From vibrant tulips to delicate cherry blossoms to surprisingly tough orchids, flowering plants cover the planet. Travellers travel from all over the world to visit different well-known and unexplored places. But all these had come to a sudden halt with the outbreak of the pandemic which has changed the pattern, economics and in some cases – business model of the travel industry.
Talking to Mr. Satish Khanduri, the former AGM of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (GMVN), Uttarakhand Tourism, and currently the founder and mentor of Northern Pinnacles Travel Pvt. Ltd., a travel company has talked about travel being one such industry that has been adversely affected during the pandemic.
The socio-economic impact on tourist hubs like Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Jaipur, Goa, and so on, where the majority of local people thrive on the income generated from the tourists’ adventure sports and hospitality couldn’t earn a penny. The empty streets missed the lively hustle of the everyday travellers. While the government came up with measures for various other sectors, very little initiative was taken to deal with the situation of the travel industy.
The ones who made a living from the aviation or the tourism industry were hit hard with lowered labour costs, lay offs, shut properties and pay cuts as the pandemic’s spread had to be controlled with restricted or no travel.
Mr. Khanduri said, “with the reopening of the industry after the pandemic, where restrictions have been eased out, the number has gone better on the note that people have become more concerned over safety protocols with flexible packages like free cancellations. Before the pandemic, the international travelling curve was rising but the pandemic has bought the level to that of the 1980s. Even business travel has come to a halt whose high-ticket prices helped balancing the economy class pocket friendly fares.”
The past two years have changed the definition of travel. We have moved out from the traditional travelling due to the shift in the work from home culture. People in today’s post pandemic world are seeking for working holidays where you have the combination of work and holiday in which it is seen that people have started preferring homestays and over hotel rooms, this, has turned out to be a good side for the industry to revive.
Apart from the pandemic affecting the industry, there is another aspect that is under threat and needs to be highlighted. As per the Niti Ayog, Government of India Report, under the Indian Himalayan Region, people are vulnerable to food insecurity, facing poverty and isolation and the challenge is to identify new sustainable opportunities to benefit these communities. According to Mr Khanduri, as per the criteria laid by the sustainable tourism for India, applicability to accommodations under sustainable management is possible so far due to sustainable planning.
“People now not just chose accommodation but have carefully picked homes of ‘folks who have a fair understanding of what it means to live sustainably.’ The management of these homes is under people who have decided to let a part of their lives bear a good environmental footprint. The government is doing more to safeguard the environment by promoting use of reusable, returnable and recycled goods around and also working on waste management with utmost care considering the present situation of the Himalayas. For example, they compose their organic waste in the homestay or also segregate them from the animals in the vicinity.” He added, “the government is educating how not to pollute the Himalayas to protect the climate otherwise it will have a severe impact on the biodiversity and ecosystem as a whole.”
Mentioning Uttarakhand, Mr. Satish Khanduri, who himself promotes the concept of wilderness through his own homestay & travel consulting services at Northern Pinnacles Travel Pvt. Ltd. stated that the government of Uttarakhand has done a lot to promote tourism with hospitable people around but it is also very important to keep up with the sustainability. “Pilgrimage sites like Badrinath were established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya, thousands of people come to these areas from ages despite less publicity so, it becomes necessary to help them remind about sustainability and keeping the Himalayas clean.” But to note, that the number of foreign visitors has reduced over the period, he said that previously, there used to be 80 to 90% of visitors who used to come to Nanda Devi but the number now has fallen also the fact that there are certain areas that are now restricted for environmental purposes.
However, speaking about a new trend, it is seen that with the decrease in the number of international visitors, people from the background of yoga, and meditation are increasingly visiting because places like these not only provide adventure but are also great choices of spiritual retreat. “People here try to get into an escape route where they feel recharged leaving the stress behind”, he added.
Though there has been a drop in the travel and tourism industry over these two years, it is expected for the industry to recover soon while the industry is still in the climbing phase but at the same time, it is expected that the small and local entrepreneurs develop and helps sustainable products apart from just hosting their home stays; only then socio-economic development is definite to grow further.
The industry is going through a phase of struggle but as a matter of fact, it is bouncing back, and that is apparent as per record footfall and bookings done during India’s largest travel fair, the TTF (Travel & Tourism Fair) across cities – with a bright future keeping in mind the sustainability of the environment we live in. More than the Government or the businesses in travel, we the people need to act responsibly and become responsible travellers to help build economic diversity and maintain the ecology in areas where travel is the major source of income.