preserve and unlock its immense potential while also helping our country with the post-pandemic economic revival.

As one of the leading associations in the country, what role have you played to support members during these difficult times?

As an industry association we have tried to support the members in many ways. The first support has been to give the industry a voice. We have started a magazine The Engage to create wider awareness of the problems, keep members informed of the policy and other developments.

Second, we have strengthened the advocacy with the government through direct approach to Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Tourism, RBI and others and by extensive use of the media. Our share in the print and electronic media has been very high. We feel that such pressure has contributed a lot to whatever little relief that has come from the government. Third, we know that tourism depends largely on the states’ initiatives. We have expanded to the states, created chapters and helped them in collaborating with the state governments to gain support for the industry. The results from Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Punjab etc have been very encouraging and hope will give rich dividend in PPP in the long run. Fourth we also try to help the members by collecting and collating information, ideas about changes taking place in the industry globally and how the members can adapt to the new emerging situations.

Govt has extended some relief in pieces. What are your expectations from govt. to reinstate business?

We are deeply grateful for whatever support our government has extended. The move will go a long way in bringing relief for the hospitality sector. But much more needs to be done and that too quickly. We have explained that these supports are needed not because of inefficiency of the industry but because the circumstances are beyond the competence of the industry and government support is justified by the lives and livelihoods in millions that will be saved in the process and the fillip that it will give to the economic recovery. HAI has outlined a transparent long-term interest rate regime and strategy for restructuring of debts. As we move from survival to recovery, the basic problems will continue to revolve around liquidity -- the need for working capital, managing fixed costs, payroll support -- these are some of the issues that will affect the industry. We want these aspects to be factored in while preparing the blueprint of recovery by the policy makers. Strong interventions for supporting small and mid-scale businesses are the need of the hour. These consists of one-time re-structuring of loans along further extension in case of granted moratorium on loans. The growing burden of loan with zero scope of income over an extended time will only increase the NPAs of Banks. The moratorium extension will give adequate time to the industry and help it to pay its dues. We have also asked for waiver of all statutory liabilities at Centre, State and Municipal levels for the pandemic period because the circumstances were beyond the control of the industry. HAI has requested for stimulus package-subsidising of salaries of hotel employees by government to 50% from April 2021-March 2022. Many countries have provided this support to employees as part of their economic recovery programmes. In addition to this, infrastructure status to Hotels will prove to be a tipping point of recovery and growth for the hospitality sector. It will also enable the sector to access long term funds at subsidized rates as available to other infrastructure industries such as airports, railways, ports etc. Infrastructure status will gravitate greater investments in the travel and hospitality sector around the country. This in turn will create income and have a ripple effect on demand and will therefore help economic recovery of the country. In short, we have urged that tourism should be given the strength to become a pillar of development as the PM has often mentioned and a pragmatic sectoral recovery plan should be mooted.

As the member of the association, what roadmap you have outlined for your association?

We believe that the future of tourism and hospitality depends on stronger, pragmatic PPP. HAI wants to be that constructive partner. Secondly our vision is of a stronger, wider representative body and HAI will be the platform for the body to interact, introspect, provide leadership, pursue excellence not as exception but as the hallmark of its members. We would also like to forge more collaborative relationship with other stakeholders. The need of the hour is to stand together. We all must work together and work with resilience. Only then the future can be bright for people in the sector as well as our invaluable guests. HAI is focused on the survival and revival of the hotel industry. We plan to help guide stakeholders through these challenging times and achieve the objectives of HAI, that is - to practice excellence in all that we do. To impart more confidence among our stakeholders, our resolve is to continue to function with transparency and highest level of hygiene.

Anything more you would like to add from your side…

It is recognized all over the world that subtle changes are coming in tourism and hospitality sector. For some time to come, as UNWTO says trust will be the most valuable currency. It is likely that there will be larger use of technology for booking etc. and therefore the hotels have to be geared to put in place a transparent system of direct dealing with consumers. In future survival will largely depend on use of innovative practices, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality in everyday operations. But at the end of the day it will be the human touch that will make the difference. Therefore, the manpower in hotels will have to be multi- skilled, properly trained and motivated to drive growth and customer delight.

Sumesh Patel, President, Asia Pacific, SITA, shares his views on how technology is becoming the great enabler for airlines and airports to offer safe and seamless travel  

Air travel is being reshaped as COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our industry and challenging our established ways of working. Now more than ever, airlines and airports must adopt a relentless digital shift in passenger service, core operations and stakeholder collaboration – making flying safer, more efficient and hassle-free. Excerpts from the interview:

How would you explain the impact of COVID -19 on airline and airport industry in APAC?

