Tour Operators’ Webinar on ‘Survival of Tourism’ Places Grievances With Govt
The Assam tourism industry is one of the most badly affected sectors in the state currently. Not too long back, it was the major source of sustenance for about 5 lakh families, directly and indirectly.
On 6th August, a webinar was conducted by the Tour Operators’ Association of Assam (TOAA) with the Chairman of Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC), Jayanta Malla Baruah being present; the webinar requested succour for the sector. Also present were Razvee Hussain, Secretary of Tourism, government of Assam and Deba Kumar Mishra, Managing Director of ATDC and Director of Tourism. The webinar was moderated by Shyamkanu Mahanta.
The webinar titled “Survival of Tourism” bought to the government’s notice the various difficulties being faced by the stakeholders not just due to the pandemic but ever since the season started back in December 2019.
The major highlights of the webinar are as follows:
1. TOAA requested the tourism department to take a collaborative approach and address the issue for the survival of the industry.
2. Earlier, the central government announced Provident Fund for employees of the tourism and hospitality sector that required the Aadhar card as a mandatory criterion. As many did not have the document (given that issuing of Aadhar Card is not mandatory in Assam) the same could not be availed. The criterion was asked to be relaxed in the state.
3. Thanking the government for designating many hotels as quarantine centres that generated at least 25-30 percent of the revenue, the TOAA requested the government to release the payments against the bills to ease the situation for the hoteliers.
4. Mentioning that the industry was not just looking for financial aid, they urged the government to extend the tenure or expiry dates of the various trade licenses and vehicle permits.
5. Further, special passes during the lockdown period for the vehicles were requested so as to provide some means of earning to the owner and drivers.
6. Some relaxation in terms of being allowed to work from home instead of maintaining a mandatory office space that would also help the tour operators tremendously.
7. A ‘hand-holding’ gesture from the government towards the start-ups in the tourism sector that have borne a major burnt.
8. Construction of helipads to promote high end tourism.
Sanjay Thakur, a tour operator lamented, “I keep on reiterating one thing which is that only if we survive will revival happen. I want to put it straight that we need money in our bank accounts. As simple as that! Though it might not sound pleasant it is the hard truth. Even though we have received moratorium in our EMIs till August we have to pay thereafter. What will happen then? So can we approach the banks with our terms with the help of the government? We had discussed on credit guarantee. Because I believe that this will not involve the funds of the government. If the government could approach the financial institutions regarding the approved tour operators so that they can be given some relief through credit guarantee that would help the industry immensely.”
Assuring the tourism industry of the relief measures that would be undertaken by the government of Assam, Jayanta Malla Baruah informed about the setting up of an Economic Advisory Committee to recommend on the relief measures to be provided to the various sectors of the state.
“The last tourism season 2019-2020 is one of major losses and keeping the present situation in mind we cannot expect that foreign tourists would be coming in the next season. Even domestic tourism does not seem promising. So, we have to think about the local tourism within the state itself and the neighbouring states,” said Baruah.
As such, the ‘Punya Dhaam’ scheme of the government for all the different religious places of India is to be used for the local religious tourism circuit within the state so that there would be a flow of tourism.
However, tour operators were requested not to encourage mass tourism and concentrate on high-end tourists and high-end tourism. Promotions, as such, are to be done in such a way that it attracts high-end tourists who pay more even if the number of tourists is less.
“Exclusive destinations for high-end tourists have to be developed. Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) can be one. Dubbing of the promotional videos in various regional languages (the states which will be targeted for tourists) shall be done,” said Shyamkanu Mahanta.
Although survival of the stakeholders during this unprecedented situation was worrisome, the major concern for the state government is revenue flow to the treasury, said Jayanta Malla Baruah.
He said, “Matters like waiving electricity charges, relaxation of renewal of bar licences etc are genuine solutions for the tourism industry stakeholders but as the government is in want of revenue, this might be the reason why even if the government wants it, they are unable to take the required steps. There are approximately 20 colleges imparting tourism courses. Even we are not sure about their future.”
“Keeping the present situation in mind we cannot expect that foreign tourists would be coming in the next season. Even the domestic tourism does not seem to be so promising. So, we have to think about the local tourism within the state itself and the neighbouring states,” he added.
Speaking about tourism promotion, the Chairman of ATDC said that promotions would now be done differently. “We cannot think about any brand ambassador or promotion in different countries or states. So short promotional videos of 1-minute duration or so on various destinations have to be made so that they can be widely circulated in the online, social media and digital platforms,” he said.
Baruah finally added, “My responsibility would be to voice out the grievances to the government and try to achieve as much as possible in terms of relief for the tourism industry. But the decision-making power rests solely with the chief minister and the finance minister of the state depending on the recommendation of the committee as per the present economic conditions of the state.”