Domestic Tourism-Connecting people, societies and cultures together — India, spanning across 29 states and 8 union territories, offers unique cultural diversity. Whether you are hiking in the mountains, sitting around the bonfire with your friends, roaming in the old streets of Varanasi, attending Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh or diving in the Havelock Island at Andaman, you will find yourself amidst the beautiful colours of India. Every part of the country has something unexplored for you; where you can set out your foot. The unparalleled diversity of the large landmass attracts millions of tourists every year. The contribution of the tourism industry to the GDP stands at 9.5 per cent (Darbari, 2020). Tourism being the labour-intensive industry has a number of other economic agents associated with it. Some of these agents include travel agents, trekking and hiking operators, hostels, hotels, taxi drivers and restaurants (Ghosh, 2020). All these agents together create the tourism ecosystem. If we go down the tourism value chain, we find that these agents be it local shopkeepers who sell the handicrafts of the local artisans or the taxi drivers who carry tourists from one tourist destination to others are the lifelines of the tourism industry. One in every eight jobs in India is directly or indirectly linked to tourism (Nath, 2020).
COVID-19: An opportunity to fix the problems in the Tourism Industry
It was in the month of March when people were busy packing their bags and planning the itineraries to go on a holiday spree that COVID-19 hit the country. This led to the disruption of the global supply chain with all the economic activities coming to a halt. With the restrictions on the movement of people across the international borders in place, domestic tourism emerged as the ‘silver lining’ for the country. Over the years, due to the propagation of the networks, Indians have increasingly become aware of the lesser-known destinations which are the hidden treasures in our geography. The domestic tourism registered a growth rate of around 10 per cent with the number of domestic tourists increasing from 1.05 billion to 1.85 billion from 2016 to 2019. This is in due line with the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ campaign which is started by the Ministry of Tourism to boost domestic tourism (ETTravelWorld, 2020).
COVID-19, despite its negative effects on the tourism industry, can be turned into an opportunity to fix the problems and challenges that have pre-existed in the industry. As we adapt to the new normal, there is a need to mould India’s tourism industry into the one that is sustainable in the long run. Given the varied recovery plans adopted by the states, the revival strategies will have to be tailored to the specific context (Darbari, 2020).
Reviving the Domestic Tourism
The first step to the recovery is rebuilding consumer trust and confidence. As the tourists will be back to travelling with a changed mindset, they need the assurance that all the safety and health standards are in place during their stay which would, in turn, require percolation of the technological innovation in the tourism industry. The COVID-19 gave ample time to the hotels and the tourist places to access their carrying capacity and accordingly devise the strategies to ensure social distancing as people have started to travel again. The proper implementation of the carrying capacity across all the popular tourists’ destination will ensure that people follow the social distancing norms as they spread out and contribute to the livelihood of people who are directly dependent on the tourism. This will serve the dual purpose of restoring the ecological imbalance caused by over-tourism while boosting domestic tourism in the emerging destinations of the country.
Every Indian state has regions that are heavily dependent on tourism. These regions should be used as the basis for developing a comprehensive recovery plan for the tourism sector along with the local economy. The various stakeholders such as local government, tourism associations, transport associations, business houses, civil bodies and state government must work together to take proactive measures so that people are aware of the tourist places that exist in their own regions and the historical importance of visiting these places (Siddiqui, 2020). All these stakeholders have to complement each other’s working and focus on making the regional people as the important stakeholder of the industry. The local bodies who constitute these regional people must comply with the Tourism Department of the State and work together in devising the guidelines related to sanitization of the rooms, lodges, hotels and restaurants for sustaining the tourism industry within the vicinity of the region. This will further boost the confidence in the tourists as they will receive better quality services.
The destinations which are emerging as the tourism hotspots in India are facing challenges in terms of disposal of the waste. The waste is either burnt or left untreated in the landfills which release toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment. As tourism is resuming, the destinations will see a significant increase in the number of biomedical wastes such as sanitizers, masks and gloves. This disposal will lead to contamination both among locals as well as tourists. In order to stop this contamination, the collection drives should be initiated across the tourist’s destinations of the country so that the biomedical waste is able to reach the nearest recycling centres.
Tourism is often believed for creating the livelihoods of rural communities through sustainable development. However, it was observed that the tourism policies of India have focused more on the creation of tourists orientated destinations that cater to their demands. For example, Ladakh, known for its natural landscapes and breathtaking views, receives very less rainfall annually and every drop of water is preciously preserved for carrying out agriculture in the area. But the growing domestic tourism which is kept unchecked is leading to the scarcity of the water as the tourists are demanding for running showers during their stay. Thus, there is a growing need that paradigm of the tourism in the new normal should be focusing on creating better places to live first by preserving the traditional style of local communities while they are ready to host the tourists again. In Ladakh, this means restoring the indigenous practices of the local people so that in a world which is suffering from global warming and climate change, we are able to position Ladakh as an ecological paradise which is paving the way for resilience (Nath, 2020).
