The Indian tourism industry has been hit severely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What went wrong in reviving the industry? How introducing new policies like the Caravan tourism policy can impact the long-term scenario?
Indians think they are the smartest in the world. It’s true if no one else is around!
And in Tourism, just because Indian Hospitality is one among the best, we thought that nothing could touch us. When the Pandemic landed in India, we believed that it’s just a 3-4 months game. Rest is all history!
Most of the giants in hospitality slowly lowered their office shutters and sent a sweet message to their employees “As we are suffering from……………………….. this is to inform you that you will be on leave without salary.” The technical term “Sustainability” or the “People” factor were temporarily suspended from their glossary. At the same time, few passionate, responsible entrepreneurs are still paying a sustenance allowance to their employees even after 19 months of the closure of the business.
On the other end, Governments were very happy as there were no big cries from the tourism industry for any bailout packages. National Trade Associations were silent too because they were either afraid of their own existence or the political leadership. Shame! Even today, the Tourism Industry has not received a single penny as survival support from any government. Latest of late, the tourism ministry said they will sanction a loan to the tune of One Million INR to accredited Tour Operators in the country and the applications will be available online from 15 September.
I think they are using a different calendar as no information as of today. An obligatory incentive to service exporters- SEIS for 2019-20 is due in June 2020. In spite of even a High Court order, SEIS is not notified yet. (As per my calendar, we are nearing the end of 2021!)
India failed miserably in making Tourism Industry resilient during the pandemic. Without survival, there is no revival. Just because of not having a helping hand in time, many small and medium businesses in Tourism had a salvation post an organic death. Unfortunately, the Industry community was never a resilient one and didn’t want to make an effort to sustain their brothers and sisters in the industry. If I am not exaggerating, at least a few of us thought it’s nice the number of businesses comes down so that we can eat more. How much your system can digest? Such thoughts only will take you to obesity due to overeating.
While many of our industry colleagues are choking for breath, at least a few of our bureaucrats and stakeholders joined hands to bring in new investment opportunities in Tourism. This means they don’t care how resilient is the community but are too selfish to their dreams. Without making the industry resilient and sustainable, how dare they could think of such new projects at this juncture! One of such high dreams is the Caravan Tourism Policy unveiled last week by the Hon Tourism Minister Of Kerala. I have not seen him around for any support to the already drowning Industry but he is happy to announce Caravan Tourism Policy which he claims to revamp Kerala Tourism.
Seems funny to me. What about the already existing experiences and infrastructure in Kerala which are not even occupied above 50-60%? Once the Houseboat got introduced in Kerala, it was the USP of Kerala but the governments failed miserably to sustain the product and now thousands of unlicensed boats are making a threat to the licensed operators competing on price which itself is unsustainable.
Caravan Tourism can be another memorial test piece for a tropical country like India, especially Kerala where the total length of the State is less than 1000 km. Any new venture in Tourism should be sustainable by giving equal opportunity to the local community, local employment and most importantly without creating an additional Co2 load to the destination. If we are trying to copy a Western model, sorry Kerala is not a place for such trials.
In a tropical climate like ours, most of the time these Caravans should operate their Air Conditioning and the Indian vehicles operate the aircon system on their engine. We can’t even imagine many such Caravans operating their engines day & night even in the parking area which will be a heavy CO2 load to the local community. Also with the cost of fuel and other operating expenses, India will not be able to offer competitive pricing for such an experience. If we are looking at Caravan Tourism in the developed countries, it’s all self-driving through the less populated areas and long stays.
My main point is that a government or an industry could not think about bringing resilience to a business community that suffered the most during the Pandemic, cannot think about any further successful models. Sustainability starts from making a segment resilient in a crisis and growing from there. Supreme agencies like Niti Ayog etc should have thought of such initiatives at the very beginning of the Pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s Incredible India!
(George Scaria is the Managing Director of Keralavoyages India Pvt Ltd, a Travelife Certified Tour Operator.)
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