The COVID-19 pandemic has also refocused IT spending priorities for airlines and airports as revenue plunged and the industry faced new health and operational requirements needed to keep flying. The industry has to achieve far more with far less in order to thrive in a significantly smaller market where passenger numbers may be uncertain for years to come.

We need a focus shift from immediate actions like masks and hand sanitizers to longer-term and more sustainable solutions. Automation of operations will play an important role in reducing queues and touchpoints at the airport as passenger volumes begin to recover and social distancing becomes increasingly difficult.

How do you see the present and future of the Indian aviation industry?

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport is a good example of the above changing trends in the Indian aviation industry. The airport introduced nearly 50 mobile-enabled kiosks, becoming one of the first airports in India to deliver a completely contactless way for passengers to check-in for their flight. The technology allows passengers to use their mobile device to interact with kiosks. This significantly reduces the need to touch surfaces in the airport and meets the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s (MoCA’s) new passenger processing guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections.

What technology trends will transform the air travel post COVID-19?

A strategic technological transformation is critical for the future of the air transport industry. But to work, the industry and its stakeholders must collaborate at all levels. Going forward, technology will continue to be the mainstay for airlines and airports to adapt to the fast-changing regulations, scenarios, and restore passenger’s confidence in flying. The acceleration of digitization, automation, and the passenger experience will remain high on the agenda in a post-COVID world. Now, more than ever, the industry needs to work towards the vision of an entirely mobile-enabled journey to keep passengers informed and moving, while ensuring safety. This is especially so in the area of ‘touchless’ technologies, such as mobile and self-service biometrics.

Infrastructure can be based on new generation cloud-based platforms that are flexible, agile, scalable, and far more cost-effective than earlier infrastructures. Biometrics and digital identity management will be fundamental capabilities in this touchless journey. They will enable greater automation, accuracy, and efficiencies for both the air transport industry and its customers. Their advantage is that they can be used on and off site, so we’ll start seeing more check-in outside of airports.

SITA has come out with many innovative technologies for airport’s operation to offer safe travel. Can you throw some light on new technologies?

We are currently working with airlines, airports, governments, ground handlers, and other organizations across the world to rapidly roll out new solutions that address the challenges of the current times. We are collaborating with industry partners  to  assist  them  in  leveraging  existing infrastructure and systems to adapt to a post-COVID-19 environment and support an economically viable return to the skies.

We have introduced solutions that allow passengers to use their mobile device as a remote control for touchpoints such as self-bag drop and check-in kiosks, removing the need to touch any airport equipment. SITA is delivering ‘Your face is your boarding pass’, using biometrics and mobile technologies, thanks to SITA Smart Path.

Importantly, we support automatic biometric boarding gates and ‘face pods’, reducing the need for physical contact and allowing the boarding process to be controlled to avoid clustering. In addition, SITA is making its biometrics ‘mask aware’, and at kiosks, bag drops and face pods we are integrating temperature sensing into the touchpoint workflow.

For the airports that are not equipped with the native mobile platform, we are using technology to remotely control self-service devices such as kiosks with a mobile phone, removing the need to touch any airport equipment.

How these technologies contributed to instill confidence among travellers? 

The pandemic increased the drive for greater operational and cost efficiencies and a focus on sustainability and health. There is a lot of industry innovation occurring, using facial biometrics, in response to the pandemic. These technologies are playing a pivotal role in enabling seamless travel experience while also restoring the passenger’s confidence in flying. Contactless, self-service technologies at every step are facilitating passenger flow and cutting queues thereby ensuring a social distancing-friendly passenger experience. With an initial reluctance to touch surfaces and interact with agents, passengers are becoming more confident with the increased use of their smartphones in the air travel process. Apps are being used to check in bags using mobile bar codes, navigate through airports, and even interact with the cabin crew.

How do you see the response of Indian aviation industry regarding adoption of technology?

Some of the major airports in  India  are  greatly  advanced  when  it  comes  to  automation,  security screening, and baggage handling technologies. SITA has deployed its next-generation Airport Management solution (AMS), a suite of integrated software applications designed to support and enhance airport operations, across twelve AAI airports in addition to Bangalore International Airport, Chandigarh International Airport, Cochin International Airport, Kannur Airport, and; Nagpur (MIHAN) Airport.

Being a trusted IT partner to the Indian air transport industry, we are working towards bringing the QR enabled contactless check-in system to these other airports too. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of technologies such as biometrics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. in these airports to provide a connected and enhanced digital experience to air travelers.

