COVID-19 has been hard-hitting not only for humanity but also for the economy to a large extent. The economy which was already drooping when India imposed a nationwide lockdown as a necessary preventive measure saw an acceleration in the fall. One of the worst-hit sectors by the lockdown caused due to COVID-19 is the Tourism sector. Many people employed in the travel and tourism sector have lost their jobs and many companies, especially the small and medium-sized have suffered huge losses. Throwing light on the effect of COVID-19 on the tourism sector, Valsa Nair Singh, IAS, Principal Secretary, Tourism & Cultural Affairs, Maharashtra addressed a webinar organised by Elets Technomedia.
Nair started off by describing the significance of the tourism sector saying, “Tourism plays a big role in the Indian economy because it is low capital-intensive and having a large number of employment opportunities.” Further, addressing the cultural diversity in the country she said, “If we talk about the cultural diversity of India there is no other sector that can bring it out as tourism does.”
Adding on to the significance of tourism, she added, “Travel is the backbone of tourism. When there is no travel, the tourism sector will definitely suffer. International travel is not going to reopen, at least for another two years. But, domestic travel will slowly pick up. I cannot foresee anything happening in this sector before September and October.”
Nair, talking about the aviation industry said, “In aviation, most of the regulatory and the policy powers are within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. However, in Maharashtra, what we are stressed about is the regional connectivity. The regional connectivity will pick up much after the domestic airlines will pick up.” Maharashtra was the leading state in terms of rural connectivity. Moreover, we have 22 flights in our Udaan network going on. However, as a matter of fact, the Aviation sector is as badly affected as the entire tourism sector is, she added.
Strategies to kick-start travel & tourism post lockdown
As the tourism sector has suffered huge losses, there is an urgent need to focus on strategy development and policy and structural reforms to get the industry back on foot. Addressing the topic, Nair said, “We are planning to start a campaign called ‘Discover Maharashtra’. Also, we are focusing on digital skilling because it’s only the social media and the digital platforms which have stood up against this entire situation. We need to think about how to have more digitally skilled people in the tourism sector.”
Adding on to the initiatives by the State to enhance the skill set of the people employed in the tourism sector, Nair said, “the State government will work in the close coordination with the Ministry of Tourism to ensure that we have the digitally skilled people in the sector now.” True, as anything this pandemic has taught is shifting to the new technology and made us realize our shortcomings in terms of preparedness, she added.
Further, elaborating on the efforts from the authorities in helping the tourism sector to surf through the lockdown hardships, she said, “In the coming three months, we are going to revamp all our websites. This is important for keeping our presence active because the websites are the only face to the Maharashtra Tourism.”
When asked about the plans for post COVID era, she said, “We have plans for aggressive marketing campaigns for promoting tourism all over Maharashtra. One aspect would be marketing campaigns for camping sites in the Sahyadri, the trekking, and the majestic beautiful forts.”
Apart from the marketing strategies, the tourism authority is also looking forward to floating Agro-Tourism Policy which is drafted recently. The policy will be further sent to different departments, she said. “There are quite a few of them doing very well now, we have students from the US and the UK coming in and spending a long time in our agro-tourism facility, Nair added.
Moreover, “We have audio guides in different languages and video tours for our sites so people can visit the place digitally. With such facilities, we are trying to enable our visitors to visit Maharashtra digitally using this travel guide.”
Concluding the session, Nair said, “I think COVID-19 made everything different now. We all have learnt a big lesson, especially in the tourism sector. The tourism sector is the backbone of Indian economy and government is really dedicatedly taking steps so that the tourism sector bounces back early as possible post-COVID-19.”