The exotic island of Seychelles known for its pristine beaches reopens borders to all countries worldwide. The much-anticipated news by the tourism industry, considering the recent launch of the immunisation campaign, was announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism, Sylvestre Radegonde during a joint press briefing with his counterpart from the Health Ministry, Peggy Vidot.
This announcement has come at a time when the Indian government has signed an air bubble agreement with Seychelles allowing 'Air Seychelles' to fly into the destination from India.
If you're planning to visit Seychelles island anytime soon, keep these important dos and don'ts in mind.
In the first phase of the opening, travellers would be required to produce proof of a valid vaccination certificate from the National Health Authority (minimum of two weeks since administration of the second dose of the vaccine) along with a negative Covid-19 PCR report obtained less than 72 hours prior to travel. These visitors need not quarantine upon arrival to Seychelles.
The Seychelles islands is currently open to Indian visitors through private jet transfers only. Such travellers would be required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR report obtained less than 72 hours prior to travel. Visitors who haven't taken the complete dose of vaccination or not travelling via private jets, would not be permitted entry into Seychelles. This would be in force until mid-March once Seychelles has vaccinated a large majority of its adult population.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government donated 50,000 doses of a Chinese-manufactured Covid-19 vaccine to Seychelles while the Indian government has offered 1,00,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of January. By the ongoing numbers, the country has forecasted that 25 per cent of its population is likely to be vaccinated by mid-March which would witness the rollout of the second phase of welcoming international tourists to the island nation. The country would open up to all visitors, vaccinated or not. Travellers planning a vacation during this time would only have to present a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate with the test taken maximum of 72 hours prior to departure with no quarantine upon arrival into the country.
Irrespective of when one might travel to Seychelles, visitors have to abide by the existing health measures (like wearing face masks, social distancing etc.) which remain applicable as per the travel advisory published on the Department of Tourism website.
Similarly, all tourism operators would still be required to follow their existing Covid-19 standard operating procedures and protocols.
Speaking of an optimistic future, Lubaina Sheerazi, CEO & Co-founder, BRANDit, the Marketing and PR office for the Seychelles Tourism Board in India said, "2021 has kicked off on a positive note presenting us with a wide scope to promote safe holidays to the Seychelles islands. Until now, the destination was limited to visitors only through private jet transfers but this move will offer a much-needed new option to Indians looking for an international holiday."
The ongoing trend of leisure travel is expected to prosper in the coming months as there is a pent-up demand for long pending vacations with family and friends. Seychelles welcoming tourists with limited restrictions is certainly a positive step towards tourism recovery worldwide.
More details about the new measures are published in the Seychelles Travel Advisory that can be accessed on www.tourism.gov.sc.
Do you travel frequently? If so, then there are chances that you are leading a much happier life than those who don't venture out at all -- a whole 7 per cent more -- reveals a new study.
The study, published in the journal Tourism Analysis, showed that participants who reported regularly traveling at least 120 kms away from home also reported being about 7 per cent happier when asked about their overall well-being than those who reported traveling very rarely.
"While things like work, family life and friends play a bigger role in overall reports of well-being, the accumulation of travel experiences does appear to have a small yet noticeable effect on self-reported life satisfaction," said Chun-Chu (Bamboo) Chen, Assistant Professor at Washington State University.
"It really illustrates the importance of being able to get out of your routine and experience new things," he added.
For the study, the participants in the study were asked about the importance of travel in their lives, how much time they spent looking into and planning future vacations, and how many trips they went on over a year.
They were also asked about their perceived life satisfaction.
Out of the 500 survey participants, a little over half reported going on more than four pleasure trips a year. Only 7 per cent of respondents did not take any vacations.
As travel restrictions due to COVID-19 begin to relax in the future, the research could have important implication for both tourists and the tourism industry.
Based on the results of the study, Chen said travel companies, resorts and even airlines could launch social media campaigns, such as creating hashtags about the scientific benefits of vacation, to spark people's interest in discussing their opinions about travel.
Previous studies have examined the stress relief, health and wellness benefits of tourism experiences, but they have tended to examine the effect of a single trip or vacation.
"This research shows the more people talk about and plan vacations the more likely they are to take them," Chen said.
