Travel industry veterans from South Asia have agreed that in the new normal, where there are severe barriers to long-distance travel, countries in South Asia should focus on promoting regional tourism to revive tourism.
The speakers at the webinar also suggested creating a regional body to work on easing travel between South Asian countries, read a press release.
Yankila Sherpa, former Nepalese tourism minister and advisor of Tourism Recovery Task Force, Nepal, delivered the keynote speech.
She noted how the first six months of 2020 have seen a 60% fall in global tourist arrivals. Countries like the Maldives and Nepal, the latter having faced closure of 2,600 trekking firms, are disproportionately impacted given the economic significance of the sector, she observed.
Regional collaboration, for instance – on smooth movement, destination infrastructure upgrades, testing and exploring regional tourism potential such as the Buddhist circuit – will aid in the swift revitalisation of tourism in South Asia, she remarked.
Professor Rupa Chanda, a widely regarded academic from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB), observed how each actor in the tourism value chain – from trekking firms to porters and guides – a significant proportion of whom are in the informal sector, have been affected by the pandemic.
He suggested that while identifying and developing safe zones including corridors in the region is a potential revival strategy, its effectiveness will depend on whether Covid-19 safety rules are enforced. He additionally said that several regulations need to be developed and credibly implemented.
Dorji Dhradhul, director general, Tourism Council of Bhutan, said that with the pandemic, Bhutan's low-volume, high-value tourism strategy could be a model for other countries to follow. He observed that potential revival strategies in the sector should seriously consider issues like personal safety and health. He also suggested tourists travel only if they perceive the destinations to be safe.
On revival strategies, Dhradhul highlighted that the key steps in Bhutan are: the development and upgrade of physical as well as digital infrastructure such as contactless payment, focusing on producing more skilled workers, ensuring providing better services, and promoting the domestic sector.
Thoyyib Mohamed, managing director of Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, said while the revival of tourism is critical given its significance for the Maldivian economy, it is equally important to avoid exposure to 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 is a self-contained facility which potentially minimises 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 potential tourist spots.
Srilal Miththapala, former president of Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, discussed the Sri Lankan case saying while the sector was badly hit, domestic tourism remains open in Sri Lanka.
Discussing revival measures, Miththapala recommended hotel certification schemes, wherein hotels are audited for adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols. He said that this will help tourists as well as the government to minimise infection risks.
The virtual meeting titled "Impact of Covid-19 on tourism and revival strategies of South Asian countries" was organised by the South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) in association with: Biruni Institute, Afghanistan; Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh; Research and Information System for Developing Countries, India; Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan; and Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, Colombo.
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 discuss various socio-economic aspects of the pandemic, how they relate to South Asia and what the future course of action should be for South Asian countries.