Addressing India Tourism Sustainable Development webinar, Anita Mendiratta, Special Advisor to Secretary General, UNWTO, says COVID-19 crisis has left an indelible mark on industry, which can only be erased by advancing through sustainable approach.
Stating that ongoing COVID-19 is Mother Nature’s way of “reminding us of the priorities in tourism”, Anita Mendiratta, Special Advisor to the Secretary General, UNWTO, shared, “Prior to the ongoing pandemic, we grew at three to four per cent per annum for over a decade. We were too busy to talk about diversity, equality, equity and sustainability. Thus, Mother Nature gave us the past two years to think about what these words meant. It is not about improvising or going back to normal. We need to go forward, otherwise, we are engineering some of the challenges of the past into our future.”
She claimed the world has gone through the past traumatic two years. “The crisis has impacted everyone. The duration was particularly stressful for our industry. Although we have moved on from all that, the two years of COVID-19 have forced us to dig deep as a global community and recognise the fact that we will not get through unless we are not an integrated industry. It is a healthcare crisis, which is linked to the economy and tourism, airlines, airports, tourist destinations, tour operators, interactions and mega events,” she said.
However, on an optimistic note, Mendiratta said, “There is ‘hope at the end of the tunnel’—we went through many ups and downs as COVID-19 has been mutated. However, it will continue to grow, and we can see the challenges. The WHO has announced a new strain is causing increased infection. In terms of statistics, in January, the UNWTO in its latest economic impact announced there was 120 to 130 per cent growth compared to the year before. The WTTC economic reports are showing growth, and that is a good thing.”
The India perspective
She said the impact of mental health on travel and tourism is there. “People need to get out. WTTC has revealed that the contribution to the Indian economy is going to be 20 per cent more this year than last year and one per cent higher than 2019. Thus, the rate of growth that we are experiencing in India, for inbound, domestic and outbound, is huge. After resumption of international flights in March, every week more than 1,500 flights took off for 27 foreign countries. The world is excited to welcome Indian travellers, as much as the world is happy to visit Incredible India,” she claimed.
“Everyone is talking about sustainability, because to avoid it will be to avoid our responsibility. It is important to understand what are the dimensions of sustainability that we cannot take for granted. Pre-COVID-19 sustainability was about green and blue. It was about the environment, which everyone focused on as the backbone of sustainability,” she explained.
Mendiratta added, “Importantly, it comes at four levels. Firstly, its economic sustainability, and we have seen its impact when the several countries shut down their borders. Around 80 per cent of our industry is made up of Small Micro Enterprises (SMEs) that needs tourism to keep their economies operating at a micro level and activate the economic supply chains.” “Secondly, it is cultural sustainability. Travel and tourism keep people interested, curious, and appreciate the subtle nuances of culture and its beauty. It allows us to celebrate our differences and in doing so, we find how we are all connected. Travel and tourism are levers for peace,” she claimed.
The third dimension, explained Mendiratta, is social. “One of the benefits of travel and tourism is that it keeps the economies and communities going, but social sustainability is vital. We saw that when the world was shut down, we were thinking of small businesses that depended on people and their traveling,” she said.
Finally, “Our industry has been deemed to be critical in protecting environments and promoting them. At the same time, making sure that the world praises the beauty that Mother Nature gave us now,” pointed out Mendiratta.