The COVID19 outbreak has left a debilitating impact on the tourism scenario of India and Assam in particular. It has also led a crippling blow to the global tourism and associated sectors. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that 75 million travel and tourism jobs are at risk globally due to COVID19 pandemic. The Indian scenario is also not satisfactory with the assessment by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) of an impact of around 60-65% of projected revenue of $28 billion from October 2019-March 2020 in the tourism sector.
Given the backdrop of the above scenario, Assam is one among the hard-hit states with regard to the tourism industry. The whole tourism value chain across hotels, restaurants, resorts, travel agencies, tour operators as well as dhabas and fast food businesses directly or indirectly associated with the tourism sector in the state have hobbled. There is an estimated loss of around 60 crores of income by the tour agencies alone in the state. A loss of revenue of around Rs 500 crore is estimated by the government from the state tourism industry. Assam tourism engages, directly or indirectly, around 1 million of its population. Therefore, the pandemic is expected to leave a huge surge of unemployment rate in the state in the coming days. This downslide in the state’s tourism already started off during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests and the coronavirus crisis just added to the already heavy losses that the sector was incurring.
Though Assam sees an all-weather inflow of tourists in different parts of its region, yet the current period from November to April is estimated to be the best period for tourism in the state. This is also a period of rejoice and joyfulness due to the onset of Bohag Bihu and the colourful transformation of natural beauties, flora and fauna. In such a crucial period for the state’s income and revenue generation, the COVID19 pandemic has been a bane for the state and its people. Experts opine that this would bear an impact, not too short.
Under the backdrop of such a critical juncture, it is high time to sort out a future course of action and an effective parameter to revive our tourism sector. This calls for an unprecedented effort from all sections of the society, from the government to the policy-makers as well as a helping hand from the community as a whole. For this, the first thing that we need to emphasise upon is harnessing the local tourism potential. Due to the travel restrictions and other associated regulations, which might be going to stay for long, we can’t expect the inflow of tourists from outside states, except the Northeastern region. Therefore, the readily approachable target would be the local tourist and travellers. Given the fact that Assam is surrounded by all other Northeastern states and Assam serves the purpose of being the gateway for them, the targeted jurisdiction should also include inhabitants from the Northeastern region. For this purpose, the tourism sector needs to promote local tourism vehemently to attract revenues and income. This seems to be the only way out to revive our tourism at present.
The next big move that the tourism department needs to take is to engage the local popular figures and icons like Zubin Garg, Papon, etc. for the promotion of state tourism. Instead of paying a hefty amount on outside celebrities and stars, people love to see more to their heartthrobs like Zubin and other popular faces of the region.
As the impact on the tourism industry of the state is going to stay for a couple of periods, it is, therefore, desirable to envision for long term revival strategies. Emphasis should be given to promote local beauties, flora, fauna, geography, culture, history, etc. in schools, public broadcasting, advertisements as well as mass media and social media platforms. This would have a lasting impression among the young minds who are the forerunners in promoting and cherishing their own regional beauties and historical achievements. Moreover, schools, colleges, universities and other academic institutions should emphasise more on local tourism, excursion and education tours for their students. An inter-departmental approach and engagement will also incur desirable results in understanding the need and value of promoting local and regional tourism.
The tourism sector in Assam settles more than 100 registered tour operators and several other unregistered tour operators, enterprises, online travel platforms, other service providers, along with several hundreds of employees directly or indirectly engaged below them. It is true that the issues like paying EMIs for bank loans, rents, covering fixed expenditures like salaries, etc. of its employees are hard hit, given the fact that there are very limited sources of revenue generation for the sector in the next several months to come. This is not going to be altered overnight once the lockdown is over. Therefore the government needs to step in and take appropriate initiatives like short term interest-free loans for business restructuring, deferment of all statutory compliances and other relaxations in the levying of fees for any upcoming licences or permits, etc.
And last but not the least, the responsibility of the society and responsible citizens come into play in this regard. It is their turn to apply their necessary expertise to carry forward the herculean task of reviving our tourism sector through the best usage of technology and social media platforms. The social media tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram as well as video-sharing platforms like YouTube should be thoroughly used to promote and advertise our tourism potentials. This would be a great opportunity for social media influencers and video creators to best use the expertise that they are good at.
This time is a ruthless time for each and every sector of mankind. All sections of society need to provide a helping hand to each other. And tourism is such a sector which runs through the engagement of goodwill of all. If we realise it and act accordingly, this tough time too shall pass, real soon.
The author is a columnist based in Guwahati. He can be reached at [email protected]