New Delhi: Surging domestic tourism is helping India withstand the renewed slump in global tourism brought on by rising costs due to the Russia-Ukraine war and the resultant spike in inflation in many developed countries, according to industry bodies.
Following the lifting of pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions in many countries, global tourism witnessed a sharp, but short-lived recovery. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s World Tourism Barometer report released on 26 September, international tourist arrivals across the world had nearly tripled in the January to July 2022 period, compared to the same period in 2021.
“This means the sector recovered almost 60% of pre-pandemic levels,” the Barometer report said. “The steady recovery reflects strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date (86 countries had no Covid-19 related restrictions as of 19 September 2022).”
The latest data, however, shows that this recovery has already started losing steam, with rising costs putting pressure on consumers’ wallets.
“September data pointed to a renewed fall in tourism & recreation activity, the first in eight months, as cost of living pressures have choked off the post-pandemic recovery. Input costs in the sector increased at the sharpest pace of all those covered at the end of the third quarter,” US-based financial information and analytics firm S&P Global said in its Global Sector Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) report for September, released on 6 October.
The PMI scores industries based on questionnaires answered by the purchasing managers for companies in that sector. If the overall score is above 50, that implies an expansion of the sector, while a score of below 50 denotes a contraction. September data for the global tourism and recreation sector has fallen below that 50-mark for the first time in eight months.
“Now, cost pressures due to the Ukraine crisis, OPEC’s recent decision to cut oil production, and the impending recession in Western economies have meant that tourism could again take a back seat,” explained Aashish Gupta, consulting CEO, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality. “Zoom has already provided companies a cost-effective alternative to traveling for work and people will likely start prioritising domestic travel over the more costly international travel.”
While official figures for 2022 are not yet available, industry bodies believe a domestic tourism surge is definitely underway in India.
One of the particular bright spots in India seems to be Jammu & Kashmir, which, according to Union Minister Piyush Goyal, has seen a “record footfall of 1.62 crore tourists since January 2022, the highest in 75 years of Independence”.
“This year, it [domestic tourism] will definitely go beyond 100 crore visits,” M P Bezbaruah, secretary general of the Hotel Association of India told ThePrint. “I have no doubt that in 2022, it will pick up from anything between 100 crore and 120 crore visits. It may be even more because domestic tourism is growing.”
Gupta explained that while rising costs are having an impact, “if you look, all flights are fully booked, hotels are fully booked, and prices for both are higher than they have been for some time”.
“People who would otherwise have travelled abroad, are travelling within India instead,” he added.
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India remains resilient
Domestic tourism in India reached a peak in 2019, with more than 232 crore domestic tourist visits and 3.14 crore international tourist visits, according to data released by the tourism ministry. This was the highest level witnessed since 2001, the earliest data the ministry makes accessible.
The Union government’s Press Information Bureau Twitter handle tweeted on 7 October that India moved to the 34th position on the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index in 2019 from the 65th rank in 2013.
The Covid pandemic, however, halted the robust performance in its tracks, with domestic tourist visits falling to just 61 crore and international tourist visits to 71.7 lakh in 2020. However, tourism ministry data shows that while international visits to India dropped even further in 2021, to just 10.5 lakh, domestic visits increased by 11 per cent, to 67.7 crore.
Arunachal Pradesh (140 per cent), Jammu & Kashmir (349 per cent), Lakshadweep (290 per cent), Ladakh (4,394 per cent), and Meghalaya (524 per cent) saw high triple-digit and even quadruple-digit growth in visits in 2021 compared to the previous year.
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Govt steps behind revival
There are several reasons behind this strong performance, Bezbaruah explains.
“The government has started the Dekho Apna Desh campaign in a big way,” he said. “Secondly, the festival season is on now and will go on, and thirdly, the people’s fear of the pandemic is slowly going. So, by March 2023, we should see a very robust return to domestic tourism.”
Dekho Apna Desh, launched on 24 January 2020, is a campaign by the tourism ministry in line with an appeal made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 2019 Independence Day speech asking every citizen to visit at least 15 destinations within the country by 2022 so as to promote domestic tourism in India.
Other industry bodies agree that actions taken by the government have played a large part in ensuring that domestic tourism recovered quickly and began to grow again.
“There has been a significant push for domestic tourism from the highest level, with the Prime Minister himself encouraging Indians to travel within the country to explore new destinations and contribute in post-pandemic revival of this crucial sector of the economy and save millions of jobs,” said Anwar Shirpurwala, secretary general of the Confederation of Hospitality, Technology and Tourism Industry.
“The national Covid-19 vaccination programme also proved to be a critical factor for the steady growth of the tourism sector in India,” he added.
These efforts, Shirpurwala explained, helped control the third wave which in turn led to a recovery in tourism owing to unprecedented pent-up travel demand as people went out for “workcations, staycations, drivecations, daycations, revenge/catch-up travel as they got bored while they remained confined to their homes for about two years”.
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)
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