Road Map for Tourism Industry of J&K Post-COVID-19

No.PR-99 May 25, 2020 New Delhi Road Map for Tourism Industry of J&K Post-COVID-19 The COVID-19 has shocked everybody in the tourism Industry because it has already killed so many people, caused the world to pause and destructed everything we do globally. It is impossible to predict how long it will last, what conditions will be required for lifting restrictions, how many waves it will entail and what will be the operational and strategic requirements for the “new” realities. To understand the level of suffering and to draw a road map for Tourism Sector of J&K Post Covid-19 era, with the Support of Peaks Group of Companies and Comtech Group of Companies the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kashmir Chapter Organized an interactive panel discussion Webinar on “Bussiness Continuity Plan for Tourism Industry of J&K” on 19th May 2020, with Mr K. B Kachru Chair Emeritus and Pr Advisor South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group, Mr Saleem Beg, Former DG Tourism Government of India and Present convener J&K for Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage, Mr Mehmood Ahmad Shah KAS, Director Industries & Commerce Kashmir, Mr Rattan Keswani, Deputy Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels, Mr Arjumand Hussain Talib, International Development Expert and Founding Editor of Ziraat Times, Mr Sanjay Aggarwal, Senior Vice President-PHDCCI, Mr Pradeep Multani, Vice-President PHDCCI, Mr Anil Khaitan , Former President PHDCCI, Mr Binay Kumar, Former President PHDCCI, Mr Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, Mentor PHDCCI-Kashmir, Mr Baldev Singh Raina, Chair PHDCCI-Kashmir, Mr Saurabh Sanyal, Secretary General PHDCCI, Mr Abid Vicky Shaw, Expert Committee Chair on Tourism and Golf Kashmir Chapter, Mr Nasir Shah, Expert Co-Chair on Tourism & Golf, Mr Vikrant Kuthiala, Former Chair PHDCCI-Jammu, Mr Rakesh Wazir, Chair Jammu, Mr Rahul Sahai, Co-Chair Jammu and Mr Raju Choudhary, President Hotel, Restaurant and Bar Association of Jammu and Ms Mallika Verma Director, PHDCCI moderated the session. Mr Sanjay Aggarwal, Sr. Vice President PHDCCI in his welcome address mentioned that the Present crisis of Covid-19 which has engulfed whole world has severely affected the J&K Tourism Sector; we have never encountered a crisis such as this. Most crises, such as Natural calamities, political instability, will remain for a short period of time but the Covid-19 has taken everybody in the tourism industry by surprise. There is no easy way forward until a vaccine and full medical treatment have been developed. There are no magic solutions for those regions and business that totally depend on tourism. Mr Aggarwal mentioned that tourism is the major economic activity in Jammu & Kashmir as there is not much potential for large scale industrial development given the topography of the region. It offers a plethora of employment opportunities. Therefore there is need to develop new and improve existing infrastructure for promoting tourism. Each district of the region offers a bouquet of activities like leisure, adventure, Trekking, skiing, pilgrimage, natural resource and wildlife, Heritage, water sports, para gliding, golf, lakes and springs, festivals and culture and handicrafts. The UT is immensely blessed with abundant opportunities to become the most sought after tourist destination of the country. PHDCCI urges the government to consider direct assistance and support to the industry in the valley particularly just as has been done by government of France. He expressed hope that tourist arrivals in J&K which have seen a decline in recent past due to various factors and now COVID-19, will pick up soon as nothing is permanent but this rebound will be with a new business model. He informed the delegates that a US based Company has claimed to have developed the vaccine for the virus and successfully tested it on 45 persons. We can only hope and pray that its commercial production should start at the earliest. I will urge the industry leaders to come together and develop SOPs and smart and agile tourism methodologies in real time to manage tourism and hospitality organizations and destinations. He suggested that we must adopt a sustainable and responsible model for recovery, with Covid-19 sweeping across the globe, all companies in the hospitality industry are facing an unprecedented threat. As we will combat the pandemic much better united than divided, we all need to come together to share ideas. This webinar will set a great example of what we can do by thinking in a bold and imaginative way. With the support of a focused and visionary people, I am optimistic that the state would be able to achieve astounding success against the pandemic in the days to come. He added that, the deliberations in today’s webinar would be a stepping stone in that direction and we ensure that the PHD Chamber at National Level will represent to the government the issues of Tourism Sector of J&K and will provide every support to the J&K Chapter in this direction. Shri Pradeep Multani joined Mr Chaya and Mr Aggarwal in welcoming the panelists and the delegates. It has been a favored destination for tourists from all across the world. The pandemic Covid-19 poses serious challenges for survival of this industry across nations and particularly for our people of Kashmir which have been suffering since August 2019. The hotel/tourism industry needs fresh solutions to these challenges. It is the time to assess how we all live, work, travel and relax. It is also time to be sensitive towards the vulnerability of the planet and demonstrate stronger determination to protect it. Companies and leaders with the higher sensitivity and emotional intelligence to address guest and employee concerns, with policies that demonstrate responsibility and will fare best of all. While the world has more important things to worry about right now, we’re encouraged by the fact that people still want to travel and are making plans to do this as soon as it is safe to do so. We should engage tour operators like MMT to design marketing campaign to attract domestic tourists first. Mr Multani explained in detail that what actions we shall take now to ensure to get leisure & business travelers back once we’re out of the crisis window, what the new normal will look like as country begin to end the lockdown and ease travel restrictions, New Protocols and standards for Hospitality sector and how to tackle major job cuts/layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown Mr Baldev Singh Raina and Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya welcomed the National