Rajasthan has been the first of states to adopt a new tourism policy and the policy also reflects upon learning from the pandemic. While saving life remains the top priority, the Tourism Department of Rajasthan is more focused on ensuring ‘Safe Tourism’. Alok Gupta, Principal Secretary, Tourism & Devasthan Department, Govt of Rajasthan, shares with TTJ on the challenges, the revival of tourism in the state, emerging travel trends, and the new tourism policy which lays out short and long term goals for promoting Rajasthan as a leading tourism brand in domestic and international markets.
– Prashant Nayak
How bad has the tourism industry in Rajasthan been affected due to the pandemic? What has been your biggest challenge in navigating COVID-19 to date?
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown across countries almost halted the tourism industry world over, Rajasthan was no exception either. The previous year over 1.6 million foreign and 52 million domestic tourists visited the state, much of the business has been lost this year. As the second wave prevails in several countries the foreign arrivals are expected to remain limited and the industry is restructuring itself to cater to contemporary demands. It was also a difficult time for thousands of families directly or indirectly dependent on the trade.
The biggest challenge is to help survive the tourism industry during this period of the pandemic. As the number of tourist arrivals has come down drastically, the tourism sector is facing its biggest challenge.
To revive tourism in the state, what are some of the measures taken by your department?
The State Government has taken several steps to help the tourism industry. The safety of the visitors and the staff was the foremost priority for the Rajasthan Government. The Department released ‘Safety and Hygiene Guidelines for Tourism and Hospitality Sector’ to set standard operating procedures for hotels, restaurants, monuments and museums. New guidelines have also been issued for the shooting of videos and films. Social and mass media campaigns were also initiated to raise awareness of social distancing and safe behaviour at public places.
As the pandemic posed an unprecedented crisis the department also had to improvise accordingly. Even during the lockdown, the department maintained its connect with agencies and stakeholders related to tourism. The state government has also extended financial relief to the crisis-hit hotel and tourism sector. The department’s initiative such as ‘Short Stay, Safe Stay’ has also been able to attract a large number of tourists from neighbouring states. A safe environment has been helping build confidence among the tourists and sign of an early revival of the sector.
Can you tell us about the highlights and objectives of the New Tourism Policy 2020 rolled out by the state government?
It is an attempt to holistically and comprehensively address various regulatory issues related to the growth of tourism and incentives. Its provisions for creating new experiential tourism venues and identifies 15 such categories including rural tourism, craft and cuisine tourism, etc. The policy also focuses on improving the infrastructure, the availability and quality of services, safety and sustainability. There is also an increased focus on skill development to meet the demand of an expanding sector.
In addition to the incentives for hotels and other tourist units, the new policy also identifies tourism startups. The policy calls for the strengthening of the tourist protection force to ensure the safety of visitors. Drawing marketing strategies and aligning foreign collaboration is also focused upon in the policy.
Domestic travel is gradually picking up pace. Do you think it will make a big difference to the state’s economy in the short or medium-term?
Yes! More than 95 per cent of total tourist arrivals are domestic. As international tourism is likely to take time, domestic is the only option. The unlock phase registered the emergence of new tourist trends such as ‘workation’, Rajasthan has been drawing more weekend tourists from neighbouring states. Even as the numbers are still short of the previous year, the confidence is gradually building up, and as foreign travel remains restricted even the high-end domestic tourists would be keen to explore more local destinations.
When international travel resumes, what are some of the action plans to ensure that you are ready to get more inbound travellers back?
Even during the lockdown, the department has continued its efforts to connect with foreign visitors and agencies. The rich culture and heritage of the state continues to hold its charm for international travellers, yet, it would be only on the surety of safety that tourists will be picking their travel destinations. Rajasthan has been able to present an example in COVID management and breaking the contamination chain. Thus, when the situation normalises people would prefer the state among other destinations.
We would focus on overseas marketing in key markets i.e. Europe, the US, SE Asia through media campaigns, participation in travel trade shows, social and digital media campaigns, PR activities, FAM tours, etc.
Are you working or strategising on sustainable and responsible tourism which is getting more importance now?
The recent pandemic and the new normal has once again emphasised the need for sustainable and responsible development. This is also applicable to the tourism sector. Our new tourism policy has a special focus on sustainable development. Also, the provisions for rural tourism, art and craft tourism, tribal tourism, eco-tourism, etc will also promote responsible tourism by helping conserve the culture and environment. This will at the same time also ensure the prosperity of local people without destructive exploitation of the natural wealth.
The tourism department is also working closely with the Forest and Environment Department to come out with better solutions to the problem at wildlife parks. We are also preparing an Eco-Tourism certification scheme for hotels, opening up a format for the tourists, identifying new Ecotourism Zones.
What have been some of the emerging travel trends that you are witnessing in your state?
Post lockdown, weekend tourism, short trips, trips to more open, remote places, countryside resorts, and heritage hotels have increased. Wedding tourism has seen a rise with the marriage season. More emphasis is being made on cleanliness, hygiene and safety.
What are your expectations from 2021 in terms of tourism even amidst the pandemic?
We hope that 2021 will bring new hopes and prosperity for all people. As for tourism, it will be a year of rediscovering its potential and developing new avenues. Several companies are now claiming progress in developing COVID vaccines and we are optimistically observing their trials. It will help in opening foreign tourist circuits and instill confidence among people to take on long journeys. Meanwhile, the state government will focus on achieving objectives of the new tourism policy, promote investment in the sector and expand infrastructure.