Covid-19: A plan for tourism to survive, revive, thrive
Covid-19 is the biggest challenge that the global tourism sector has faced till date. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates a reduction of 58% to 78% in tourist traffic across the world. This means that international tourist arrivals could drop by a billion. Typically, the tourism sector is among the first to be affected, and the last to recover during a health crisis.
For the tourism sector in India, it is no longer going to be business-as-usual and we will need to redefine, refocus and change the game plan going forward. It is essential to measure the impact of Covid-19 and prepare a cogent strategy involving both the government and the industry stakeholders, which can be categorised into three phases: Survive (short-term), revive (medium-term) and thrive (long-term).
The twin challenges in the survive stage are to save businesses and save jobs. The Centre must provide businesses with institutional access to working capital and enable liquidity through a deferment of loan repayments. The Centre intends to help small businesses to access working capital by underwriting a part of the loan amount.
On the demand side, India has a robust domestic market which could soften the impact as compared with nations that rely largely on international tourists. India receives 11 million foreign tourists, which is small compared to its size and relative potential. Dubai receives well over 16 million tourists. At least 24 million Indian tourists travel abroad each year and spend an estimated $25 billion. We must incentivise domestic travel to retain these high- spending tourists, which should not be difficult given the international travel restrictions in place. Critical to the success of this would be to allay the anxieties of tourists by ensuring that robust protocols for safety and hygiene are in place.
In the revive phase, the slow easing of international travel restrictions will result in intense competition as all countries will target the same markets. This calls for a nimble and aggressive strategy for specific micro-markets focused on intense localised communication through social media.
We need to prioritise products and destinations that would be of interest in the target market and ensure that these deliver value for money.
Even though a significant part of the business travel will be lost to technology, India should aggressively campaign with state support to host a handful of the biggest and best global conferences and conventions to send out the message that India is safe and is back in business.
The thrive phase calls for an adaptation to a fundamentally changed tourism sector post-Covid-19.
Consumer preferences and tourism policies the world over are expected to evolve towards achieving greater sustainability and community orientation.
We will see a trend towards taking cognisance of environmental costs beyond economic costs; destinations that will move towards a zero carbon foot print along with higher levels of hygiene; tour operators and hoteliers gravitating towards more responsible and meaningful experiences through minimising food miles; showcasing the local for the global; and positioning the host community as the centrepiece of the tourist experience.
The pandemic offers us an opportunity to hit the reset the button to make the tourism sector a sustainable engine for economic growth and development.
Beyond the immediate pain of the pandemic, we should not miss the chance to make full use of the crisis.