"If you are like me and chomping at the bit to get out of dodge and see someplace new, this research will hopefully be some additional good motivation to start planning your next vacation," he added.
The UAE has suffered two COVID-19 surges but done a good job in containing the virus, reporting only 662 deaths
While almost all of the popular global tourist destinations are currently reeling under the massive blow the COVID-19 outbreak has delivered them, there are select places, albeit very scarce, that have got back on their feet and are welcoming visitors. After all, the world spent the past 10 months sitting bored at home, in self-isolation, self-captivity or, worse, quarantine. It’s no wonder, then, that the spirit is impatiently missing a return to and connect with the outside world: The breeze, open skies, grainy beaches, shopping, the walks; basically the urge to just escape somewhere. But the million-dollar question is: Is there really such a safe place yet? Dubai comes to mind as the most prominent of such rare addresses; the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reopened to visitors, though a valid health insurance and negative COVID test are still mandatory for all arrivals. But the call of the “City of Gold” doesn’t mean that the lure of the lucre has made it heedless of the hygiene and health considerations in these times of the abominable, omnipresent virus. The UAE has suffered its own COVID-19 surges, peaking in May and again in mid-September, but has a relatively low incidence rate compared to most urban centres. It has done a good job in containing the virus, with only 662 deaths recorded as of December 30. The UAE initiated a swift lockdown early on and, after adopting virus prevention measures, Dubai’s resorts have re-opened as swiftly — and safely. It means the visitors must also embrace safety checks and protocols. Having had to wear a mask on board the airplane, the arrivals need to do the same in every public space or face a 3,000 dirham ($817) fine. This includes taxis, currently allowing just two passengers unless it’s a minivan or the Careem app, and on Dubai Metro; sterilised and running as usual but with mandatory distancing. Thanks largely to early, comparatively strict movement directives, sterilising procedures and group gathering limits, Dubai is back to something approaching normality. In hotels, Perspex panels shield resort check-in desk staff and, in some cases, luggage is spray-sanitised on entry. Some other retreats operate a walk-through sanitiser tunnel. The city is religiously following all health-related norms, procedures and measures to ensure that every single tourist’s health concerns are rigorously and vigorously addressed; and while those masks can prove irritating in the UAE heat, it’s good to know you’re in a country with a relatively low infection rate. Also, the visitors should be at home with the smell of sanitiser; the dispensers are everywhere and everyone is expected to use them. All of the above can be lessons for India to emulate, though the conditions vastly differ.
But what makes this aberration doubly delightful is that several other popular destinations, viz; California, Los Angeles, New York City, England and Brazil, among others, are still deep in the throes of the pandemic which is showing no signs of abatement. While the latest reports suggest that even the hospitals in California — otherwise an attractive tourist destination for most part of the year, what with Hollywood, Disneyland, Yosemite National Park and the Golden Gate Bridge — are “at the brink of catastrophe”, the number of Coronavirus deaths has surpassed the 25,000-mark as the ongoing surge of patients swarms hospitals and pushes the healthcare staff to the breaking point as they dread another wave after the holiday season gets over. Similarly, Brazil too had downplayed the COVID threat with President Jair Bolsonaro calling it a “little cold” but his denialist attitude ensured that Brazil currently has approximately 7.3 million cases of infection and 1,87,000 deaths, and the graph isn’t showing any signs of heading south anytime soon. As for England, the less said, the better. Even before South Africa, the island nation had become the first country globally to report the mutated — and reportedly far deadlier than the Wuhan virus — strain; causing it to suspend outbound international flights, and the world was understandably eager to return the favour.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Guwahati/Agartala, Dec 19 (IANS) Union DoNER Minister Jitendra Singh said on Saturday that constructing more railway lines and connecting routes between the northeast and other regions are the priorities of the Central government.
Addressing the inaugural function of the two-day North East Festival (NEF), the DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) Minister said that the region has ample wealth and human resources and the government is trying to exploit these resources and natural reserves for the all round prosperity of the region.
The 8th edition of the North East Festival started on Saturday with a colourful inaugural function in Guwahati.
Addressing the opening session of the festival, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal talked about the encouragement of youth and foster learning to use the resources of the region purposefully and positively.
