Extraordinary steps needed in an extraordinary situation
GOA observed a highly subdued World Tourism Day this year due to the crisis caused to the industry by the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike in the preceding years when the stakeholders used to hold various events to mark the occasion, there was none this year. Tourism in the state had been growing despite many things lacking, but the restrictions on people’s movements during the pandemic have thrown the tourism sector out of gear. Though the restrictions imposed during the lockdown have been withdrawn to a great extent, the tourism sector has not been able to benefit much because of various institutional constraints still being in force and the reluctance of people to move out of their homes. As the tourism sector is one of the biggest employers and contributors to the state treasury, the lack of its revival keeps the related sectors and sub-sectors of the economy also downscale. Hardly a few hundred hotels, guesthouses and other tourist facilities reopened but the tourist footfalls at these facilities have been minimal.
The theme for the World Tourism Day this year was “Tourism and Rural Development” but in view of muted celebrations it failed to get people’s attention. The proponents of the theme had envisaged to create awareness about the unique role played by tourism in job creation, especially in the hinterland. Though the state government has been speaking about taking tourism to the hinterland areas for decades now, it has failed to deliver on the promise. Over the years, tourism has become a lifeline for a large chuck of state population, who have benefitted from its phenomenal growth over the last few decades. Similar has been the situation in many parts of the country and the world. However, the spread of coronavirus has affected the livelihood of a large number of people employed in the sector as many hotels have remained closed for more than six months now. There are no signs of all the hotels and tourism related activities opening any time soon now and doing normal business even though the tourist season is set to begin in a few days from now.
The pandemic has turned the travel and tourism industry upside down. Given the fact that the pandemic is still raging–and some countries are witnessing a second wave of the pandemic–the revival of tourism in the state could take a year or two. The industry is still grappling in darkness with hardly any headway being made to put it back on the rails. Though unlocking has brought some business to the entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, it might not help them to survive for long unless the tourist footfalls increase over the next few months. The woes of tourism stakeholders, particularly restaurateurs, have been compounded by increase in the prices of essentials – vegetables, mutton, chicken and fish. The government appears to be sailing with the wind and has not come out with strategies to give a fillip to the industry. It has to be noted that many countries and tourist destinations have come up with incentives to help attract tourists but there have been none from the state government.
Though tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the economy, the state government lacks a clear vision of where to take the industry in order to reap a richer harvest. A draft tourism policy envisaging a new direction to the tourism sector has been hanging fire for a long time. The policy included establishment of a Goa tourism board in order to take holistic initiatives and adopt and adjust strategies for tourism promotion. A holistic vision could have helped the state tourism tide over the current crisis and make a new beginning. The government will have to also revisit its taxation policy vis-à-vis the tourism sector. The tourism industry has been demanding that the state government should come out with a clear-cut policy for travel and waiving of levies for foreign tourists and simplification of visas so as to help attract more and more tourists. The tourism industry is facing an extraordinary situation, a situation that demands extraordinary initiatives from the state government in order to prevent the sector from shrinking with the bankruptcy of businesses.