Culture and Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel speaks to Liz Mathew on the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the sector and the government’s plans to reboot it. Excerpts:
How are you assessing the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the Indian tourism sector?
Tourism is one of the promising sectors for India. The success of tourism is measured by the increasing number of tourist arrivals and foreign exchange earnings. The impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector is a global phenomenon. It has to be assessed in terms of revenue loss and job loss. The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality, (FAITH)… has come up with its assessment of the impact and presented to the Ministry of Tourism.
What’s the post-pandemic vision for the sector?
The sector has to be rebooted at the earliest. This can happen only when demand is revived. The stimulus package announced by the government is bound to have a positive impact on overall revival of the various sectors of economy, thus driving employment growth and putting money in hands of people. This will trigger the demand for travel.
Our vision is to first make our destinations safe. Today, when the traveller is questioning the very need for travel, mainly due to fear of disease, we want to assure that the places he is travelling, staying and eating at are safe. With this objective, we have released a set of operational guidelines for hotels and other accommodations units, restaurants and tourism service providers like tour operators, travel agents, taxi operators etc.
The tourism sector knows well how the dynamics of business has changed and many are… coming up with innovations.
This change of pace has taught the tourism industry the need to enable training, education and development programmes to help them innovate, organise and pioneer a new and better business model… prepared for any kind of adversity.
Our Prime Minister praised the spirit of innovation among Indians during his 65th Mann Ki Baat radio programme and said it is helping the country fight the coronavirus pandemic. Thus training ,education and development programs will also be the vision of the tourism sector.
Travellers from abroad still seem to be far away even if the lockdown is completely lifted and travel restrictions are done away with. Is there any plan to promote domestic tourism?
We know the revival of international tourism will take some time. Thus, our focus is on promoting domestic tourism. The Ministry of Tourism launched Dekho Apna Desh before the outbreak. We are going forward with it… People have to get out of the fear of travel and this can start by encouraging them to visit local neighbourhood attractions, day excursions, weekend getaways and driving holidays… This will also help in supporting the local tourism economy.
…. we are making efforts to engage with our stakeholders and citizens and to sustain their interest in travelling within the country once travel restrictions are lifted. A series of webinars on tourism destinations in the country is being organised with the theme of Dekho Apna Desh. Participants in these webinars include tourism stakeholders, students and the public…
… We will also be promoting off-beat destinations and wildlife and wilderness destinations as we anticipate the travel to places which offer natural social distancing will get the attention of travellers in times to come…
India is known for religious tourist centres? Do you think the social distancing norms could affect religious tourism prospects?
For the purpose of safety and to control the curve, we have to take care of social distancing norms.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his meeting with chief ministers, said the tourism industry will play a key role in reviving the economy. He also said both the Centre and the states would have to evolve strategies. Have you had any discussions with state tourism ministers?
Right from the early days when reports of the pandemic started coming in, the Ministry of Tourism was proactively updating all states and industry stakeholders on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health… A National Tourism Task Force has been constituted under my chairmanship which has all the state tourism ministers as members besides industry associations to look into measures to be taken for revival and growth of the sector.
We also consulted states on operational guidelines for hotels, accommodation units, restaurants and tourism service providers.
The Ministry of Tourism has also had discussion with state governments and Union Territory administrations to encourage them to consider various relief measures for the tourism sector under their ambit viz waiver of penalty or interest to be levied on payment of any dues owed to the State Government bodies, relief from excise fees, electricity duty reduction of property tax.
Many countries have announced financial packages for the tourism sector. Is our government planning any package?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crore… He gave a clarion call for Self-Reliant India movement. He also outlined five pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat – economy, infrastructure, system, vibrant demography and demand.
Post this package, a series of reforms have been announced . The Initiatives of the government provided to MSMEs, including service sectors, has been highlighted to the industry.
The Prime Minister also said the idea should be “to attract world tourists to India.” Have you thought of branding India in a different way for the post-Covid era?
We are working on new campaign routes. This will be primarily to first tell that “We are Open” when international travel is allowed, then we also have to have a communication, assuring that our destinations are safe . This will have the elements of safety and hygiene that have been put in place… In the first phase, we must also promote our offbeat destinations and showcase the products which naturally provide social distancing like wildlife, Wellness Retreats , Trekking, Mountaineering other adventure activities . The Rural tourism, farm stays etc should also be a part of the product showcase.