Domestic tourism for the wanderlust
The Ministry of Tourism has introduced a number of initiatives to rebuild confidence among travellers, highlight hidden gems and support the industry.
India is a unique nation, whose fabric has been woven by diverse linguistic, cultural and religious threads, and is held together into a composite national identity by a rich history of cultural evolution, coupled with a freedom struggle that was built around the tenets of non-violence and justice. The spirit of mutual understanding amidst a shared history has enabled a special unity in diversity, which stands out as a tall flame of nationhood that needs to be nourished and cherished into the future.
Time and technology have narrowed down distances in terms of connect and communication. In an era that facilitates mobility and outreach, it is important to establish cultural exchanges between people of different regions to further human bonding and a common approach to nation-building. Mutual understanding and trust are the foundations of India's strength and all citizens should feel culturally integrated in all corners of India.
Prahlad Singh Patel, the Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture (IC) recently reiterated the vision of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, asking every citizen to visit at least 15 destinations by the year 2022 to promote domestic tourism. He said that the Ministry of Tourism has launched the Dekho Apna Desh (DAD) initiative in January 2020 with the objective of creating awareness among the citizens about the rich heritage and culture of the country, encouraging them to travel widely within the country and enhancing tourist footfalls leading to development of local economy and creation of jobs at the local level. During this pandemic, the Ministry has been organising a series of webinars, titled "India's Hidden Gems," under the overall theme of DAD, showcasing the diverse culture, heritage, destinations and tourism products of the country.
The DAD initiative is promoted extensively on social media accounts and website of the Ministry and by domestic India Tourism offices. Under this initiative the ministry conducts a series of webinars showcasing the diverse culture, heritage, destinations and tourism products of the country. To create mass awareness, it has also launched online pledge and Quiz on DAD on MyGov.in platform.
REVIVING THE TOURISM SECTOR
According to Patel, tourism is amongst the worst hit sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic. But with "mutual support, we are continuously talking to its stakeholders and have taken some initiatives for revival of the tourism sector and hoped that it will pick up pace again soon." He emphasised on the use of System for Assessment, Awareness and Training for Hospitality Industry (SAATHI) and National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry (NIDHI) initiatives of the Tourism Ministry, which are crucial during the current situation. Earlier there were only 1,400 registrations of hotels with the government, but because of the NIDHI initiative, 27,000 hotels have registered and the number is growing. He also said that the use of the SAATHI initiative will build confidence in tourists, as it helps the hospitality industry in preparedness to continue operations safely and mitigate risks arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic the Prime Minister had initiated 'Dekho Apna Desh' campaign, said the minister.
"And in the current situation we should focus on domestic tourism under this campaign, as it will help to revive the tourism sector of our country," said Patel.
He urged state governments to identify new places of tourism that can attract domestic tourists. He also said that, to promote tourism during these times, all states should come up with a uniform protocol for interstate movement of tourists so that tourists can travel hassle-free.
Indeed, domestic tourists are flocking sites across the country during the winter months with popular destinations including Goa, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are reporting brisk business. Many hotels are reporting a surge in the number of Indian tourists visiting popular haunts including beach and desert resorts and in hill stations and in the mountains.
While flights from Mumbai and Bengaluru to Goa are packed with holidaymakers, even the highways from these two metros to the state are packed with tourists heading to the beaches.
To promote tourism during these times, all states should come up with a uniform protocol for interstate movement of tourists so that tourists can travel hassle-free.
Government leaders including Patel have, however, cautioned tourists to take adequate care, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing norms, while going on holidays around the country.
Interestingly, the Tourism Ministry is planning to develop a platform, which will have all information regarding state roads, hotels and other facilities of all tourist destinations. It will also have updated information regarding weather and other related information. The minister also stressed on better connectivity to places of tourist attractions. He said that better connectivity will increase tourists flow in remote areas also.
