Friday, October 9, 2020

South Asia discusses impact of Covid-19 on tourism and revival strategies

 The travel industry veterans from South Asia agreed that in the new reality where there are severe barriers to long distance travel, the countries in South Asia should focus on promoting regional tourism to revive tourism.

They also suggested creating a regional body to work on the ease of travel between the countries in South Asia. Speaking during a a virtual meeting ‘Impact of Covid-19 on tourism and revival strategies of South Asian countries’ organised by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) in association with Biruni Institute, Afghanistan; Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh; Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India; Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan; and Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), Colombo.

Former minister of Tourism Yankila Sherpa and advisor of the Tourism Recovery Task Force (TRTF), delivering the keynote speech, noted how the first six months in 2020 have seen a 60 per cent fall in global tourist arrivals. Countries like Maldives and Nepal, the latter having faced closure of 2,600 trekking firms, are disproportionately impacted given the economic significance of the sector, she said, adding that regional collaboration, for instance, on smooth movement, destination infrastructure upgrade, testing and exploiting regional tourism potential like the Buddhist circuit, will aid in swift revitalisation of tourism in South Asia.  “The public-private mechanism is tasked with synergising efforts to revive the travel and tourism sector in Nepal.”

Sherpa, who is also part of Nepal’s Tourism Recovery Task Force (TRTF), also informed that the TRTF has come up with strategies such as Desh Darshan to promote domestic tourism in Nepal.

Likewise a widely regarded academic from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB) Prof Rupa Chanda observed how each actor in the tourism value chain, from trekking firms, porters and guides, a significant proportion of which are in the informal sector, have been dealt a body blow by the pandemic. Prof Chanda suggested that while identifying and developing safe zones, including corridors, in the region, is a potential revival strategy, its effectiveness will hinge on whether Covid-19 safety rules are enforced. She added that several regulations need to be developed and credibly implemented.   

Bhutan has been among the least affected countries from the Covid-19 not just in the region but also globally. Yet, since its source markets have been ravaged by the pandemic, Bhutan‘s travel and tourism sector has been severely affected. Director-General at the Tourism Council of Bhutan Dorji Dhradhul, on the occasion, argued that with the pandemic, Bhutan’s low-volume high-value tourism strategy could be a model for other countries to follow. Dhradhul observed that potential revival strategies in the sector should seriously consider issues like personal safety and health and that tourists will travel only if they perceive that destinations are safe. On revival strategies, Dhradhul highlighted that the key steps in Bhutan have been development and upgrade of physical as well as digital infrastructure such as contactless payment, skilling of tourism sector workers into providing better services and promotion of domestic promotion.

Likewise, managing director at the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation Thoyyib Mohamed emphasised that while revival of tourism is critical given its significance for the Maldivian economy, equally important is to avoid explosion of infection. Mohamed outlined how the island nation’s unique geography has enabled it to come up with strategic concepts like ‘one island, one resort’. The concept essentially means that each resort would be a self-contained facility which potentially minimizes physical contact with those outside the island.

On self-contained and isolated destinations, speakers from Bhutan and Nepal highlighted how rural mountainous areas could be a pull for tourists.

The past president of Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka Srilal Miththapala discussed the Sri Lankan case, on the occasion. While the sector has been badly hit, domestic tourism remains open in Sri Lanka, he observed, suggesting that hotel certification schemes, wherein hotels are audited for adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols, have helped tourists as well as the government to minimize infection risks.

SAWTEE, in association with other prominent think-tanks in the region, has been hosting a series of webinars from September 22 to October 16 to deliberate on various socio-economic aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, how they relate to South Asia and what should be the future course of action for South Asian countries.

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