'Indian tourism industry will emerge stronger through the pandemic'

Citing the pandemic as an opportunity, Kamal Kant Pant, Principal & Secretary, Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi explains how India can tap the tourism market and benefit all the stakeholders.

According to the latest tourism data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in the first ten months of 2020, international tourism shrunk by 900 million visitors in comparison with the same period in 2019 falling to the level of 1990. This massive drop in tourism due to the pandemic could result in an economic loss of US$ 2 trillion in world GDP. 

As we see from the above statistics, Asia and the Pacific is the worst affected geography of the world. Moreover, India with nearly 11 million COVID-19 infections has been in the international news as one of the global hotspots of the pandemic. Will the international tourism as we knew it become the norm anytime soon? Will India continue to get our fair share of such tourist flow? It appears to be rather unlikely with the bubble travel becoming the norm globally. Then what remains in store for the tourism and hospitality industry in India?

While many of us hear the door shut, there are always a few people who hear the door open first. While the COVID-19 pandemic has nearly shattered the hospitality industry across the world, the Industry in India, primarily due to its inherent dominance of domestic tourism in the ratio of 8:1 and the strengths of our economy will not only emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis but become the benchmark for economies around the world. Let me elaborate on the reasons for having an opinion like that. India is a subcontinent, its demography with vast diversity, it has the captive purchasing power equal to the entire population of the USA, the richest country in the world. India’s tourism will not only survive but thrive in the days to come. While India in the best years has only accounted for about one percent of the global tourism arrivals, it has been generating more than double that figure as a tourism source market. The purchasing power of Indian tourists makes them amongst the highest spender nationality wise in many of the tourism hot spots like Singapore, Dubai, Thailand etc. The demand of such markets has been lying pent up for nearly a year. With the international travel remaining rather restricted in the near future, the domestic destinations have to fulfill this demand. This is a great opportunity for the industry to create a viable alternative to popular tourism destinations patronised by Indian tourists. 

Travel for recreation and leisure has not only become a habit for many Indians but has become the aspiration for many more in the lives of the middle class. It is a case of serendipity that the government has called on the people to visit at least 15 destinations in the country by the year 2022 and has taken it on itself to upgrade many iconic sites to global standards in terms of tourism infrastructure and amenities, leave alone identify and develop many new promising sites as a matter of policy. This effort coupled with capacity building in the areas of alternative accommodation options like the home stays, farm stays and village tourism, which have been recognised as the segment providing an immersive tourism experience option. The estimates about the Indian economy released by international agencies like the IMF and Fletch etc, which predicts Indian economy to display a double-digit growth in the coming year, will further boost the consumption in the area of tourism and hospitality.

As the old saying goes that one must not waste a crisis. COVID-19 has been the kind of crises one in many generations would witness in their lifetime. This has also given us an opportunity to introspect ourselves as human and do a reality check, reprioritising things in our lives. The uncertainty of life in these times has made people prioritize quality time spent with family, friends and are attached to them furthermore. Restaurants, banquets, event venues, hotels and vacation resorts, facilitating friends and family together is to thrive in the days to come.

This crisis also separated the men from the boys of the industry. In the peak of the crisis, there have been people who have gone out there and put themselves in the harm’s way to accommodate and feed the frontline workers fighting COVID-19 - the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. The kind gesture for hoteliers to provide refuge to medical professionals in their hotels when the neighborhoods in many of our cities were too scared to let such people come in their locales and even converting their rooms as COVID-19 care and quarantine facility has earned a very healthy respect from the general public. The important thing is that it was achieved by our industry without adversely affecting the health of its workforce in any way. The risks of COVID-19 were so meticulously mitigated by the hotels that the respect for their professionalism and trust has been earned. The yeoman service extended to feed not only the medical and police personnel but also some of the migrant workers who were traveling on foot in the darkest hours to crises to reach their homes has also gone a long way to establish the hospitality people as kind, brave, generous, and trustworthy people. Therefore, the businesses which has survived the crises have passes the natural selection in the Darwinian way and will write the new rules of the game.


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