Northeast repackages itself

This tourism-dependent region plans to give a spin to its offerings to cater to a demand that will be dictated by COVID-19 safety measures. Stakeholders in India’s Northeast region aim to bring their rural tourism product into mainstream tourism, to support the fragile economy here.

E Banlumlang Blah, President, North East India Tourism Confederation (NEITC)

We have been in discussion amongst tourism stakeholders to form a travel bubble with all the seven sister states and Sikkim even before COVID-19 hit us. However, that hasn’t materialised so far. This needs a concerted effort from all eight states. Our request to the government is also to incentivise the first few travellers by maybe offering them a few free activities in the region. Just facilitating travel is not going to be enough.

Arijit Purkayastha, Chapter Chairman, ADTOI – Northeast Chapter

We demand extending the Leave Travel Concession (LTC). As per the Seventh Pay Commission, a Central Government official can avail LTC to travel in Northeast India, Andaman, and Jammu & Kashmir by travelling in any private airline, unlike other destinations in India where they have to travel by Air India only. As of now, LTC is valid till September 2020. If extended, we can look forward to a sizeable number of visitors.

Nirmalya Choudhary, Chapter Chairman, IATO – Northeast Chapter

Nature-based tourism will work well for us once travel resumes as it sees smaller crowds of people. Given our per square kilometre population, Northeast India is the destination that the rest of the country will be looking at. However, we should veer away from any kind of tourism that floods us. We have a unique ecosystem and are not geared to receive large numbers. Our aim must be to attract high-value, low-volume tourists.

Ranjeet Das, President, TOAA

There is bound to be some behavioural shift among travellers once travel resumes. They will prefer to choose nature, wildlife, and rural settings. This is where our region’s lesser-known destinations and community-based tourism will fit in. We must develop these destinations as products and market them well. Local communities must also be integrated into the supply chain and trained about the benefits of tourism.

Bjorn DeNiese, Director – Mayfair Spa Resort & Casino and Vice President, MHRL

A major challenge for hotels in this region is the fact that 60-70% of business happens between mid-March to mid-June. And a significant section of our economy relies on this tourist season. It has a massive ripple effect on restaurants, real estate, local transportation, artisans, cultural artists and overall employment. So, it’s a fragile economy that definitely needs support.

Amit Agarwal, Joint Secretary, India Tour Operators, Association – North East

We have seen a lot of changes in the sector here. Northeast has become very popular among Indians from other states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and some southern states. This is mainly due to better connectivity. Lots of young adults are looking at us for adventure. We don’t have too many operators who offer this. So adventure tourism can be a very promising area where tour operators can specialise.

Dr Abhijit Sharma, Director, IIE (Indian Institute of Entrepreneurs), Guwahati

Since the past one year, we have been trying to look at and encourage a new group of entrepreneurs – the start-ups – people who disrupt and create solutions. NERES (North East Regional Entrepreneurship Summit) was germinated in order to help such individuals from the Northeast region. We have a filtration process and by the end of it, we award Rs5 lakh seed money to 20 start-ups each, many of whom are in the tourism space. This is to help them translate innovative ideas into commercial ventures.

Shapna Medhi, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Travel & Tourism Management (B.Voc) Sonapur College

Post-COVID-19, we can expect a more informed traveller because they have had the time to do their research. Moreover, while promoting community-based tourism, we must ensure that these communities are protected as they will be the ones coming in contact with the guests. It is our responsibility to bring them into the mainstream. This is not easy for the industry as it requires some intense groundwork, but to counter these challenges, we can collaborate.

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