The successive waves of COVID-19 have totally devastated the global travel and tourism industry and India bore the brunt with two waves already over and the threat of the third looming over. The green shoots that started appearing post the first wave completely disappeared with the arrival of the second wave. The slow recovery recorded in the first quarter, 2021, diminished and the situation became dire during the second wave when localized lockdowns and restrictions imposed by various state governments crippled the tourism industry. The second wave was even more virulent and hit the young and the urban class with people scrambling for oxygen. The pandemic forced many industries to adapt to new models of doing business by adopting online strategies. However, tourism is about moving out and visiting places and this cannot be done virtually.  

According to UNCTAD and UNWTO report, the crash in international tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic could cause a loss of more than US $ 4 trillion to the global GDP for the years 2020 and 2021. The report says international tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of US $ 2.4 trillion in 2020 due to the direct and indirect impact of a steep drop in international tourist arrivals. A similar loss is expected this year, the report warns, noting that the tourism sector’s recovery will largely depend on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines globally. According to the report, the reduction in tourism causes a 5.5% rise in unemployment of unskilled labour on an average, with a high variance of 0% to 15%, depending on the importance of tourism for the economy.

The World Bank, in its latest report, slashed India's GDP forecast to 8.3 per cent for FY22 as against its earlier estimate of 10.1 per cent. It has further projected India's growth to be 7.5 per cent in 2022.

The UNWTO states that destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals during January - March 2021 compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals over the three months. In India, the number of foreign tourist arrivals dipped from 12 lakh in December 2019 to 470 in April 2020. Even though India and other countries gradually opened their borders after the first wave, only 80,000 foreign arrivals were recorded in December 2020.

Impact assessment

The hospitality sector is the worst hit within the industry due to its nature. “The sudden onset of the second wave has left the hospitality sector again reeling under the impact of the crisis as travel restrictions and curfew continue to pose challenges for leisure and business travellers. All the major tourist destinations are facing the brunt of extended curfews and lockdowns.  The preliminary indications are that approximately 40% of small scale hotels have shut operations across the country while large numbers of others are looking at a possible collapse if no respite is offered in the coming months,” Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, Secretary-General, Hotel Association of India (HAI), said.

Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, Vice President, Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), says that the impact is highly devastating. “As per our last estimates, the industry has been impacted by Rs. 1.40 lakh crores and this is the fiscal impact. The lakhs of jobs lost with 40% establishments shut down permanently compounds the fiscal impact.’’

On the international front, Rajiv Mehra, President of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), says that the inbound tourism impact on the economy during the last financial year till 31st March 2021 was almost 95%. “This means a loss of almost US$ 27 billion, almost Rs 2 lakh crores on a direct basis. On an indirect economic basis, the loss is over Rs 6 lakh crores. The domestic tourism market has an impact of almost 60% to 70% of the total value. This implies almost Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh crores of direct domestic tourism loss. On an indirect basis, the economic impact is almost Rs 6 to 9 lakh crores,” Mehra says and adds that impact on job losses of almost 3.5 crores.

Jyoti Mayal, president, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), feels that the devastating second wave has impacted everyone. “We have all lost family, friend, colleague, or an acquaintance. Businesses that had slowly restarted crashed and the industry is truly struggling with revenue and cash flow. We are now paranoid, and it will certainly take us a while to gain total confidence to move out as in the pre covid era and vaccination will truly be the driver. We must realise that domestic tourism as drive cations would revive much quicker at selected sustainable destinations, but other travel is more of friends and family, urgent business-related or unavoidable travel. It’s not normal tourism travel,” Mayal says.

PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), opines the impact has been more during the second wave as shortage of oxygen cylinders, beds in the hospitals and other infrastructure facilities have kept everyone guessing for the safety first and there has not been much movement of tourists due to lockdown clamped by states. 

“The second wave of the pandemic hit the travel, tourism, aviation and the hospitality industries sharply. The travel and tourism industry-related services were affected- passenger traffic, air cargo demand, airport workforce, and incoming revenues. Foreign countries banned the entry of Indians. The economic recovery downed, and the flexibility in spending on luxury has declined drastically due to rising unemployment and worries about likely job losses in the future,” Biji Eapen, National President, IATA Agents Association of India (IAAI), said.

Anticipating revival

Despite the setback, industry associations think that the industry will bounce back quickly. “The industry has the inner strength and core competence to revive its primary position in the tourism and hospitality sector and as the little lull period before the second wave showed it can bounce back quickly. But the devastation has been too deep and extensive, and it requires the helping hand of the government to find its feet,” Bezbaruah opines. He adds that the situation will ease with faster vaccination drives and herd immunity. He highlights that the recent announcements like increasing the size of the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) from Rs. 3 lakh crores to Rs. 4.5 lakh crore, liquidity support by the Reserve Bank of India and tax exemptions given by some state governments, are some of the measures that will help the sector gain confidence towards recovery.

