Perfunctory measures won’t cut now, believe stakeholders, regional and national. In the recently conducted webinar titled ‘Tourism Insight and Strategies to the Covid-19 Crisis’, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in Bhubaneshwar, industry leaders advocated for a proactive stance from the government. They asked for immediate relief measures to stem the downward slide that threatens the very existence of businesses and is likely to render millions without employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Senior industry leaders from the state and across the country converged to discuss the implications of the disruption caused by the pandemic, also contemplating the road ahead for the tourism and hospitality sectors. There was an underlying consensus on the need for visible and proactive government support on financial and policy matters to enable businesses to manage the disruption and safeguard them from the side-effects of the unprecedented crisis. Industry stakeholders concurred on a possible change in the consumer behaviour, post the COVID-19 world, wherein sparsely populated destinations were going to preferred by tourists, and Odisha was at the forefront of capitalising on such a shift.

Recommendations

  1. A year-long moratorium on the repayment of bank loans.
  2. A six-month waiver on the payment of the interest amount on the loans.
  3. Enhanced air connectivity to different parts of Odisha to boost footfalls.
  4. A bailout package by the government for the hospitality and tourism sectors, given its contribution toward creating jobs and sustaining livelihoods.
  5. The state of Odisha must put a pronounced focus on domestic tourism, especially from the neighbouring states, at least for the foreseeable future.
  6. Clarity on the revival plan of the sector, from the government in the state and at the centre.
  7. An integrated and inclusive development plan must be created to meet the challenges of the sectors in the post-Corona world.
  8. Create a detailed marketing plan and standard operating procedures to attract investments into the state.
  9. Ramp up the state’s visibility at national and global forums.
  10. Undertake a multi-pronged approach to build consumer confidence.

State tourism and culture minister Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi was the chief guest of the event. He suggested the need for a two-pronged approach, equally focussing on revival and growth plan. “The focus would be on domestic tourism and increasing footfalls from the neighbouring states. Once the road traffic is operationalised, we could focus on family and road-based tourism,” he said. He added that tourism needed to factor in social distancing and other precautionary measures as mandated to ensure safety and well-being.

Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi drew parallels with Cyclone Fani, pointing out that the state government had managed to restore normalcy in record time after being ravaged by the coastal cyclone, assuaging concerns on the road ahead for the broader tourism industry. He stressed that minimising the loss of lives was the foremost priority for the state government, adding that 39 COVID-19 hospitals had been established to attend to the populace suffering from the infection. The Odisha government was spending significant sums on welfare measures to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the lives and livelihood of the people, the minister said. He iterated his government’s commitment toward the tourism and hospitality sectors, noting that the Chief Minister was “very keen” on taking them forward in his fifth term. “The budgetary allocation for tourism was increased by five times in this state year’s budget,” he pointed out. 

He said that the state’s visibility as an attractive tourism destination had grown profoundly during his short yet eventful tenure. He called Odisha “the only kept secret.” He advised business leaders to devise risk management strategies to prepare their businesses for such abrupt disruptions in the future.

J K Mohanty, CMD, Swosti Group, mooted releasing the additional funds available with PSUs to tide over the crisis and address the liquidity crunch staring the industry. He expressed concern on the health of the sector, advocating a systematic government intervention to safeguard employment and suggested a pay-cut or loss of jobs for those associated with the industry, was certain without clarity on revival plans. He asked for extending the moratorium on loans to a year and forgoing interest on loans for at least six months and listed out the continuity of businesses as the most critical challenge.

Navin Berry, Founder and CEO, BITB Conclaves, moderated the webinar and highlighted the importance of going local and wondered if the pandemic had emerged as the “anti-thesis” to globalisation. He noted that domestic tourism was going to be the mainstay of businesses in the foreseeable future.

PP Khanna, President, Domestic Tour Operators of India, stressed that a bailout package by the government was the only way forward. He pointed toward the inability of small-scale tour operators in paying remuneration to their staff and noted that there was no possibility of tourism returning to normalcy immediately after the lockdown was lifted. He also shared that several apex industry forums had reached out to the highest echelons of policymakers for a concrete intervention to minimise the unprecedented damages. 

The state of Odisha was a “highly underserved hospitality market,” Suma Venkatesh, Executive Vice President at IHCL, said, comparing the state’s market with its neighbouring counterparts which were comparatively much better placed. The state needed to improve upon its international air-connectivity, to attract high-end consumers, she believed. She did agree that the domestic connectivity had improved significantly in the past few years and lauded Air Asia’s efforts. She urged the government of Odisha to do more to attract investments into the state, suggesting a more hands-on approach to ramp up its visibility at national and international forums.

Souvagya Mohapatra, Executive Director, Mayfair Hotels and Resorts Limited, highlighted how the industry was the first to be impacted by the government advisory, restricting air and rail travel, also stressing that it was going to be the last sector to recover from the development. The government’s standard operating procedures and every detailing on tackling the issue was going to invariably dictate the sector’s road to recovery, he believed.

Suresh Nair, General Manager, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, AirAsia Group, hoped that the airline would operate on half its capacity by the mid-June, sharing that the low-cost carrier had very recently resumed domestic flights in Malaysia and Thailand. “Therefore, it is a question of when rather than how,” he said.

InterGlobe Hotels President and CEO J B Singh complimented the state for its stable and consistent policymaking, which had placed Odisha as an attractive destination for investment. He believed that the state had the potential to attract a large chunk of domestic footfalls and advised the government to create a “marketing plan and standard operating procedures” to take the first affirmative step to build consumer confidence, needed to drive the sector.

Over 500 delegates attended the webinar. The Webinar sessions featured Souvagya Mohapatra, Executive Director, Mayfair Hotels & Resorts Limited; Sailesh Patil, Managing Director, Keshari Tours India; J K Mohanty, CMD, Hotel Swosti Group; Navin Berry, Founder and CEO, BITB Conclaves; PP Khanna, President, Domestic Tour Operators of India; Deboo Pattanaik, Director, Hotel Sukhamaya Pvt. Ltd.; and Rattan Keswani, Dy. Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels, among others. The initiative was partnered by HRAO, HRAEI, FHRAI, IATO and EKTTA.