Unlocking tourism: long way to go before returning to normalcy

Last three months have been the worst time for the global tourism industry. The massive spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19 all over the world brought the world’s tourism to a standstill. Measures like lockdowns and fear of getting infected stopped all tourism activities and wiped out revenues of the sector.

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations specialized agency for tourism, the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures. This places millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In India, FAITH, the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality, has estimated that the country’s tourism sector would lose as much as Rs 10 lakh crores given the way tourism and hospitality activities were disrupted across segments.

According to new research by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), destinations are cautiously easing travel restrictions introduced in response to COVID-19, and  3% of all global destinations have now taken steps to ease travel restrictions.

As the firth phase of the nation-wide lockdown, officially called ‘Unlock-1.0’, came into effect from June 1st, many restrictions of the previous phases of the lockdown have been removed. Many more social and economic activities have allowed to resume, although subject to certain safety and health conditions. The government has also given permission to reopen hotels and restaurants and restart tourism activities.

Earlier the Country’s civil aviation ministry has allowed resumption of domestic airlines under new SOPs focussed on health and safety of passengers and crew members. Along with the resumption of domestic flights, now reopening of hotels has generated cautious hopes in a section of the industry that at least domestic tourism can now start recovering, although doubts remain as to how in a situation when COVID-19 continue to be on the rampage across, how many travellers will muster the courage to travel inside the country. It looks like fear of getting infected with the coronavirus will keep travellers away from travelling for leisure and business until India is able to fall its corona curve.  In a recent interview to HT, India’s Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel admitted that many customers will not travel in the near future because of health as well as economic reasons. Tourism will recover only when travellers are no longer afraid of the pandemic and have sufficient money to travel.

Earlier, in an interaction Chief Ministers of Prime Minister had said that tourism can play a big role in reviving the economy in the post-corona world and domestic tourism can play a part in reviving the economy hit by Covid-19. Post Covid-19, domestic tourism will be key to the revival of the tourism sector, because virus-related fears will discourage people from travelling abroad, even when international flights start their operations. As of now international flights remained grounded.

The ministry of tourism has released new post-lockdown protocols for accommodation units to give confidence to clients to travel and stay safe. The Ministry is also coming out with a set of recommendations for different segments – travel agents, tour operators, transport operators, and facilitators/guides.

However, with international flights still suspended in case of India, many states not allowing the opening of hotels, and COVID-19 still raging in the country, it will take a longer time before tourism activities start substantially.

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