Mayal echoes similar sentiments. “I am very confident travel and tourism will revive with new opportunities, new zeal and a new outlook. We need to adopt the new protocols and procedures. Consumers will want more information about their end-to-end journey. We’ll start to embrace travel more consciously, seeking out smaller brands, hotels and experiences that reconnect us with nature and minimise our footprint. Short stays and weekend trips will be huge,” Mayal says adding that travellers will have a greater desire to seek out less crowded attractions and destinations, as well as nature-based experiences.

Mehra feels that reassurance and confidence-building measures need to be put in place during the revival phase. “Vaccination is the key. All our front-line tourism workers must be 100% vaccinated to be ready for the tourism activities. There is a need to create awareness on clean and hygienic tourist locations,” he says and suggests that the e-Tourist Visa/International flight operation should start from October 2021, if the situation remains under control. “Open up domestic tourism as soon as possible where the number of Covid cases has reduced drastically without any restriction. This will help build confidence among foreign tourists to visit India. All-State Governments should promote information on Covid 19 free destinations.’’ Mehra adds.

Eapen feels that natural recovery is possible only when international tourism resumes which needs globally coordinated, risk-based solutions in a phased manner. “We need travel recovery and have to start somewhere. Accelerating plans for digital health passports like Common Pass or IATA Travel Pass can be a vital tool in opening up travel once again. In addition, we have to see that all governments and airline operators will accept proof of vaccination as a condition for international travel,” Eapen suggests.

Kohli says that the revival is secondary. “We are yet in the survival mode. Only if one survives, one can revive. Restaurants if all goes well shall see revival within a year if all restrictions being abolished, whereas hotels will take another 3 years minimum to get back on track,” Kohli says.

Fiscal support

Welcoming whatever fiscal support extended by the government, Presidents of the associations demand more financial support from the government.

While we appreciate the small piece-meal relief bits that have come in we expect a lot more hand-holding and stimulus, Kohli says. “For an industry that contributes to such a large extent to the GDP, employment and revenue of the govt we would expect no less. We have made representations to different arms of the govt and expect something soon, hopefully,” Kohli adds.

Mayal feels that the government must contribute to the industry’s benefit in challenging times. “When the travel, tourism and hospitality are struggling to stay afloat, why are we not considered for support such as monetary subsidies, statutory rebates and tax-free holidays. The lack of liquidity and continuous fixed costs are making it difficult for the industry to survive. We are an important sector & need to be reached out to by the government. The revival of travel and tourism will result in a reduction of unemployment, foreign exchange earnings and infrastructure development,” Mayal suggests.

Mehra says that the government’s decision to open a separate liquidity window of Rs15,000 crores with tenors of up to three years at the repo rate till March 31, 2022, will bring some succour to the tourism industry. He asks to release the SEIS Scrips for the year 2019-20 that has been kept on hold for over a year. “This is the legitimate demand of the sector as per provision in the foreign trade policy 2015-20,” he emphasises. He opines that ECLGS 3.0 announced on March 31, 2021, and the anomalies in the operational guidelines and FAQ issued by NCGTC has defeated the very purpose of the same. We urge the government to amend it suitably, he says.

Bezbaruah feels whatever support the government has extended will go a long way in bringing relief for the hospitality sector. “But much more needs to be done and that too quickly. We have explained that these relief measures are needed not because of the inefficiency of the industry but because the circumstances are beyond the competence of the industry and government support is justified by the lives and livelihoods in millions that will be saved in the process and the fillip that it will give to the economic recovery.

HAI has requested for stimulus package - subsidising of salaries of hotel employees by the government to 50% from April 2021-March 2022. “Many countries have provided this support to employees as part of their economic recovery programmes. In addition to this, infrastructure status to hotels will prove to be a tipping point of recovery and growth for the hospitality sector. It will also enable the sector to access long term funds at subsidized rates as available to other infrastructure industries such as airports, railways, ports etc. Infrastructure status will gravitate greater investments in the travel and hospitality sector around the country. In short, we have urged that tourism should be given the strength to become a pillar of development as the PM has often mentioned and a pragmatic sectoral recovery plan should be mooted,” Bezbaruah suggests.

Since the assistance offered by Central Government is limited to travel agencies having the Ministry of Tourism’s approval, the majority of travel agencies will not become eligible for availing of the help. “So, while appreciating the Central Government's initiative as a positive step, we at IAAI suggest extending the benefit to all IATA accredited travel agencies and travel and tour agencies approved by respective state governments in India to revive the tourism industry large,” Eapen says.

Associations’ role

All these associations stood by their members in whatever possible way they could. These associations kept on sending information to keep their member informed and updated through various channels. They also used the lockdown period to upskill their members.