The India Tourist Facilitator Certification programme (IITF) is an online platform to train guides and is seen as a potential employment generator at the pan-India level. Currently, the programme has almost 6,000 people enrolled, and with the qualified persons eventually coming on the e-marketplace, it has huge potential in transforming the tourist experience in terms of guiding and showcasing India.
The Ministry has also been in a continuous dialogue with the representatives of tourism and hospitality industry stakeholders to discuss solutions and the way forward to revive the tourism economy by reviving demand, especially through promotion of domestic tourism. The Ministry has held a series of brainstorming meetings recently with different segments of the tourism industry to discuss the difficulties of the industry verticals.
The Ministry and State Tourism Departments will work on providing certain facilities to the stakeholders to help them recover the crisis. Active promotion of domestic tourism is the first step. As metropolitan cities are most affected, North-eastern states and the Himalayan states that have been least affected would provide more opportunities in terms of Domestic tourism, boosting confidence among the public for travelling.
The global Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for creation of a comprehensive national database of accommodation units in the country, since availability of data is crucial in framing of policies and strategies such as promotion and development of tourism, assisting tourists to find information on places for accommodation, assessing the carrying capacity of various destinations, assessing requirements for skilled human resources and formulating disaster management plans.
Ministry of Tourism, with the help of State Governments and Union Territory Administrations, is making efforts to register accommodation units in the country in its portal, NIDHI.
And to assist the hospitality industry in its preparedness to continue operations safely and mitigate risks arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism has partnered with the Quality Council of India (QCI) to assist the industry through an initiative called SAATHI (System for Assessment, Awareness and Training for Hospitality Industry). This initiative is aligned with the Prime Minister's clarion call for 'Atmanirbhar Bharat'. The idea is not only to sensitise the industry on the Covid-19 regulations by the government, but also to instill confidence amongst the staff and guests that the hospitality unit has exhibited intent towards ensuring safety and hygiene at the workplace. This initiative is in three phases.
SELF-CERTIFICATION: This provides a detailed understanding of the guidelines/key elements to be followed. A hotel/unit goes through the SAATHI framework and agrees to follow the requirements wherever applicable to the fullest extent possible. A self-certification is issued.
WEBINARS: This phase builds capacities of the hotels on the SAATHI key elements. Self-certified hotels/units attend webinars to clarify doubts through live interactions.
SITE ASSESSMENT (OPTIONAL): In this phase on-ground implementation of the SOPs/ Guidelines and identification of gaps is undertaken. If hotel/unit desires, they may undertake site-assessment based on SAATHI framework through QCI-accredited agencies and an assessment report with opportunities for improvement is shared with the assessed unit.
During the meeting all 15 states gave their updated information regarding SAATHI and NIDHI initiatives of the Ministry and said that these initiatives are very helpful for the tourism industry.
India is truly like a kaleidoscope, where every twist and turn presents a different pattern of landscape, colour, cuisine and culture. This also inspires the spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat. The best way to experience this is by travelling to destinations that are not popular on the internet, and as much as possible by road. The ministry organised 68 webinars under the series, which continue to provide thrust to the rich culture of tourism in India. With viewership of over three lakh, the Dekho Apna Desh series gets a huge thumbs up.
The Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat programme aims to enhance interaction and promote mutual understanding between people of different states and union territories (UT) through the concept of state-UT pairing. States carry out activities to promote a sustained and structured cultural connect in the areas of language learning, culture, traditions and music, tourism and cuisine, sports and sharing of best practices.
A general view shows the reflection of the Red Fort in a water puddle after an early morning rain in New Delhi. - AFP
STATES AND UTS IN INDIA PAIRED TILL THE END OF 2020
An activity calendar for each pair was prepared through mutual consultation, paving the way for a systematic process of mutual engagement. Such interaction between different segments of the population of each pair of states/UTs at the cultural level, generated the vibrance of understanding and appreciation amongst the people and forged mutual bonding, thus securing an enriched value system of unity in the nation.
