GUWAHATI, April 11 - Against speculations that COVID-19 could deal a crippling blow to the tourism industry globally, experts feel that the tourism sector is looking at light at the end of the tunnel, provided both the private and public sector entities and stakeholders device revival strategies to come out of the crisis.
In an effort to gather opinion and deliberate on a survival strategy for the tourism and hospitality industry in the region, FICCI organised a webinar on the theme �Tourism in the North east: getting back to business post COVID�, on Friday, where more than 100 top industry representatives from the tourism and hospitality sector in the NE region took part.
Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, while speaking at the webinar, said that revival of the tourism industry will be the top priority of the Ministry of Tourism once travel restrictions are withdrawn and COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.
Brar said it is important that all stakeholders including hoteliers, tour operators and government functionaries work together to deal with the situation. She also informed that the ministry is launching an online campaign for Indian Tourism to ensure that India retains its attractiveness as a tourism destination.
Ashish Phookan, chairman of Assam State Council of FICCI while addressing the participants, expressed fear of a change in tourist behaviour post COVID-19. He felt that senior citizens will travel less, which would lead to a significant fall in revenue. While praising the �Dekho Apna Desh� initiative of the Government of India, he however lamented the lack of clarity of banks providing working capital to tour companies.
It is estimated that almost 50,000 travel agents along with around 1,00,000 tour operators, 19 lakh tourist transporters and five lakh restaurants will be severely hit as they bear the double blow of lost business and cash outflow at the same time.
Initiatives planned by the Government of Assam were shared by Deba Kumar Mishra, Director Tourism, Assam. He said the department has already moved the government for support packages for the tourism industry in Assam. The proposed initiatives include among other points, fiscal support to tour operators like government-backed short-term loans. He urged the participants to use social media to inform people that the North East is a safer place to travel.
He further shared information about a cyclist from Spain on a world tour, who decided to stay back with locals in Assam rather than leaving for his country.
The participants requested the government for a special bailout package in the form of low-cost loans and longer moratorium periods for the tourism industry in the North East, apart from seeking IT relief, relaxation on GST payment terms, refund of advance tax payments, lowering of electricity tariffs for the year, etc.
The participants unanimously supported creation of a common branding strategy for the entire North East and extension of the Leave Travel Allowances scheme for travelling to the NE region for another two years.
Prominent persons who attended the webinar included Pranab Sarkar, president of Indian Association of Tour Operators; Capt Swadesh Kumar, president of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India; Ranjeet Das, chairman of FICCI Sub-Committee on Tourism; Arijit Purkayastha, advisor, North East India Tour Operators Association; Kejaroko Pieru, vice president, Nagaland Tourism Association and others.