TAAI has been in the continuous process of motivating its members. “We conducted various webinars, organised meetings, updated all on travel and tourism-related issues, interacted with stakeholders, various educational programs on tourism & statutory compliances were conducted. We also have been able to help our members in getting refunds and booking through GDS,” Mayal informs.

Eapen says that IAAI’s stand on airline ticket refunding policy to save our valued customers was right, accepted and acknowledged by the Industry. Khanna says that ADTOI is in touch with its members regularly through zoom meetings, emails and this way taking association activities forward with their full support.

According to Mehra, IATO Covid Task Force formed with the members of the Executive Committee to guide and endeavour to help fellow members concerning medical consultation, medicines and hospitalization.

Due to our intervention through our regional arms, states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, MP, Goa and Maharashtra have given reliefs in levy’s fees, statutory, and our representations to excise department and municipalities have got them a reprieve in taxes etc instead of the pandemic, Kohli informs.

Overall, there is the hope that if the government could assist in direct relief it will hasten the recovery process very soon.

Sandeep Dwivedi, COO, InterGlobe Technology Quotient shares his perspective about the future of travel and tourism industry post pandemic and the role of technology in the new normal

With second wave, the disruption has leveled up and so has the dependency on digital

The second wave of COVID 19 totally ruined the revival and survival of the industry. How do you see the future of travel and tourism industry in the country?

There is a push expected from the shock of the second wave. Many of the businesses in the first wave, when faced by the first blow of disruption, engaged in planning for a future in which pandemic posed a major part. With the second wave, there has entered an urgency in matters of executing those planned advancements. Naturally, declining economy and shock from loss of fellow comrades is distressful, however, with-it has risen the instincts of survival and agile approach among all commerce and industries. This will open doors to an evolved era of travel industry which will have safety measures as top priority at its core, in addition to personalization and digitization. Packed with more flexibility, the immediate future of travel will include empathetic offers from free date changes to discounted ancillary options and exclusive virtual and physical travel experiences collated to include state-tourism activities.

There was expectation that industry will be back on track in 2023 -24. It is delayed further. What is your take on this?

Indeed, the response across industry is still mixed. Speculation and anticipation has simulated many to acknowledge a slow but gradual recovery and 2023-24 still appears to be the latest timeframe for assured recovery. Between first and second wave, what the businesses have witnessed is not just an uneven development- elevating and declining at intervals, but also an interest in out-of-the-home activities- an interest that will likely pick up from extensive vaccination drives and more rigorous safety protocols.

What is in the store for the industry in next 2-3 years? What should be the way forward for big and SME players?

Leisure travelers will occupy a considerable space on the consumer pie-chart for travel industry in the next 3 years. Even in the face of previous crisis this class was first to recover taking nearly two years. So, targeting this segment and offering special collated packages to leisure travelers shall bring the much desired boost. Furthermore, exploring cross-sector collaborations to attract consumers and meet their demands shall help greatly. Local governments may prove a catalyst in recovering travel and tourism business for large and small-medium enterprises by becoming an active player in refining destination appeal, offering discounted activities, participating in tourism management and improving safety conditions.

Technology is going to play a major role post COVID in revival of the industry. What is your opinion on this?

Certainly, our dependency on technology is here to stay considering the interim, undying need for physical distances in the face of pandemic. Psychologically, this is molding consumer behavior and making them more prone to using technology for booking and managing travel, even experiencing travel. Furthermore, the ease of operations and management afforded by technology saves both time and money, making the experience swifter, simpler and cost-efficient.

Digitization is the way forward for the industry. We were talking about touchless, contactless services and facilities. What shifts are you noticing in digitization between two waves?

The key phrase we use here is ‘digital in disruption’. The more the disruption the better we fare on digital grounds, be it booking travel, managing it or experiencing it. With second wave, the disruption has leveled up and so has the dependency on digital. We are a witness to the new evolving trend – ‘phygital’, where digital at the young and affluent consumer level is steamrolled by physical at older, gen-x and less affluent consumer band. While this ferries on, there is evolution in operations at various touchpoints, including digital screening of passengers at airport, digital flight bookings via NDC, mobile apps for storing travelers COVID-19 negative reports and vaccine certificates, among other developments. In future, when ongoing advancements like robotic and AI assistance at various touchpoints becomes common sight, the exclusion of physical from phygital will be observed, somewhere towards the late twenty-twenties. 

What is your opinion about business travel?

