Staycations, workations and homestays emerged as the tourism sector watchwords in 2021 as tourists preferred safety and functionality over luxury in their post-Covid holiday destinations with the sector struggling to recover from the blow of 2020.
In 2019, the Indian tourism and travel ecosystem had supported almost 50 million jobs and nearly USD 200 bn gross domestic output directly and indirectly. While 2020 was almost a complete washout, 2021 saw pockets of recovery but only in very select parts of hospitality and restaurants in some parts of the country. For tours and travel agents 2021 continued to be another year of despair without business.
Aashish Gupta, consulting CEO, FAITH, the policy federation of all the national associations representing the complete tourism, travel and hospitality industry of India, said that the sector was eagerly looking forward to the resumption of flights in December in 2021 to see some business traction.
Since March 2020, the inbound tourism has been shut and the flights resumption as was earlier announced was one ray of hope, he said. “This has been the worst ever two years for the tourism industry and all support to tourism businesses is vital,” said Gupta. He said that the earnings from the Indian inbound tourists were almost USD 30 billion pre-pandemic. The period between October and March which is the main season was fully lost in 2020 and half of this season lost in 2021.
“In 2022, to salvage some business and have some cash flows to support tourism employment this sector will look forward to a very early review of this decision of extension of flights , if hopefully the variant Omicron doesn’t pose a serious threat,” he shared.
“Almost all countries would now be competing afresh for inbound tourism and thus it is also critical to restart our global tourism marketing campaign to start creating awareness. Additionally it is also important to create a comprehensive package of export incentives in the upcoming foreign trade policy for foreign earning members of Indian tourism industry,” Gupta said.
However, some reinvention from the sector has worked wonders, although it is not clear if it has really worked enough in terms of revenue generation.
According to OYO‘s fourth year-end annual index – OYO Travelopedia 2021, 65 per cent of respondents in India have travelled in the past six months and a majority of them visited their loved ones, while some went for a getaway from their daily routines and travelled for leisure.Nearly 27 per cent took a month-long workcation. Hill stations ranked top on the list of spots for these work and travel trips, followed by many who visited their hometowns and beach destinations.
In fact the Tourism Ministry is tailoring its promotional campaigns to highlight staycations, focusing on homestays offering personal care and local experience to tourists post the Covid-19 pandemic, according to officials in the Ministry.
”While we saw a demand for such homestays just before the pandemic, now, it is through the roof. We are tailoring our promotional campaigns to promote homestays. Tourists don’t want big hotels anymore. They want big open spaces, personalised care and want to experience the local flavour. We are also promoting staycations,” Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General in the ministry had told PTI on the sidelines of the Tourism Mart held in Nagaland recently.
Demands from the government
In its pre-budget recommendations to the finance ministry, the sector has requested that the industry be allowed to carry forward business losses from the existing eight years to 12 years and to avail the Service Exports from India Scheme/ Export Promotion Capital Goods (SEIS/EPCG) benefits without any capping and rate reductions.
It has also urged the government to provide extension on the timeline for export obligation under EPCG scheme and grant export status to the industry, to include hotels and tourism-related sectors in the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), and offer special emphasis for promoting meetings and conferences at hotels.
They have also pushed for the long standing demand for granting infrastructure status to the hospitality industry, and provide special tax incentives for domestic travel. The association has also requested the Centre to review its decision to introduce LTC cash vouchers in lieu of LTC fare to government employees for boosting domestic travel and helping the hospitality industry in its path to recovery.
What the Tourism Ministry has done
The Ministry of Tourism has been routinely organising promotional activities and campaigns with special focus on social media across states and abroad to revive and support tourism, officials said.
A round-the-clock multilingual tourist helpline, e-visa facilities for 156 countries, training for creating a pool of certified tourist facilitators and new regional routes for better air connectivity are among steps being taken to boost the tourism sector, which helps in employment creation.
Market development Assistance (MDA) guidelines to promote lndia as a tourist destination have been revised to benefit a larger number of tourism stakeholders, the House was informed. The Ministry has also launched the Dekho Apna Desh initiative, encouraging domestic tourism.
The Ministry has also been organising webinars, quizzes, discussions and roadshows to keep connected with the stakeholders and to encourage citizens to travel within the country.