The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, recently celebrated the World Tourism Day, hosting a virtual seminar, with the entire top brass of the ministry in attendance. Dharmendra Pradhan, Cabinet Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel in the Government of India was also present as the event’s chief guest who launched the ‘SAATHI’ app.
SAATHI – System for Assessment, Awareness & Training for Hospitality Industry- is a ministry of tourism’s initiative in partnership with the Quality Council of India to enable the hospitality industry to maintain adequate levels of preparedness to continue operations while mitigating the infection risk.
The statements suggested that the ministry’s focus would be inherently inward, on boosting domestic and rural tourism by vigorously promoting ‘Dekho Apna Desh.’ We bring you selected excerpts from the proceedings.
Tourism a low-hanging fruit for industrial and economic rejuvenation, says Dharmendra Pradhan
Dharmendra Pradhan, Cabinet Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel, GoI, thanked the tourism minister for inviting him to the event and making him part of “a good cause.” India and the world were battling the pandemic, with over 30 million people being infected that had caused headwinds in the global economy, Dharmendra Pradhan said. The tourism industry was also at a standstill, but amid the challenges, 25000 hotels had registered with the ‘SAATHI’ app and were being integrated into the ecosystem, he said, noting that administrative processes had been laid down to devise standard operating procedures. Tourism was low-hanging fruit, he said, arguing that people had been stressed in the past five months as they were living in isolation. “People wish to venture out and have started travelling gradually. There is also fear as they are contemplating where to travel and whether standardised practices and ICMR’s or WHO’s guidelines were being followed by hotels. The ministry of tourism has taken a commendably time-bound initiative to bring the industry and economy back on track. My commendations to the tourism minister for taking the step,” Dharmendra Pradhan said.
The ubiquity of the internet had shrunken the world, and tourism was figuring prominently among people after meeting their basic necessities. The country’s tourism was replete with innumerable possibilities and facets, including marine tourism, eco-tourism, cultural and jungle tourism, adventure and several others, he listed.
The minister mentioned about the newly launched IITF (Incredible India Tourist Facilitator) online program, which had already received over 5000 registrations. He believed such steps were extremely laudable, but the program could be expanded significantly given India’s 700+ districts.
Tourism ministry committed to PM’s vision of augmenting domestic tourism, says Prahlad Singh Patel
Prahlad Singh Patel, MoS (IC), Ministry of Culture and MoS (IC) of MoT, commended the entire staff of the ministry of tourism for maintaining courage amid the ongoing challenges.
The minister admitted that the situation had also presented an opportunity to address the existing shortfalls. He referred to the PM’s speech at UNGA, drawing parallels with tourism, noting that the PM’s mantras for the country were going to be the mantra for tourism. “There was reference to Vashudhaiva Kutumbhakam and Atithi Devo Bhavah by our PM in our presents to the world in the form of our spirituality and culture. We provided medicines to over 150 countries despite being in need ourselves. I think the world visits India to witness this ability of our country” he said, referring to PM Modi’s speech.
Perceptions were created and distorted, he said, stressing that it was a “collective concern” to further enhance the preparedness levels with new techniques and abilities to welcome guests, as the world was looking up to India. “An experiment such as ‘SAATHI’ is a step in the direction,” the minister noted.
He believed that Dharmendra Pradhan could be a great support in furthering the mandate of driving domestic tourism, pointing out that the PM had given a clarion call, asking people to visit 15 domestic destinations in three years. Petrol pumps across the country had accentuated the outreach of programs such as the Ujjwala Yojna. A similar outreach concerning ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ could drive the message across the masses, encouraging them to visit local destinations. “It would act as a great source of information for the masses,” the minister believed. He also lauded the stakeholders, across the spectrum, for their continual efforts to upgrade their knowledge and techniques.
The minister agreed that rural tourism had not been accorded the desired focus. He shared an experience of staying at a village with a local family that went out of the way to accommodate him, adding that such an outlook for tourists was the most significant strength of India’s culture. “We must travel within our country and pool our full strength to ensure that 2021 becomes the year of ‘Dekho Apna Desh.’ The way India’s image and prestige have skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic, I believe the world will come to see us and we must be adequately prepared for them” he stressed.
Keenly exploring rural tourism prospects under the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ scheme: Yogendra Tripathi
The past few years, before the pandemic, were “great” for the tourism sector as it had globally registered record growth, more than the normal GPDs of the respective countries, Yogendra Tripathi, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism said.
However, he argued that such a fast-paced growth also posed challenges and the need for sustainable and responsible growth. He believed that the pandemic had accentuated the discourse and was leading us to “integrate our health and hygiene protocols, sustainable practices in the sector” to ensure it flourished in the future. Rural tourism, as the global theme, suggested by the UNWTO, was in the right context and at the right time, the secretary believed.
Rural communities were the custodians of indigenous cultural and natural heritage and possessed the inherent ability to coexist with the natural ecosystem, he said, stressing that the time was ripe to leverage them to develop sustainable tourism models. “Urban conglomerates, in this context, would also need a reorientation. In a country, as diverse as India, where a significant number of people are deeply rooted to villages, it is both an opportunity and a necessity that tourism develops itself and, in turn, develops rural communities,” he argued. The ministry of tourism had been working towards promoting tourism as part of the ‘Swadesh Darshan’ scheme, he shared. The ministry was also exploring rural tourism prospects to promote domestic tourism under the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ scheme.
The ministry was continually interacting with all stakeholders and state governments in the past few months to understand their “difficulties, put forward their issues and work out a future strategy to reboot and restart the sector,” Yogendra Tripathi said. The minister had led the initiative by organising brainstorming sessions, spread over 6-7 days, with diverse stakeholders, he said. The secretary noted that the cumulative effort had resulted in coming out with the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols.
He emphasised that the ministry had been impressed with the positivity displayed by the tourism sector’s stakeholders. “Despite the challenges that they have been going through, they are all convinced that the sector has a future and the challenge(s) has given opportunities,” Yogendra Tripathi said. The stakeholders had taken several proactive measures to address the pandemic-induced challenges, he added. “They are reorienting their activities to ensure that the trust and the confidence among the visitors is there in their activities,” he said. He commended the state governments for being proactively involved in devising strategies to support the sector, also enabling its rebooting. “I must mention the positive steps taken by the state governments of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and many others. It has helped the process of restarting the tourism sector in small ways, all across the country,” the secretary noted.
Recent ministry outreach substantial; green shoots in tourism visible, says Meenakshi Sharma
Meenakshi Sharma, DG Tourism, GoI, briefed the gathering on the ministry’s initiative of ‘Dekho Apna Desh,’ which was launched in January 2020 after the PM’s call for boosting domestic tourism during his previous year’s Independence Day speech. The initiative’s objectives were to create awareness about the “rich culture and heritage” of India, generating a sense of pride and belongingness, enhancing tourist footfalls, thereby generating local employment, among others, she enumerated. She believed that the project would be pivotal in driving tourism, and the green shoots were already visible. MoT had been organising ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ webinars since April this year, Meenakshi Sharma said. “Till today, 54 webinars have been organised with the support of industry partners and the public. We have already had more than 2 lakh 30 thousand viewership,” she informed, adding that the ministry’s social media handles were additionally driving substantial outreach.
The event was moderated By Rakesh Kumar Verma, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, GOI.