"Hardworking and united efforts would definitely yield positive and beneficial results for the better and brighter future of northeast India," the Assam Chief Minister said.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said: "The northeast region itself is an asset to the region and its people. Our cuisine can be promoted across the world. The DholaeSadiya Bridge (also referred to as the Bhupen Hazarika Setu connecting Assam with Arunachal Pradesh) is a landmark milestone in developing the tourism sector of the region."
Deb said that taming terrorism in the region, the Central government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking the erstwhile backward northeastern region to the path of growth and prosperity.
The North East Festival is an attempt to showcase and create awareness about the northeast and to promote entrepreneurship and tourism. One of the major aims of the festival is to attract tourism and investments and create positive vibes during these trying times.
The opening session was also graced by many dignitaries, both in person and virtually, including Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
The speakers further highlighted the use of the resources with the advancement of science and technology.
North East Festival's organiser-in-chief Shyamkanu Mahanta said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, northeast region's first and foremost source of income and livelihood, tourism, has been affected severely and everything has come to a standstill.
"The focus of the festival would be a growth agenda for the northeast region post Covid-19. A new entity, 'NEF Ideation Conclave', would have a series of discussion sessions. The 'North-East Youth Session' would feature prominent personalities of the region, including Zubeen Garg, Armstrong Palme, Hima Das, Niti Deb and many others speaking about their journey," he said.
The events of the festival would be telecast for the spectators across the world through digital platforms.
A session, 'Market Linkage on Agriculture', will see agri companies of the northeast region interact with buyers from outside, a eB2B Meet on Tourism' will be organised wherein tourism stakeholders of the northeast will interact with prominent tour operators of the country.
Another session on eMake in North East' will see prominent investors in the northeast region, including Numaligarh Refinery Limited, Patanjali and ITC, share their experience of investment in the region.
Some successful startups from the region will also share their story.
Mahanta said that a virtual walk through of North East Festival will be showcased. The evenings will showcase cultural events from across the region.
"North East Festivals over the years have been able to create a positive perception about the region. This time the focus is to highlight the strength of northeast as an investment destination and focus on the region as an ideal tourism destination post Covid-19.
"The virtual North East Festival will aim to create a market linkage for the products of the region and will try to motivate youngsters of the region for entrepreneurship, sports and other activities," Mahanta said.
New Delhi, Dec 11 (IANSlife) For Delhiites weekend getaways and road trips may not involve the sandy beaches of Goa, but with Jaipur and Agra less than a 300 km drive away, there's a lot to explore.
Jaipur one of the biggest city of Rajasthan offers history, tradition and shopping. With stunning palaces, museums and and many homegrown Indian brands, a two-day getaway just isn't enough. They also have traditional textiles, memorable camel rides and experience traditional folk dance and musical performances from the artistes.
If you have not yet seen the Taj Mahal now might be the best time, with tourism at an all time low, you avoid all the crowds usually expected at this wonder of the world. Located in Uttar Pradesh, It goes without saying, besides being known for its ivory-white Taj Mahal the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage offer a great lesson in history.
To make the journey safe and worry free, checkin at the ITC Hotels in both cities; the properties are offering some of the best deal for an extravagant weekend indulgence! One such offer is the '100?ck' deal where the hotel matches your spend and doubles your joy! The ITC Rajputana, Jaipur offers the full amount you spend as hotel credits which you can instantly redeem during your stay. Enjoy responsible luxury experiences including delectable food and beverage offerings, soothing spa treatments and a lot more. This exciting offer is valid on weekdays and weekends, available across 15+ #ITCHotels and Welcomhotels at over 10 destinations across India. Curating immersive luxury experiences and world-class hospitality strengthened by their #WeAssure program, a one-of-a-kind safety and well-being initiative, ensuring peace of mind and well-being during your stay.
(N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Aerial sightseeing has become very popular as several nations still have travel restrictions on incoming arrivals
It began with some intrepid folks chartering planes to fly around. Then airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Australia’s Qantas caught wind of the idea and ran with it. What are we talking about? The concept of “flights to nowhere in particular” seems to have taken off, literally. Qantas’ recent trip, involving low-flying, aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef, was sold out. Airlines are happy as this allows them to fly their aircraft relatively full, thus keeping some jobs safe and their expensive assets, the planes themselves, flying. Of course, scenic flights that operate in and out of the same airport are not a new concept. Qantas itself has run seasonal flights to Antarctica for several years every southern summer. But 2020, as we all know, is not like any other year, with several nations still putting travel restrictions on incoming arrivals, some not even allowing non-citizens to return and others instituting strict quarantine regulations, even for travel within a country.
