Finally The Tourism Minister Give a statement

New Delhi: Union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel spoke to Amrita Madhukalya about the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, protocols to revive the sector after the lockdown, and the focus on domestic rather than international tourism to get the sector up and running again. Edited excerpts:

Tourism industry experts have estimated that losses to the sector have mounted to $5 trillion and 38 million jobs might be lost. How can the tourism ministry help address this crisis?

Demand has collapsed the world over, and hotels and airline owners are not able to produce revenue. On the demand side, many customers will not travel in the near future because of health as well as economic reasons. Travel agents and tour operators -- the distribution and value-added reseller industry -- will revive only when customers are no longer afraid of the pandemic and have sufficient money to travel, provided hotel-owners have managed to keep their assets in a good shape.

Our objective, therefore, is to revive demand as soon as possible. One way we can do this is to help overcome the fear of health while travelling. The ministry will soon be releasing new post-lockdown protocols for accommodation units to give confidence to clients to travel and stay safely. We are also coming out with a set of recommendations for different segments -- travel agents, tour operators, transport operators, and facilitators/guides.

International travel may take a few months to kick-start and the Prime Minister has spoken about the need to rely on domestic travel. How will the government rework domestic travel and tourism norms?

The revival of the tourism sector post Covid-19 will depend on domestic tourism to a very large extent since international tourism is expected to take longer to pick up. Promotion of domestic tourism will be given greater focus through our “Dekho Apna Desh” campaigns. In domestic tourism, the thrust should be given to co-create holidays with farmers and rural India. This way, new wealth will be created and distributed. So the typical packages will woo a traveller to spend a weekend in a village, stay in a one-acre farmland, in a mud house, pluck mangoes, and buy fresh vegetables. In short, spend the weekend amid nature and return home on Sunday night. We have constituted a National Tourism Task Force for the revival of the hospitality and tourism industry headed by me. This includes state tourism ministers, joint secretary-level officers of concerned central ministries, and representatives from associations such as Ficci, CII, Assocham, WTCII as well as heads of tourism and hospitality associations. This Committee will make recommendations for the revival of the tourism sector.

If hotels and homestays open, what protocols will be put in place?

In future, tourism will totally change. Safety, hygiene, and security will be the top concerns. Clients will travel to a destination only if they have proof that the place they are visiting , eating and staying is absolutely virus-free. protocols for accommodation units, restaurants, B&B and homestays, convention centres and exhibitions have been formulated and are in the consultation stage. These will be released soon. The new protocol aims to minimise all possible touch points between a staff and guest while at the hotel.

Will there be any change in the different schemes of the ministry now, because most of the efforts are invested in wooing the international traveller, to revive the sector?

I have requested my officials to work out reforms in the existing schemes like Market Development Assistance to extend it to promote domestic tourism, and to work our schemes to jointly support the marketing efforts of tour operators and the hospitality industry. There are many other factors that contribute to the tourism sector’s income. The overall stimulus given to the economy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi through a special economic and comprehensive package will have a positive impact on the tourism industry by creating demand and business as incomes will flow into the hand of people.

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