LARGEST SERVICE INDUSTRY
Travel and tourism is the largest service industry in the country. It covers heritage, cultural, medical, business and sports tourism. The main objective of the Ministry of Tourism is to develop and promote tourism, maintain competitiveness of India as a tourist destination and improve and expand existing products to ensure employment generation and economic growth.
The Ministry organised the Bharat Parv at the Gyan Path and Red Fort Ground, Delhi from January 26 to 31, last year, as a part of the Republic Day celebrations. The theme was '150 Years of Mahatma' and 'Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat'. The main attractions during the event included a display of Republic Day tableaux, performance by Armed Forces Band, pavilion by state governments/UTs and the line Ministries, food stalls, cultural performances and handicraft and handloom stalls.
The Incredible India Tourist Facilitator (IITF) certification programme was also launched by the Ministry of Tourism. This is a pan-India online learning programme accessible from different digital devices. It aims at enhancing the overall experience of tourists by creating a pool of local, trained professionals. It will help in creating employment opportunities at the local level even in remote areas with tourism potential. As on December 21, 2020, 6,402 people have registered under the IITFC Programme.
A conference on Destination Management and Community Participation was organised by the Ministry on February 13 and 14 last year at Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. The meeting discussed the importance of destination management and community participation in the tourism sector.
Patel launched the Incredible India website in Chinese, Arabic and Spanish languages to attract tourists from these regions. The Ministry has also taken various steps to overcome the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the tourism sector, said the minister. For instance, digital media will be utilised fully to promote and spread awareness about the tourist destinations and activities. Detailed operational guidelines for Covid safety and hygiene has been prepared to create awareness, training and assessment of compliance of the guidelines. The programme is aimed at building the capacity of the hospitality industry, particularly small and medium units to restart and grow their business.
Operational recommendations for hotels, restaurants, B&Bs/home stays and tourism service providers have been formulated and issued to facilitate smooth resumption of business.
The Ministry's SAATHI offers effective implementation of guidelines/SOPs issued with reference to Covid-19 and beyond for safe operations of hotels, restaurants, B&Bs and other units.
The recognition of travel agents, tour operators, tourist transport operators by the Ministry has been extended automatically by six months. Those who have submitted applications for recognition by the Ministry have been given provisional recognition for six months, pending completion of required procedures.
The Ministry has focussed on domestic tourism through innovative steps like the promotion of products, festivals, cuisines, etc. of the country on its social media handles. It is also organising activities to promote the concept of Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat. It has commissioned aerial photography of several cities during the lockdown to promote these destinations. Similarly, the last mile connectivity is being targeted by viability gap funding through RCS-UDAN and discussions with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), regarding improving road connectivity to important tourist destinations. The ministry has planned a detailed strategy to utilise technology to the fullest extent to overcome the setback created by the pandemic.
Rajasthani folk artists perform at the historic Jantar Mantar after the Rajasthan government's decision to re-open the monuments, forts and museums for tourist visits, during the fifth phase of Covid-19 lockdown in Jaipur, Rajasthan. - PTI
The Incredible India digital platform, in collaboration with Google, features a variety of 360-degree walk-throughs and stories for prominent tourist attractions across the country. The content is provisioned on major tourist destination pages within the Incredible India website. These embedded walk-throughs provide an engaging experience to the viewer by providing them with immersive 360-degree photos. Similarly, walk-throughs have also been provisioned for prominent World Heritage Sites in India.
Digital media will be utilised fully to promote and spread awareness about the tourist destinations and activities, and involve people to prepare them for their visits when the situation becomes normal. The Incredible India web portal and mobile app are further being enriched with content and tourist friendly features offering a high degree of personalisation.
The Ministry of Tourism has launched the Incredible India Tourist Facilitator (IITF) Certification Programme - a digital initiative that aims at creating an online learning platform with the objective of having a pool of well-trained and professional tourist facilitators across the country. This will help in creation of employment at the local level and even in the remote areas of the country having tourism potential.
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