As a result the global aviation business is hurting, thousands of pilots, cabin crew, ground crew and aircraft maintenance engineers have already lost jobs and unless things change dramatically, several thousand more will lose their jobs in the coming months. Many airlines have already shut for good and many more are in deep financial distress. It is not a good time to be an airline or be employed by one. So yes, while these flights of fancy might seem extravagant and a waste of money and resources, even adding pollution, their popularity means that airlines will probably survive as well as regain some overall confidence in flying. Let us not forget, these flights are being bought by people, who after six months of being grounded, want to get back in the air. They want to experience airport security and airline food for better or for worse. The very frequent flyer might have celebrated the first couple of months of no flying but almost every single person in that category misses that experience now and these flights, pointless as they might seem, allow these people to get a fix. There are many willing to take off in India as well and maybe a scenic flight or two around the Himalayas or the wonderful coastal areas may not be a bad idea here.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Are ‘air bubbles’ between nations a way of getting international passenger travel going again?
With India having created “air bubbles” with some countries such as France, the UAE and the US and advanced negotiations on with Germany and other nations, it is heartening to see that international commercial air travel is restarting. An “air bubble” is a form of a bilateral air traffic agreement but one that follows the entry rules set by various nations related to registration and quarantine protocols. In India, for example, travellers from abroad are still mandated to undergo one week’s institutional and a week’s home quarantine. The “air bubbles” also prevent direct “sixth freedom” air traffic, a connecting one. International travellers will not, for example, be able to connect through Dubai or Paris airports while coming to India unless specifically allowed by the Indian Government. However, one wonders how an immigration-free zone such as Europe’s “Schengen” area will be managed. The increased flights will hopefully see better utilisation of air fleets and present airlines an opportunity to make some money. However, if experience from India’s domestic flights resuming operations is any indication, the volume of passengers might be minimal after an initial rush as few people have an urgent non-personal reason to travel this time.
So these “air bubbles” could be a start as it remains to be seen whether commercial air traffic can ever re-emerge from the pandemic. For example, many airlines made significant volumes of connecting air traffic but with restrictions as well as the risk-averse nature of most people to deal with another large airport, how will airlines like Emirates and Singapore Airlines cope? Emirates, for example, has already retired the earliest of its A380 superjumbo aircraft and laid off thousands of employees as the Indian air traffic that sustained that carrier has vanished overnight. Even storied airlines like British Airways have announced that they will retire their entire Boeing 747 fleet, joining Australia’s Qantas and Dutch airline KLM in retiring the “Queen of the Skies.” While airlines highlight how safe travel onboard is, drastic reductions in service, thanks to the pandemic, and the lack of passenger confidence have made certain that many of them will not re-emerge from the crisis. Bubbles or not, the aviation industry itself sits on a precarious bubble.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
As the world grapples with the Corona pandemic, travel bubbles may be the way ahead to open international tourism
At a time when tourism, which was considered to be a growth engine of the new economy and a defining lifestyle statement, has reached a dead end courtesy the Coronavirus, here’s some solace from at least from one corner of the world. Ongoing talks between New Zealand and Australia to chalk out a plan to create a “travel bubble,” which would allow citizens of both nations to cross the 2,000-kilometre sea line, offer some hopes for recovery for this industry. Maybe create a template for the rest of the world. Agreed, it may take some time for tourists to start moving freely but a designated guided tour between two or microdots of “safe” countries may yet rescue a sector from dying. As the two countries work on the modalities to create the bubble, it must not be forgotten that this is a hard choice they have had to make. However, both nations have been way ahead in containing the pandemic — registering only one per cent growth in new cases — which is why they have been lucky enough to consider the option to open each other’s borders for their citizens. Besides, the two nations share the closest bilateral relationships in the world. With easier visa agreements, the flow of people, work-related or for pleasure, had been pretty smooth before all hell broke due to the spread of the pandemic. Heavily dependent as they remain on each other, with Australians making up almost 40 per cent of international arrivals to New Zealand and the latter making up for around 15 per cent of the former’s international visitors, they might just get a micro-economy going.
