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
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.
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.