In an exclusive interview with Jyotika Sood, central tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel explains how the Rs 20-lakh crore stimulus package, formation of a National Task Force, and encouragement to states to initiate relief measures will kick-start and revive the sector. The Atma-Nirbhar Bharat package will create demand and drive businesses, as money flows into the hands of the people
Why is it important for India to revive tourism? What are its benefits to the economy?
The growing influence of tourism as an economic power-house and its potential as a tool for development are irrefutable. Not only does the tourism sector spearhead growth, it improves the quality of people’s lives with its capacity to create large scale employment of diverse kind. It supports environmental protection, champions diverse cultural heritage, and strengthens peace in the world.
Its role in the economic, cultural, social and educational fields is one of the largest economic activities in international trade. It is a large service industry globally in terms of gross revenue as well as foreign exchange earnings. Tourism is recognised as a powerful engine for economic growth and employment generation in India. The contribution of tourism to GDP of India as per estimation in accordance with 3rd Tourism Satellite Account in 2017-18 was 5.07%.
What strategies has the Centre devised to help the sector?
There are many factors that contribute to the tourism sector’s income. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 2,000,000 crore—equivalent to 10% of India’s GDP on 12th May 2020. He gave a clarion call for Self-Reliant India Movement. Land, labour, liquidity and laws have been emphasised in Atma-Nirbhar Bharat Package. We know that tourism world over is at a standstill as demand has collapsed. The travel agents and tour operators segment is in the distribution and value- added distribution industry. This will revive when the customer is no longer afraid of pandemic, and she has sufficient money to travel. This is what the overall stimulus given to economy by this special economic and comprehensive package will help in having a positive impact on tourism industry, creating demand and business as incomes will flow into the hand of people.
The tourism ministry has continuously talked to the stakeholders on various matters related to the challenges faced by them. The initiatives of the Centre provided to MSMEs, including service sectors, was highlighted. Besides, the ministry has shared the issues raised by the stakeholders with the concerned official levels. A National Task Force was formed under me, comprising relevant central ministries and state authorities, to look into the measures to be taken for revival and growth of the sector. It has representatives from the industry, which will have a significant role in preparing the blueprint for revival.
Our engagement with the stakeholders continues. Our industry is mature. Notwithstanding the hardships being faced during this time, it has helped us to come with operational guidelines for both hospitality and travel sectors. The ministry has consulted the industry on policy matters.
Is the Centre working closely with the states to help tourism?
The ministry has had discussions with state governments and Union Territory administrations to encourage them to consider various relief measures for the sector under their ambit, viz waiver of penalty or interest to be levied on payment of dues owed to the state bodies, relief from excise fees, electricity duty, reduction of property tax, among others.
What are the initial reports from Kerala, Goa, and other states that receive monsoon tourists?
The states are primarily looking at encouraging the people to explore within their respective states when travel resumes fully. The situation will be clear once lockdown ends.
What is the initial feedback from the stakeholders?
The stakeholders understand that this sudden standstill is a global phenomenon. The request of the industry to allow the opening of hotels and restaurants was accepted by the government and these were opened since June 8, 2020. They have welcomed the operational guidelines for various sectors issued by the ministry. The feedback is that in future, tourism will totally change. Safety, hygiene, and security will be the top concerns so they expect the government to work on these.
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Can tourism be normal by next summer?
Our efforts are to revive domestic travel in phased manner, so our priority is to support travel at the local level. As I said, states are encouraging people to travel and explore their respective states. This is unprecedented, but welcome, as it will restart tourism. Promotion of domestic tourism will be given greater focus through our Dekho Apna Desh campaigns. So we hope normalcy to come in sooner. The international tourism will depend on the re-opening of our borders, and how other countries allow their citizens to travel abroad.
How will the government make up for the loss in tourism revenues?
I have already addressed this. The losses can be made up only with creation of demand by kick starting the overall economy, and that is what the special economic and comprehensive package is meant for—giving stimulus to the economy.