With Australia looking to double the pace of economic growth next year and a somewhat diluted form of recession in New Zealand, this would be a symbiotic relationship that has to be closely monitored in terms of disease control protocols. Moving too fast would mean not only a second wave of COVID-19 cases but a challenge laden with potential risks of new infections. With another country being involved in the mix, contact tracing would be even more difficult. From following stricter health protocols to tightening up airport rules and quarantine checks, a lot would be needed to restore confidence of travellers. Technology would have to be deployed to intensify the screening and tracking the movement of the each tourist. A bubble indeed that cannot be allowed to burst. India, too, over the course of time, can experiment with domestic bubbles between “safe, contiguous” territories.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
With more than 20,000 deaths, Spain, which used to be a tourism hotspot, has turned into a contagion hotbed. But hopes are high that it will soon be able to return to normalcy
In Europe, Spain, with a population of 46 million, is closely following the footsteps of Italy in terms of COVID-19 fatalities. It has suffered more deaths per million inhabitants than any other nation with the death toll crossing 20,000 on April 17. There were more than 9,000 new cases on March 31 and 950 deaths on April 2, the biggest daily death figure. These horrific statistics were provided by the Spanish Government’s top scientific advisor on the pandemic, Fernando Simon. Immunologist Alexander Edgar of the University of Reading said, “A lot of the spread had happened before people realised. Most of them assumed that the problem was elsewhere — Wuhan, which was shut off since January.”
This is analogous with Myanmar’s Health Minister saying in Yangon when it claimed zero COVID-19 that “Hubei was 1,200 miles away from the country though it shares a 1,900-mile border with China.” The three main reasons for the high fatality rate in Spain are the country’s slow response; demography and social behaviour; and low testing capacity. This, despite the country having an excellent healthcare system and not to forget the high-life expectancy in Europe due to its Mediterranean diet. But Spain’s ageing population has been shrinking since 2010 due to recession and migration. More people died in 2018 than were being born here and the pandemic started with the elderly contracting it first, like in Italy where social and cultural behaviour matches that of Spain’s.
On a holiday in Spain months before the outbreak of the Wuhan virus, one had heard of the Spanish flu and influenza pandemic that occurred in 1918-1919 during and after World War I, where one in three human beings were infected and around 17 million to 100 million perished across the world. Calling the flu Spanish is a misnomer: It started in Kansas at Fort Riley when the US was preparing to join the war. Others say it started in the congested trenches of Europe, which at that time were filled with young men and later American soldiers. The Spanish flu was really bad as it came in three waves and reached across the world, including Africa and Australia. Medicine, too, was not extensively developed.
The holiday was memorable. Ethiopian Airlines describes Madrid as the city of great monuments. I would add museums and Plaza Mayor to that list. It has just one cathedral and that, too, constructed in the mid-20th century as the Archbishop of Toledo, the old capital of Spain, would not allow it. Madrid sits astride Rio Manzanares with gentle slopes on both sides of the river connecting the two parts of the capital with a blend of ancient and ultra-modern bridges, marvels of architecture reflecting the extraordinary vision of the Spanish rulers building six-lane bridges in 16th century.
On both sides of the river are walkways, partly covering the Madrid marathon cycling tracks. Spaniards ride bicycles whenever and wherever they can. September is a great time to arrive in Madrid’s new and a design wonder airport where immigration officials took just four seconds to stamp my congested passport. But immigration rules will change now.
Madrid has one palace, one cathedral, more than 50 museums, 46 art galleries and 23 concert venues. All of these were renovated for the 400th anniversary of the Plaza Mayor, which records Madrid’s heartbeat with its ancient square and adjoining food and wine markets.
I am not a connoisseur of wine but Spanish rioja is excellent at 3 to 4 euro per bottle. In Madrid, in the grocery shops, I could find only Spanish wine. A bottle a day is bound to keep spirits high, ideally with fresh strawberries, ham and cherries. Bar Nakama, a hole in the wall, is run by the solitary English-speaking barman Robert. Nakama, he explained, meant “friend” in Japanese, though we never saw a Japanese in here. In his bar one could buy a glass of reasonable wine for 2 euro, which is accompanied by plentiful snacks and gratis. Excellent espresso coffee and Spanish beer were available, too.