This segment is still volatile considering market conditions and vast dependency on work-from-home, especially amidst the recently elevated pandemic condition. Historical data further reinforces its slower recovery in the face of crisis and beyond it. It is only fair to say, we are expecting a phased recovery, depending in major parts on the employee’s willingness to travel, safety policies and government regulations. Between the recurring instances from corporates of maintaining a buffer of one to three months post government guidance to ensure safety and uncertainty of pandemic, business travel appears to be the segment last to recover.

What CSR activities you executed during this challenging times?

Our focus has been towards aiding the underprivileged who were impacted by COVID-19. To help them, our teams had contributed funds towards providing ration to the deprived families through Sai Baba Trust at Shirdi, donated stationary to vulnerable youth at Hope foundation and contributed towards PM Cares fund. We have also ensured our dear nature was not neglected while people of our nation were fighting COVID. Our teams came forward to plant trees at Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Delhi.

The lockdown due to COVID-19 impacted the hotel industry severely. Business were totally shut and hotels had to close its door. However, with drop in cases and availability of vaccines supported people’s desire to travel as part of the revenge tourism, Indian hotels are witnessing a gradual improvement in occupancies at pan-India level.

“There is a definite improvement which we have already started witnessing in our hotels. We are seeing occupancy improving to 30-35 per cent in most of our hotels. We expect occupancy to reach 50 to 60 per cent by end of the year,” Vilas Pawar, CEO, Choice Hotels India, said. He added that while occupancies are improving, the ARRs for the industry is stressed and it will take time to come back to the pre COVID level. “We used to command ARR of Rs 3500 in pre-COVID era across our hotels. The current ARR is Rs 2800,” he mentioned.

Replying to a question over the lower occupancies in hotels in metros, Pawar said that most of the companies across industry have adopted various cost cutting measures like reducing the office spaces, downsizing the team, restricting travel and others. He also mentioned that hotels having higher ARRs in metros are not getting good response from the market. While city hotels are stressed out, most of the resort hotels are performing better than earlier.

Commenting on the prospect for business travel to come back, the work from home culture is going to stay. “COVID -19 has made the company learn that the business can be run by curtailing travel. They have adopted virtual meetings. I think business travel will take a while to bounce back and it will not be at the pre-COVID level in the near future. And, this is a worrying point for the hotel industry,” Pawar opined.

He said that the industry reacted to the change induced by the pandemic by adopting various innovative measure to counter the impact. Hotels have adopted new SOPs to instill confidence among travelers. These SOPs are backed by technologies. “We had to reinvent ourselves. We had to cut down on staff, services and others. Adoption of health, safety and other security measures also increased the operating costs. We had to close few floors and rooms to cut the maintenance cost. The entire industry has faced severe situation,” he added.

On Choice Hotels India, he said that Choice Hotels India maintained its portfolio despite the lockdown. “We have currently 35 hotels in operation. We did not lose any hotel and kept on adding hotels in our portfolio. We opened 3 hotels in 2020 and are expecting to add 8-10 hotels in 2021. These hotels will be opened in Goa, Bodhgaya, Indore, Lucknow and other cities,” he revealed.

He said that like other hotels, Choice Hotels India is also adopting digital for marketing, promotion, and other brand building activities. “Our plan is to use social media and other digital platforms for expanding our reach in the market,” Pawar added. 

In March last year, when destinations were gearing up for the peak summer months the pandemic related shut down dealt a body blow to tourism the world over. Destinations across the world scrambled for measures to save the industry. At first, they adopted a wait-and-watch situation. Thereafter, they soon realised that global travel will come to a standstill for some time to travel restrictions.

Many Indian states took a cue from PM Modi’s Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) campaign and focussed on the domestic market. They went back to the drawing board and drew up tourism policies primarily focussed on the domestic market.

States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa and Jharkhand amongst others unveiled new tourism policies. Several other states/UTs such as Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and others have adopted new policy initiatives in an attempt to revive and grow the tourism pie.

The measures adopted by states indicate that they are moving forward with initiatives to restart tourism and promote domestic demand. The establishment of health and sanitary protocols, emphasis on clean and safe practices, social distancing etc emerged as a crucial step to restore trust and confidence in the sector.

With domestic tourism gaining ground at the moment, marketing and promotional campaigns, product development initiatives and sops to improve infrastructure and special discounts begin to emerge in a few states.

New tourism policies

In January this year, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced the state’s New Tourism Policy 2021-25 with a view to develop and augment tourism in a sustainable manner. The policy has been framed in the backdrop of the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign which emphasises on ‘Vocal for Local’ thereby boosting local employment. Rupani added, “the state is gifted geographically. It has hill resorts, natural attractions, beaches, etc in addition to a rich legacy of ancient crafts and civilizations,”

Meanwhile, “the Karnataka Tourism Policy 2020-25 provides a framework for Karnataka’s tourism industry to tide over the immediate crisis and adapt to the new normal and remain healthy and competitive in the global tourism landscape,” B. S. Yediyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka, wrote in his foreword in the tourism policy. He added that the tourism sector is an important driver for employment generation.

