Speaking at PATA India Chapter’s 9th Update & Outlook Meeting titled ‘Resurrecting Inbound Tourism post COVID-19’, Meenakshi Sharma, Director General – Tourism, addressed some key initiatives and strategies the government is taking to get ready to welcome tourists.
Insisting that a number of steps are being taken by Ministry of Tourism to bring back inbound tourists, Meenakshi Sharma believes that they need to be ready with a strategy and action plan while awaiting flights to resume. The involvement of both industry and government must be there, she adds.
Keeping the interest alive
Sharma says that as a first step, one has to keep the interest alive in foreign travellers. “We know that India is a long-haul destination, hence, tourists coming to India would like to stay longer and the concept of staycation will grow. They would prefer to relish the experience of tourism and India has a huge opportunity there, offering a plethora of products. The challenge is to convey this message to potential tourists,” she explained.
While cases of the virus are on the rise, India is not being seen as a country that cannot control the pandemic, thus creating a positive outlook to the world, Sharma believes. “India is still being seen for successful management of the disease. Now, only a vaccine will make travel easier in the long term and till that time, we are limited to creating confidence. There are various ways to look at it — one can look at the numbers we are dealing with and how hard we are trying to get a vaccine. The ‘Stranded in India’ project was a small experiment and was the need of the hour, but it created a lot of confidence that we are one of the best in providing hospitality and assurance,” she claimed.
Assuring safety and hygiene
It is imperative, said Sharma, to make sure that the travellers know they are safe and protected. “We have operational recommendations from MOT for all industry stakeholders; these are simple recommendations as per international standards. The challenge is to ensure that as an industry, these are followed. There are two ways to go about it— firstly, it’s in every service provider’s self-interest that these instructions are followed and declared. Secondly, we have joined hands with Quality Council of India that is coming out with a certification based on a simple assessment and a small questionnaire to support and handhold all service providers, from the smallest to the biggest. We can say that if you have this certification, there is a high level of assurance and it can create confidence. We are hoping that all the state governments and industry will support this initiative because that will create more confidence in travellers and there will be a single voice saying that India is ready to receive customers,” she shared.
According to Sharma, MOT is also aware of challenge right now in different states following different quarantine rules but, she insists, once the numbers start coming down, there will be a uniform policy for the whole country, applicable to foreign and domestic tourists. Another assurance that is needed, according to her, is in terms of visa rigidity and she shares that MOT is working with Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and other ministries to bring out a solution.
“Another angle which we are thinking about and which is still in a nascent stage is to bring the insurance part into it. We are internally discussing it, because it will be a new product, and is currently being discussed internationally as well. We will be happy to receive industry suggestions on that because it is about ensuring safety. I think with Quality Control of India (QCI) certification, it will give a lot of support to the travellers.”
Support for industry
“We would like to know what the industry wants us to do. We are open for joint promotions. We are coming up with a liberal market assistance (MDA) scheme for the international market, and it would be reaching the industry soon. We would be ready to do Fam tours, virtual or otherwise, in a while and we can bring some specific people here from the FTOs,” said Sharma.
India must be fully ready
Jatinder Taneja, Vice Chairman, PATA India Chapter, in his address, suggested, “During the last six months, we have witnessed highs and lows because of the COVID-19 outbreak and its crippling impact has resulted in a recessionary trend for the industry. We cannot predict when exactly inbound business in India will commence, but we believe it will resume in a phased manner with a lot of precautions and preventive measures. We must convey the right and positive message to all our foreign tour operators in the coming months. As and when India opens for international tourism, we must not have any quarantine conditions in any Indian state, which can be a huge deterrent to tourist arrivals. All states must get united to promote inbound tourism and whatever safety precautions we need to implement, must be done at the time of granting visa.”