All roadside cafes charge 1 to 2 euro extra for service except the chain 100Mantidelos, where self service rules, which is pronto. Madrid is not expensive like London and Paris or even Brussels and Amsterdam. Though museums charge an average of 7 to 10 euros, many are free between 7 and 9 on some days and gratis all times for EU and Latin American nationals.
September is also the month for art, music and theatre festivals organised by DCode, supplemented by exhibitions and concerts by Arte Madrid and Appertura. World class bands, including Team Gallagher and Oasis, Broadway musicals, English theatre artistes, flamenco dancers, singers and guitarists, all perform here. Bull fighting happens only between April and June but Spain stands divided on whether the sport should stay or be banned altogether. Madrid boasts of a three Michelin-star restaurant Cairella Bistro that has a Valencian chef. The most famous landmark is that of a male Spaniard, leaning on a balustrade near Calle Allemedine and Calle Mayor June. Most tourists mistake the bronze life-size statue for real and brush past it whispering inanities and rubbing its bottom for good luck. They call him the good bum. Toledo is a world model tourist attraction. On a Sunday, it was bursting with human kind with tour guide-led columns crawling like ants. It takes an hour to reach the old capital of Spain, which is surrounded on three sides by River Tagus. From the moment one alights the bus, one is elevated to Plaza de Zocodover on a series of escalators rising 500 feet to reach the panoramic heights of the old city famed for a blend of three cultures.
Over a period of time, Christians, Moors and Jews lived together peacefully (not quite like today in West Bank in Jerusalem). A 10th century mosque, preserved for two centuries before it was turned into a chapel, is in good shape. Toledo’s cathedral, built in the 13th century contains El Grecho masterpieces of de-robing Christ. The bell in the tower weighing 30,000 kilos apparently rang only once as it caused a minor earthquake in which a 90-metre high clock had one of its needles disappear. A 14th century synagogue is well preserved in the Jewish quarter, next to El Grecho’s recreated house. Toledo is an experience of a lifetime. Equip yourself with a tourist map, the Es Madrid magazine and mucho gracias for your travel whenever you can plan one in the future.
Fast forward, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday that current measures of lockdown will extend beyond April 25 and schools will be closed till September. Like elsewhere in Europe, he has announced a sector by sector opening of the economy. Sunday saw the smallest one-day death toll, 410, since March 22, which means the curve is bending.
(Writer: Ashok K Mehta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Following internet shutdowns, the tourism sector is the latest victim of the Government’s high-handedness
The Government may be consistently playing down the countrywide protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as a conspiracy of intellectuals to jeopardise its legitimate existence. But with the protests showing no signs of abating — they have now turned into a people’s movement over exclusionary and discriminatory policies that breed hatred and disunity — the clampdown on freedom of expression has been severe. So harsh that internet and mobile network shutdowns have indefinitely become the order of the day. This has elicited strong admonitions and travel advisories against India, impacting our tourism business severely. For example, tour operators in Agra, the home of Taj Mahal, have unofficially reported a loss of about 50 per cent revenue during the holiday season. Nowhere has the clampdown been as draconian as it has been in Uttar Pradesh with over 19 people killed and more than 1,100 arrests. The visitors’ count for December has been the most dismal. A paltry 4.5 lakh tourists arrived at Agra’s Taj Mahal over the new year weekend, which is down from seven lakh the same month, last year. Tourists from the US, the UK, China, France and Japan are understandably cautious after reports emerged of foreign students being deported for extending moral support to protesters. Internet cafes, a favourite among young travellers to keep folks connected to them back home, are running dry.
As the tourists have been dissuaded from travelling to India — in part because the message from New Delhi has been that it will not buckle down and, instead, has sharpened its attack on anti-CAA protesters and tightened the noose of police action — their numbers fell well before November, when the crucial Ayodhya verdict was to be announced by the Supreme Court. The month, which saw a footfall of 6.7 lakh tourists last year, saw only 5.4 lakh tourists this year. Agra alone attracts over 6.5 million tourists every year, generating nearly $14 million annually from entrance fees. Similar is the story elsewhere. Overall, the hospitality sector has been hit. Assam has already faced a loss of Rs 400 crore. Mysuru saw a 20 per cent dip in tourism. Revenues for many hotels, tour operators and guides have plunged with many tourists, both domestic and foreign, either cancelling their trips or cutting them short. This is understandable. Protests are now dragging on into the second month and have shown little signs of abating even as the Government has issued “clarifications.” There are plenty of signs of matters turning more violent as both police and marchers up the ante. The larger question, however, is whether the tourism sector will be able to absorb the damage once normalcy returns. For an industry, which the Government pegged as a growth driver even in a slowing economy, this is a bad sign. In this business, perception matters and the atithi is certainly not feeling welcome anymore.
