Exclusive-“Every tour operator is the ‘Brand Ambassador’ of Incredible India”

The tourism sector has been reeling under the severe ambush of the ongoing pandemic and as such is in dire need of the government’s policy interventions for their survival and revival. Shri Ajay Bhatt, Hon’ble Minister of State for Tourism and Defence in tête-à-tête with Travel Turtle tells how the government will assist in navigating the industry into a favourable position.

Bharti Sharma

When the government announced the appointment of two additional ministers to handle specific issues and promote tourism in order to enhance the overall perception, the trade welcomed the decision with open arms. The consideration, in a way also showcased the govt’s determination to help the sector prevail through its policymaking. With a fresh sense of optimism, Shri Ajay Bhatt, in a very short span of time is well-versed and acquainted with the industry, its ongoing situation and thus, has been working tirelessly to give it the stature it deserves.

Inbound will start gradually 

The travel industry has been in deep distress for over 19 months now and with the new variant Omicron, the industry already on ventilator is once again cornered and in a dilemma on how to keep their businesses afloat. It is understood that the new Covid-19 variant Omicron has raised concerns across the globe and every sector, especially the tourism fraternity is worried about its impact. However, few experts have stated that though the new variant Omicron is highly infectious, it may not cause severe illness to people and is not expected to be as deadly as the first and second wave of Covid-19 pandemic,” tells Shri Ajay Bhatt.

Emphasising the importance of vaccination drive and its effect on tourism, he adds, “The fact that more than half of India’s adult population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and over 85 per cent of the adult population in India has at least been administered the first dose is a silver lining. Keeping these facts in mind, we are very hopeful that once the International flights are operational, inbound tourism will slowly start with caution and will be back on track at pre-pandemic levels, soon.”

Great opportunities for ‘Incredible India’

A renewed focus from the government on promoting domestic travel through infrastructure support focused marketing campaigns and robust public-private partnership is expected to go a long way in restoring the health of the tourism sector. Shri Ajay Bhatt feels that focus on growth-oriented measures, economic reforms and inclusive growth is critical in bringing a Covid-battered economy back on track. He shares, “As you are aware that there has been a surge in the number of domestic tourists post-second wave of Covid-19 and almost all tourist destinations, such as Goa, Jaisalmer, Kullu, Shimla, Dharamshala, etc. are swarmed with domestic tourists. And we are very hopeful that once the International flights get operational, inbound tourism will also take place with time.”

MoT got it all covered

As the travel sector does not expect the market to revive anytime soon, the government has announced the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) 3.0 in March last year to support eligible Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and business enterprises in meeting their operational liabilities and restarting their businesses. The scope of the scheme was augmented to cover business enterprises in hospitality, travel and tourism and leisure and sporting sectors. Shri Ajay Bhatt asserts, “With an aim to incentivise stakeholders in the tourism industry, the guidelines for the scheme of Market Development Assistance (MDA) for providing financial support to stakeholders for the promotion of Domestic Tourism have been modified to enhance the scope and reach of the scheme, so as to provide maximum benefits to the stakeholders.”

The stimulus for the grieving sector

The travel and tourism industry has been perpetually forwarding many requests for its sustenance such as large scale policy initiatives to boost tourism, special incentives for infrastructure development, GST reduction and special stimulus packages that can help the industry to move faster on the path to recovery. Taking these demands into consideration, the govt has worked in tandem with other ministers to revive the sector, sharing some initiatives and packages Shri Ajay Bhatt tells, “In June 2021, the government announced a stimulus package to boost diverse sectors of economy affected by COVID-19 pandemic and provide an impetus for growth and employment measures. Loan up to Rs. 10 lakh each may be availed by MoT approved tour operators/travel agents/tourist transport operators. Loan up to Rs. 1 lakh each may be availed by RLGs/IITGs approved by MoT and tourist guides approved by State Govt. UT Administration. The scheme has been made operational through NCGTC, guidelines available on NCGTC website.”

He further tells, “The Government has launched the Loan Guarantee Scheme for the Covid Affected Tourism Service Sector (LGSCATSS) facilitating collateral-free loans to eligible borrowers, tax relief has also been extended from various regulatory compliances under Income Tax Act, Companies Act and GST Act for a varying period in the wake of COVID-19 crisis to ensure business continuity and survival, RBI extended moratorium on term loans till 31st December 2020 and other such steps have been taken by the Government to revive the tourism sector.”

Standing with the trade like a rock

One of the foremost priorities is to strategise a path for recovery of international and domestic tourism including business travel and get the industry under the concurrent list. The ‘power of collective’ will accelerate recovery, and help the sector rise together. “Each tour operator is like a Brand Ambassador of the Incredible India brand and for tourism in the country. The theme of the recently concluded IATO convention- “Brand India – The Road to Recovery” itself displayed the dedication and commitment of the tourism service providers of the country. The tourism fraternity in the country has a lot of expectations from the association and the government is standing by your side in these hard times,” concludes Shri Ajay Bhatt.



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