“The growth of our business activities and tourism sector will bring more visitors to our shores and drive the growth of our cities and regions. We are therefore taking various initiatives with the involvement of stakeholders, both public and private, to foster a more favourable and safer ecosystem for the tourism sector,” he said adding that through the Karnataka Tourism Policy 2020-25 we wish to encourage the investors to invest in the tourism sector by providing a host of incentives and subsidies to facilitate investment in the sector. “I hope that the new tourism policy will go a long way towards improving the tourism sector in the State,” he added.

Another southern state, Andhra Pradesh, also unveiled its new tourism policy in December last year to revamp the outlook and give a paradigm shift to tourism in the state, with a theme- based approach, to make it a premier world-class destination. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Policy 2020-25 aims at building a robust tourism infrastructure in tune with the ever-changing nature of tourism and promoting responsible tourism practices among all stakeholders.

The Govt of Goa also notified the ‘Goa Tourism Policy 2020’ in November last year with a focus on making the coastal state the most preferred destination around the year for high-spending tourists in India by 2024, and a world-class international tourism destination by 2030. The vision of the policy is to make Goa the most preferred destination around the year for high-spending tourists in India by 2024, and a world-class international tourism destination by 2030.

The Rajasthan Tourism Policy-2020 seeks to promote the state as a leading destination in national and international markets, strengthen and diversify existing products, give priority to lesser-known destinations and improve visitors experience.

Jharkhand has also drafted a new tourism policy focusing more on private investment, employment, tourism promotion and education.

Infrastructure in focus:

The new tourism policies put major thrust on infrastructure development. Almost all states are providing tax incentives to invite private players in order to boost the tourism infrastructure in the state. Currently, many of the Indian states are not equipped infrastructurally to offer the best experiences to the visitors.

One of the objectives of the Goa Tourism Policy 2020 is to develop and promote tourism infrastructure in an environmentally and ecologically sustainable manner through appropriate plans, programs and policies. “Create a more environmentally and socially sustainable tourism destination, where territorial development is more balanced between the coast and the hinterland; employment opportunities are enhanced for local Goans and growth opportunities are created for Small, Medium & Micro Enterprises,” the notification mentioned.

Gujarat, which offers the best infrastructure in the country, has also initiated measure to further strengthen the tourism infrastructure of the state. Rupani announced that the government will give subsidy of 20 per cent on capital investment for setting up a hotel in the designated high priority centers. Minimum investment requirement is Rs.1 crore, while there is no cap on maximum investment. A15 percent subsidy will be given on setting up theme parks or amusement parks in these priority centres with the investment of Rs.50 crore to Rs.500 crore. The state government will provide land on lease in addition to the 15 per cent subsidy for projects of more than Rs.500 crore. According to the new policy, the convention centres with a seating capacity of over 2500, NABH-accredited wellness centers, tourism hospitality and training centers, tents, cottages and container accommodation will also get 15 percent subsidy.

Kerala, which has been on the forefront of tourism in India, launched 27 new tourism projects apart from other infrastructural initiatives. The government has earmarked Rs 310 crore for these 27 new projects. "Once our state, the country and the world survive COVID-19, Kerala will become a tourist paradise again," Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said while inaugurating these projects. He further added that the state has suffered an estimated loss of around Rs 25,000 crores due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jharkhand tourism policy proposes a 30% subsidy on total capital investment for developing any tourism facilities in Jharkhand. Besides, the policy also aims to generate employment for around one lakh people in the sector through short-term and long-term planning. “Private players were roped in to develop projects on an outsourcing basis. This model can’t be sustainable unless investments are encouraged to take place in this sector for building parks, amusement options, hotels and so on. The new policy aims to be forward-looking, wooing investors to create all-round facilities for tourists,” quoted an official of Jharkhand Tourism.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Policy 2020-25 aims at building a robust tourism infrastructure in tune with the ever-changing nature of tourism and promoting responsible tourism practices among all stakeholders. The policy seeks to attract huge private investments through a slew of incentives. The new policy of Andhra Pradesh aims to develop high-end five and seven-star luxury resorts and hotels at prominent tourist destinations in the state. It is reported that Gandikota in Kadapa will have the first such facility soon. Besides, 13 other locations have been identified across the state, including the famous Horsley Hills, Nagarjuna Sagar, Rushikonda (Visakhapatnam), Tirupati and also Polavaram, for construction of five and seven-star hotels and resorts

 

Expanding reach

The current trend suggests that tourism has been centered to select few destinations in India. The pandemic has necessitated an opportunity for states to promote lesser - known destinations due to measures like social distancing and others. 