For a sustained and all-round economic growth, there is need for an integrated sectoral approach to ensure the ease of doing business
Discussions on the performance of the Indian economy have been taking place for months now. The many years and cycles that our economy has been through show that in order to grow at a healthy pace and sustain that growth year after year, no sector can operate in isolation. From being recognised as a predominantly agrarian economy in its early days, we have seen various sectors develop, contribute and help grow its overall size.
The Pahle India Foundation’s (PIF) report titled: An Integrated Value Chain Approach to Ease of Doing Business: A Case Study of Sugar, Alcohol Beverages and Tourism Sector points towards the synergy between the three sectors. This has remained largely unexploited. States like Kerala and Bihar, which have an immense potential for tourism, have been battling broader policy issues like the ban on alcohol. Kerala quickly realised the effects of prohibition and reversed it two years after it was imposed in 2015. Why such a ban is detrimental to the success of the tourism sector is self-explanatory, especially when one considers foreign tourists visiting India. Consider this; Bihar lost over Rs 3,000 crore in excise revenues in a year after alcohol ban in 2016; tourism is down too as the State has seen a decline in the number of domestic and international arrivals. According to data from the State tourism department, the number of domestic tourists in Bihar was approximately 61.52 lakh in 2015, which in 2016 decreased to 42.84 lakh. At present, Gujarat, Nagaland and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep also practise prohibition.
Sadly, reforms on the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) front have been very generic so far and there are many challenges which need to be overcome for the tourism industry to realise its potential. For instance, among the many licences that are required today to start a hotel, one is for washing clothes. There are close to 70 such licence requirements which are a burden on the industry. The estimate made in the report that the Indian hotel industry has a potential to grow to $424 billion by 2027 points to a clear need to rationalise policies across sectors in order to harness it.
If tourism is to be made business-friendly, the Government needs to introduce sector-specific reforms. This is necessary as tourism as a sector has strong interlinkages with other sectors and industries such as food services, hospitality, retail, travel, real estate and others. Tourism as a sector comes with direct, indirect and induced benefits and allied economies play a role for the growth of tourism to sustain such benefits. There is a need to bring down the incoherence in the status of tourism and its regulations in the country. In Schedule 7 of Article 246, tourism is not listed under the Concurrent, Union or State list. Each State has its dedicated tourism board which is responsible for overlooking its promotion and development.
From the perspective of EoDB, recognising the need to upgrade tourism infrastructure in India, the Central Government has proposed an outlay of Rs 152 billion for the sector. From an EoDB perspective, the States have a bigger role than the Centre.
As the report points out, the tourism sector today faces various challenges not just with respect to the value chain but also in services and infrastructure. Some of these include an ineffective single window clearance and extended time periods for clearances and licences. To make things simpler we need to further enhance the efficacy and implementation of the Government’s skill development programme and it is here that stakeholders would have to support the efforts of the Government.
For an industry which is the seventh-largest in the world, with respect to its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report of 2018, has pegged the tourism sector to grow to Rs 29,680 billion by 2027. At present it accounts for Rs 16,380 billion, which is 9.4 per cent of India’s GDP.
For the industry to achieve its true potential, a conducive reforms programme will have to be implemented on the lines of what the report is suggesting. The PIF report makes several critical recommendations. Ideas like creation of investor and entrepreneur-interactive platforms (competitions, fairs, summits) in small cities are the need of the hour. A quick and transparent licencing process is another important need and enforcing stricter timelines a necessity. Enhancing EoDB is a challenge but policy initiatives in the right direction are a must, specially considering the tightrope walk that the Government is doing for ensuring that the economy remains on track and moves in the right direction. An integrated approach to EoDB is the first step in that direction.
(Writer: Vineet Taing; Courtesy: The Pioneer)