Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, says that as the country readies itself for the commencement of travel, it is essential for both government and industry to have a common voice that delivers the right message. She also shares some updates from the Ministry.
With travel resuming, a major role the government has had to play is working with the industry. Now, the process of making sure stakeholders are part of an organised system has begun, and Rakesh Verma, Joint Secretary, MOT, is working on getting a database of hotels and other state facilities created, claims Rupinder Brar. She adds, “Also, everywhere in the world people are anxious about their safety when they think of travelling. Hence, it was imperative to come out with protocols for different stakeholders, right from travel and tour operators to hotels, bed & breakfast facilities or homestays, as well as transport operators.”
Brar claims that there have been dialogues with State tourism ministers as well. “In fact, the Honourable Minister has started a series of discussions with the idea that we are still battling COVID-19, but with businesses opening, we must prepare ourselves in the interim. Thus, when travel is truly safe, we should be able to make sure that the traveller is comforted and feels safe to travel. There will be layers of discussions with an idea that the government and stakeholders must work together to create a sense of welcome that follows the protocols and guidelines that are required. Broadly, the idea is that with a few flights, at least some process of travel has begun. Inter-state and intra-state car travel has already begun. Domestic flights are already operational with all new safeguards in place. Recognising the fact that people are beginning to travel, the idea is to speak to the industry on how to create the right amount of momentum in the future. The focus was to ask them how they feel about the situation right now and what more can we do with the industry in terms of promotional campaigns or relooking at any guidelines if the scenario changes. We need to understand the perspective of the industry and work together with them,” she shares.
Different state rules
Commenting on the need for a uniform protocol for the entire country instead of having different guidelines in different states, Brar says that India is such a large country that it is challenging to come out with a single protocol and set of guidelines. “Hence, when it comes to having a uniform guideline across the country, we need to respect the decisions taken by Ministry of Health of various states in conjunction with the central Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The local conditions need to be factored in because it works both ways. Hence, we want to make sure that the correct information is available for travellers coming to India, so that they are not inconvenienced due to lack of information. This information is already available, but we will be putting it out in a more organised and systematic manner. However, in the interim, even if there can’t be one rule for the entire country, we are exploring the possibility that we could classify and cluster some regions in a particular manner, defining regions, so that one knows what kind of protocol will work in a particular region. However, the ultimate guide would be the health department advisories.”
Brar also said that they are also developing small itineraries, allowing people to do short-distance travel within a state and between neighbouring states. For this, MOT and all regional offices are actively engaged in crafting itineraries of 1-2 days which include both inter-state and intra-state destinations. “In 3-4 weeks, we should be able to share the same with everyone,” she adds.
In fact, MOT has taken a positive step by increasing the MDA scheme limit for both domestic and inbound agents. “We have already spelt it out and we have also taken inputs from the industry for that and the necessary approvals are being taken. Very soon it shall be an upgraded and operational market development assistance scheme,” she informs.
Touching upon the need for a national tourism task force, Brar says, “The purpose of the national tourism task force was not a single one-line communication channel. The idea was that at different levels there needs to be a continuous dialogue. The biggest comforting factor that one could create in this period was to have a continuous exchange of ideas and a sense of handholding that the government is there with the industry. We have made sure that we’ve had continuous rounds of discussion with the stakeholders.”
“Confidence will be generated through word of mouth, therefore, the experience that we offer our travellers would have to be ‘Safe to Travel’. Even the dialogue that the Minister has initiated is part of the overall process of creating the right markers and right messaging amongst both the industry and potential travellers. What emerged from our discussions with the industry is that in the first round of opening, it’s important to send out the message that we are safe as a country and we are ready to welcome people again, and that’s the campaign which is going to be kick-starting soon. We are getting the content ready, in sync with the inputs that we have from the industry,” Brar concludes.
MSME loans: It is the domain of banks
“When we are looking at taking a loan, it’s the domain of the bank and for them to truly evaluate; they have their own KYCs and benchmarking norms on how to grade an industry. Also, banks work under the Ministry of Finance which makes the regulations. Our role is in flagging the requirements and the peculiar conditions into which our industry has been thrown in the times of COVID-19, and the Honourable Minister has taken this subject up more than once at appropriate levels to ensure that the industry is heard and is appreciated in the right perspective. He has been vociferously supporting the sentiment that the industry has been deeply impacted because of the sheer stopping of travel itself. While the Minister has pushed the case, ultimately, we are part of an ecosystem and we cannot possibly be pushing the banks to ignore some of the regulations that they work with.”
– Rupinder Brar