Odisha emerged as the most proactive states during COVID-19 and took it as an opportunity to conduct extensive background work to revive tourism. The Eastern Indian state is promoting eco retreat in five unique locations – Konark, Hirakud, Bhitarkanika, Daringbadi and Satkosia, Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi, Tourism Minister of Odisha said on many occasions.

The new thrust on domestic tourism prompted Odisha to launch three road trips to woo travelllers from neighboring West Bengal. The first road circuit, ‘Deep into the Mangroves’, from Kolkata to Bhitarkanika via Bichitrapur Sanctuary & Chandipur (4N-5D), covers key destinations, Bichitrapur Mangrove Sanctuary, Talasari Beach, Chandipur’s Receding Beach, Aul Palace and Bhitarkanika National Park along this route.The second road trip circuit, ‘The Trail of Cascades-Keonjhar’, from Kolkata to Keonjhar – 500 km (3N-4D) covers the Bhimkund Waterfalls, Sitabinji Caves’ fresco paintings, Terracota craft village at Ghatagaon, Gundichaghai Waterfalls, Sanaghagara & Badaghagara Waterfalls and Kanjipani Ghati. The third road trip circuit, ‘Tiger trails and Royalty’ from Kolkata to Similipal – 470 Km (3N-4D) will cover the Belgadia Palace, Similipal Tiger Reserve, Sitakund Waterfall & Ecotourism Zone, Barehipani – India’s second highest waterfall and the Nawana Valley. These trips including many new destinations which were earlier unheard for the travel community.

 “The ‘Odisha by Road campaign’ intends to encourage tourists from within the state as well as from the neighbouring states to travel to various tourist destinations in Odisha through excellent network of roads. Through this campaign, we will promote some beautiful yet not so popular places of attraction which would be further facilitated by the Tourism Department,” Panigrahi said.

The recently launched tourism projects in Kerala includes the development of a hilltop tourist centre at Ponmudi in Thiruvananthapuram to the northernmost district of Kasaragod. Vijayan also inaugurated the Malamel Para Tourism Project at Kollam beach and Thanni beach. A major infrastructural developmental project was inaugurated in Ponmudi. The inauguration of a Rs. 49 lakh beautification projects of the Mooloor Memorial at Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta district was also done.

While Kerala is sprucing up its tourism destinations, Gujarat’s new tourism policy also aims to develop new attractions in the state. Rupani said that Gujarat has hill resorts, natural attractions, beaches etc in addition to a rich legacy of ancient crafts and civilizations. He said that the state has the world’s tallest statue at Kevadia, Gir National Park, India’s first World Heritage City, world’s biggest stadium, seaplane services, Blue-Flag certified beach apart from religious places like Somanth, Dwarka and Ambaji.

Gujarat’s New Tourism Policy 2021-25 encapsulates various aspects like medical tourism, wellness tourism, MICE tourism, adventure and wildlife tourism, coastal and cruise tourism, rural based experience tourism etc. The state government had recently announced the Heritage Tourism Policy to highlight the ancient palaces and heritage places of kings.

Agri Tourism and Rural Tourism are the core tourism themes of the Karnataka’s Tourism Policy with the objective to promote not just with agriculture and farming activities but also various aspects of rural life in Karnataka such as local cuisine, culture, traditions, arts, etc.

Andhra Pradesh is also diversifying its tourism product portfolio. “We have chosen Rural Tourism, Heritage Tourism, Buddhist Tourism, Eco-Tourism, Beach and Water Tourism, Recreation and Adventure Tourism, Religious Tourism, Cuisine Tourism, Wellness Tourism, MICE Tourism and Medical Tourism,” Rajat Bhargava,Special Chief Secretary (Tourism and Culture), Govt of Andhra Pradesh, quoted as saying.

Other Indian states have also taken similar initiatives. Apart from infrastructure, states are also focusing on creating awareness through various marketing and promotional activities. Many of the states have already launched their campaigns on various media channels such as radio, social media and other digital marketing platforms to woo tourists from domestic market.

Conclusion

While policy solutions are needed to enable the tourism industry to live alongside the COVID-19 in the short to medium term, it is important to look beyond this and take steps to learn from the crisis, which has revealed gaps in government and industry preparedness and response capacity. It is necessary to have a coordinated action across governments at all levels and the private sector.

The crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism for the future. Tourism is at a crossroads and the measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow. Governments need to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while capitalising on digitalisation, supporting the low carbon transition, and promoting the structural transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.

 

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