The COVID-19 pandemic has been a harsh blow to several businesses around the world, especially the travel and tourism sector. With people cooped up in their homes, travelling has come to a screeching halt. The late 2020 and the early months of 2021 had witnessed a dip in the virus cases and tourism had started resuming gradually. But the second wave brought back the lockdown restrictions, moving the industry back to the struggles. However, the travel sectors of various states are now formulating many strategies to revive businesses post-pandemic.
For example, Maharashtra Tourism is aiming to focus on domestic travel and inter-state tourism and also on promoting tourism digitally, keeping pace with the trend. Curly Tales spoke to Dr. Dhananjay Sawalkar, Director, Directorate of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra, who provided an insight into post-pandemic travel in the state. Here’s what he said:
1. When are you planning to reopen?
Regarding the reopening of tourism in the state of Maharashtra, there is a very positive note. If you see the figures of the Covid affected patients in the last 15 days, it has come down drastically from 65,000 to around 26,000. So, that is why we are very hopeful and if the trend continues for the next 15 days, then slowly we are thinking of opening in a phased manner. Then in that strategy also, we have analysed the figures of the different destinations and the districts, where there are huge cases. In that case, the local administration will take a call on that, but slowly in the month of June-July, there are possibilities that we will open up the Tourism industry.
2. What’s in store?
Maharashtra is well-endowed with a variety of tourist attractions including golden beaches, magnificent forts, pristine hill stations, historic caves, heritage wonders, revered religious places, villages and wildlife sanctuaries.
3. What’s new?
The new thing that we have come up with is the agrotourism policy and under that, we have got a good response. More than 250 farmers have offered their properties as agrotourism units, and informally also in Maharashtra around 700 agrotourism units are working. So this is the new thing which we are offering. We have also started the policy of caravan tourism and under that, some agencies have come forward or are running the caravan tourism in the state of Maharashtra. So these are the two new things. We are also coming up with camping facilities or tents at different locations like Bhandardara, Nashik and some offbeat places like Tapola.
4. We all know that the pandemic hit the travel industry hard. Can you explain this from the Maharashtra perspective?
Maharashtra has been the worst-affected state in India during the pandemic, in terms of the number of cases and the period. So, in that sense, the travel industry of Maharashtra is also hit hard. Recently, we did a survey and in that survey, it was found that only 14% of hotels are operating. Even though we have allowed these hotels to operate, only certain people are working for essential services. Few hotels have opened for the staff who are working for the Covid hospitals or Covid patients. Even certain hotels are converted into hospital kind of facilities. And for the essential things and for essential travel, we have allowed the hotels to operate, but only 14% of them. It means that 86% of the hotels are shut down in this second lockdown. So, definitely, there is a huge loss. And it is the same case with the other travel & tourism stakeholders such as tour operators, transport operators, etc. Even the international tourist arrivals are completely stopped in Mumbai.
Flights have been cancelled. So, the last thing which we will revive is international tourism. So our whole focus is currently on domestic tourism and within domestic, inter-state tourism. Fortunately, Maharashtra is the third-largest state in India areawise and the second-largest population-wise. So we have a lot to offer within inter-state tourism also. For example, we want to offer the people of Konkon the wildlife of Vidarbha, or people of Vidarbha the beaches of Konkon. We aim to bring people of one region closer to another region in the state.
We have decided our strategy for the next 6 months, or 1 year because there is a change in the behavioural patterns of the people. People do not want to go for longer duration tours now. And so, one more hopeful thing from here is that there are certain infrastructural facilities, which will come up in next four to six months, which is going to be very, very beneficial for the revival of the tourism.
I want to particularly mention about the 701-kilometre Samruddi highway, connecting Nagpur and Mumbai, which will be operational in the next 6 months. The highway will connect ten districts, namely Nagpur, Wardha, Amravati, Washim, Buldhana, Aurangabad, Jalna, Ahmednagar, Nashik, and Thane. It will prove to be a crucial step for the future success of Maharashtra’s rural areas. Similarly, the Konkon expressway or the Goa highway that will connect three coastal districts of Maharashtra – Ratnagiri, Raigad and Sindhudurg, is in the final stage of construction.
Similarly, RoRo services are going to start immediately after this rainy season, in the month of August-September. The services have been extended up to Kashid Beach. So that is going to be very much helpful for beach tourism in the Konkon belt, particularly the south Konkon.
We are confident that these new facilities will aid the revival of tourism.
5. How has customer behaviour changed since the start of the pandemic, and how is it expected to be in the coming days?
There is a lot of change in the behavioural pattern of the customers or tourists. People are looking for an escape from the hustle-bustle of city life and crowded places. They are keen on taking short holidays and are more interested in exploring natural locations. Also, they want to visit places where hygiene and COVID protocols are followed. There is a change in the eating patterns of tourists too. People want to eat only hygienic food in hygienic places. They don’t want to eat street food.
So, the positive thing of Maharashtra is that we have a lot of destinations to offer, which are in the remote and isolated places and are in the nature. And also agrotourism will be a boon for such kind of change in behavioural pattern. Similarly, now the rainy season is coming and in Maharashtra, there are so many waterfalls and so many trekking sites, which will also help in the revival of tourism.
6. Are there any offers coming up for post-pandemic travel?
We have a separate commercial wing, MTDC, which runs commercial resorts. They are already extending concessions/offers to senior citizens and govt. employees. We are thinking of offering concessions at a few offbeat places which see fewer tourist visits.