The comprehensive network of rural tourism should also be developed wherein the local rural communities are provided with an online platform to sell their products. This will ensure that there is no disruption in the flow of income that is reaching to them in return for their products. For example, the locals who are the owners of the cafes in Himachal Pradesh are selling the ingredients of their dishes like various types of Indian spices that are making its way to the households of the country. Some of the other locals are selling the items like fridge magnets, badges and postcards. People are ordering them to witness these places though virtually.
The international organizations like United Nations Development Program (UNDP) must work with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the snow leopard landscapes to engage young people, especially women, to create tourism-led enterprises. These enterprises will not only generate employment for the locals in the region but also provide unique solutions to the challenges, especially in the mountain areas. The major challenges include inaccessibility, fragility and marginality. The creation of the enterprises will overcome these challenges by enhancing connectivity to areas with difficult accessibility as the niche tourism destinations will be emerging. The economic incentives will be provided for the preservation of natural and cultural heritage along with the alternatives to work that typically involves drudgery, such as farming.
As the tourist destinations are reopening their doors for tourism, the potential travelers must come forward to launch an awareness campaign where they will be making people aware on the measures taken by the local people for coronavirus safety based on their interaction with them along with the significance of supporting the livelihoods of the locals while ensuring that the ecological balance of the environment is not disturbed. When people will hear the experiences of travelers and watch their videos, they will realize the importance of the changing paradigm of tourism towards the slow travel destinations. These destinations will see more people spending time in a single spot as they adapt to the new normal and continue to work from home. This, in turn, will give the incentives to the owners of the guest houses, hostels, hotels and homestays to convert their places into workstations that will provide all the facilities including meals, Wi-Fi connectivity, accommodation while enabling people to continue their work from home. These workspaces are located in some of the stunning new locations in India. People can expand their worldview by traveling to these places as they are the emerging new homes for the digital nomads.
The tourism industry of the country holds an immense potential that needs to be gradually unleashed to create COVID-19 ready destination that is sustainable and resilient in the long run. The destinations will now thrive for achieving the zero-carbon footprint while the enduing proper level of hygiene. The tour operators will be more responsible in sharing the experiences of the local communities to the tourists. Travelers will now have to be more careful while planning their itineraries that will incorporate the ways to deal with the uncertainties as they will step their foot out to embark on a new journey. The traditional philosophies of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ that we have inherited decades ago will invite our citizens and motivate them to explore our own country.
Ghosh, A. (2020). Post Covid19 strategy to survive the Tourism industry: Indian Perspective. Munich Personal RePEc Archive, 10 .
Nath, S. (2020 , August 3 ). As we emerge into a ‘new normal’, India needs to evolve to create a COVID-ready tourism destination. Retrieved from Firstpost: https://www.firstpost.com/india/as-we-emerge-into-a-new-normal-india-needs-to-evolve-to-create-a-covid-ready-tourism-destination-8662891.html
ETTravelWorld. (2020, May 14 ). Domestic tourism: Silver lining in the post-Covid world. Retrieved from ET Travel World : https://travel.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/destination/states/domestic-tourism-silver-lining-in-the-post-covid-world/75732912
Darbari, R. (2020 , August 24 ). Travel and tourism recovery: a perspective for South Asia and lessons for other regions in the age of COVID-19. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/travel-and-tourism-recovery-south-asia-covid19-pandemic-economy-india-nepal-bhutan-sri-lanka/
Nath, S. (2020, August 3). As we emerge into a ‘new normal’, India needs to evolve to create a COVID-ready tourism destination. Retrieved from Firstpost : https://www.firstpost.com/india/as-we-emerge-into-a-new-normal-india-needs-to-evolve-to-create-a-covid-ready-tourism-destination-8662891.html
Nath, S. (2020 , August 23). Retrieved from Firstspot.
Siddiqui, H. (2020 , August 15). Post-covid travel: Begin by promoting local tourism, prepare road map with private sector, says Gustavo J Segura, Costa Rican Minister. Retrieved from Financial Express: https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/travel-tourism/post-covid-travel-begin-by-promoting-local-tourism-prepare-road-map-with-private-sector-says-gustavo-j-segura-costa-rican-minister/2056051/
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