After Covid-19, tourism is greatly going to swing towards domestic destinations. But many stakeholders are of the opinion that if we continue to sell and promote destinations like before, we will soon have another serious problem in our hands. Tourism players need to work towards building a sustainable global model in all respects.
Peden Doma Bhutia | ETTravelWorld | April 13, 2020, 10:48 IST
Post Covid-19, the concept of travel will have undergone a sea change. With tourism pushed to the backburner, once the Covid dust settles, the desperation amongst tourism stakeholders to attract travellers will be more evident. But aggressive strategies for short-term business gains may result in the sector suffering even more, as these will not be sustainable. CB Ramkumar, Board Member & Regional Director- South Asia, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, elaborates, “The wisdom to revive your business keeping sustainability in mind will make the difference between an enlightened CEO and a ‘will-do-business-as-I-have-always-done’ unintelligent CEO. Time will tell how it will all end up.”
However, sustainability is still a relatively recent entry into the tourism dictionary, especially as far as domestic tourism goes. Shoba Mohan, Founder of RARE India, observes that tourism is severely nuanced due to the upswing in the spending capacity of the middle classes and their focus on travel as a key area to put their money into. Talking about travellers’ choices, she rightly points out, “Their choices are largely driven by deals or by trends that they can flaunt on social media. It has yet to evolve into a space that can be conscious and mindful of the impact, both positive and negative, that tourism can bring about.”
Clearly, sustainable development cannot be ignored and must be implemented with great seriousness. Niranjan Khatri, Founder of iSambhav, says the only opportunity for reviving the tourism industry post Covid will be domestic tourism. “The time for green washing has gone. It is quite likely that people will be travelling to many undiscovered parts of the country, in addition to the usual places, like hills or beach resorts. The small places, by virtue of limited accommodation, must not see the increasing footfalls as a sign of continuous arrivals. In my view, it is only a temporary windfall gain and they must not start overbuilding haphazardly. Many hill stations and Goa are good examples of unfettered tourism, places that haven’t kept in mind the carrying capacity in terms of water and waste management,” he says.
Mohan points out it cannot be business as usual; hotels and marketing companies have to personally rework their brand strategy and understanding of the impact of mindless number-driven tourism to work towards building a sustainable global model in all respects. “If domestic is to be our go-to market, it has to be backed by an inherent awareness campaign about this facet of travel, else the numbers that are expected to drive to close-by destinations for a ‘backyard’ vacation can completely negate the learnings and leanings that you presently see during the lockdown,” Mohan cautions.
Khatri calls Covid-19 a global wake-up call to conduct ourselves in a more ecologically responsible way. He says hospitality stakeholders need to introspect and ask some frank questions such as, What kind of growth do we want and for whom? Does the growth benefit equitably for different stakeholders? Khatri goes on to say, “The industry needs to shed its over-consumptive service design by communicating the scale service design to the guests. The laundry list is long, I am sure the industry will become leaner and come out of this vortex. Do we need to carve more four-lane roads through virgin forests and disturb and enhance man-animal conflict and also impact the flow of water – a free service provided by forests, I call them 'towering standing dams' – is a question we need to ask.”
Khatri raises a crucial point – the accountability of stakeholders. Sustainability will be as big an issue for states as it will be for hotels and resorts. As Ramkumar points out, “States now need to contemplate how they will promote a destination without compromising on the health of the traveller. They will need to start an aggressive, but different campaign to promote their destinations and keep those destinations alive. They will need to adopt sustainability principles, practices and processes to manage destinations. Developing a sustainable destination is now a necessity, but it is also complicated. Having said that, guidelines are available with global bodies like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.”
But isn’t adopting sustainable practices an expensive proposition? Ramkumar begs to differ, “Going green is only expensive for the lazy mind that is closed to possibilities. Adopting sustainability into the business plan of a hotel makes business sense. The cost of solar panels, wind generators, energy storage devices, low carbon mobility solutions, non-toxic waste management solutions, hi-tech precision farming techniques to grow one’s own food, has come down drastically. If a hotel starts its journey into sustainability, it will definitely reduce its opex, and this has been proven irrespective of the scale of the hotel.”
It seems sustainability is going to have its day after all, though it may yet take some time for it to be embraced industry-wide. Tourism has been grappling with terms like ‘overtourism’ and ‘carrying capacity’ for far too long. As Mohan rightly concludes, “I hope stakeholders are using this time to think and set out strategies that can last for the next 10-15 years. How each stakeholder envisages tourism will define the regrowth of the industry and actually set the path for a more conscious travel economy.”
It is indeed time to make that shift!