leadership and the dignitaries of the session and set the tone for discussion. Mr Chaya, in his opening remarks mentioned that the country should know that the Tourism and its allied Sectors in J&K are under stress and lockdown from August-2019 and till date not a single honest diligent effort has been taken by government of India to fulfill the demands for damage control of this ailing sector of Industry which is In fact the major job provider of Union Territory. Chaya said that till the recovery will start we have to draw a road map to come out of this crisis at this juncture and the aim of organizing this webinar is to get suggestions from the experts and to draw a Road Map for Tourism Industry of J&K amid Covid-19. Mr Baldev Raina also echoed the sentiments of Mr Chaya and further added that bailout package for Tourism Sector is an urgent need as the sector has been suffering since long before the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic. He added that I have no doubt that, if all stakeholders — individuals and groups — play their part to the fullest in confronting COVID-19, the inherent resilience and determination of our people will enable us to pull through and to bring back to revitalize the tourism sector of J&K. Raina Stated that the objective of Today’s Webinar is to draft a Road map amid Covid-19 for hand holding the entrepreneurs of Tourism Industry and the intention of today’s webinar is focused to facilitate the drafting of suggestions and Road map for Tourism Sector of J&K. While concluding Raina mentioned that despite total internet blockade in Kashmir region, we managed to organize this webinar although around 200 stakeholders who were eager to join this webinar went disappointed and couldn’t get connected due to internet blockade. Mr Anil Khaitan, Former President PHDCCI in his introductory remarks raised several pertinent issues related to tourism continuity in India and the World over, Khaitan said that the Travel and Tourism Bussiness is on its Knees and no one knows when the fury of the virus will abate, Khaitan Suggested that there is need for Financial booster for hotels to sustain their existence for at least 6-Months, Finance and Loan at Special low interest rates to jump start the hotels/restaurants, special advertising campaign from Ministry of Tourism encouraging people to travel and explore within new SOP and guidelines from IMRC and WHO, reduction in GST rates as now the hotels will have to spend extra for providing medical/hygiene facilities to the staff and guests, there is need for medical facilities at dedicated government hospitals and clinics for Hotel staff and guests to face any untoward reality, and it is suggested that there should be a special certification of Health standards to hotel/restaurants that abide by government/WHO guidelines. While speaking in the programme, Mr K B Kachru, said that the inbound tourism has come to a halt with India under Lockdown and suggested that any plan of re-opening must be done keeping safety compliance’s and long term benefits in mind and for this we need to do ground level work to evaluate the things to survive from this pandemic situation. He further stated that as the industry in this sector is struggling for its survival and revival gets the second priority. But revival will happen soon because people are pent up and want to travel and move on if they are assured of the safety and hygiene. SOPs, Standards and validation audits must be planned now for consumer confidence and early revival. Industry has to work with State government for designing a graded opening of the economy with people understanding the ground realities. We have to identify our Pull factors and identify and develop our own Golden triangles and market them appropriately as safe and secure destinations. Mr Saleem Beg said that COVID 19 is an unprecedented emergency with which we have to adapt and move on. He suggested the forming of a working group to design an action plan with time lines and the same be presented to government with request for financial package for the Kashmir Tourism Industry. He said that we need to work on data to work out the size of the industry as there is no widely accepted figure related to the size of the industry. He said that the innate urge of people to travel cannot be curtailed for long which is evident from instances such as overselling of tickets of cruises by American Liners. Mr Rattan Keshwani focused on sending out a message of Safety, Security and Hygiene with respect to JK tourism. He informed the participants that the pandemic cannot be ignored or wished away. For hotel employees at all levels, it should be seen as an incentive to develop fresh skills and become more valued and marketable, as multi-functional, hands-on and strategically savvy individuals. For hotel owners and management, this is the start of a new era: the opportunity to learn from experience and use the freshly gained insight to develop more dynamic, creative, sustainable leadership that is fit for a brave new world. Mr Abid Vicky Shaw recommended on developing a campaign of COVID SAFE RESPONSIBLE TOURISM not only for the UT but across India, if people are assured that they will be looked for and will be safe they will decide to travel. Mr Arjumand Hussain Talib touched upon 4 point agenda including securing jobs and livelihoods, restructuring of existing government schemes to utilize the funds more effectively; a financial relief package for the tourism sector, and adaptation of new business model. Arjumand further added that Ziraat Times has started J&K Covid-19 Research Initiative of which the leading industry players of State Mr Mushtaq Chaya, Vikrant Kuthiala and Baldev Singh Raina are part of steering committee, the research is with an aim to better prepare diverse stakeholders of business and industry in J&K for the possible challenges and opportunities that could unfold as a result of Covid-19 crisis. The initiative will undertake in depth research into 10-economic, business and social issues of J&K, including scenario building for tourism sector. Mr Nasir Shah reiterated the request for financial package and support for Hotel industry in the UT. We need to learn from other countries like Malaysia which came out with new protocols for airlines and hotels. Liquidity is important and so is development of new norms and SOPs for tour operators and hotels and restaurants. Mr Vikrant Kuthiala, threw light on the problems of the tourism industry in the valley starting from pathetic situation of road transport particularly Jammu-Srinagar highway, the 4G network is absent, State government does not have any policy to mitigate the crisis, occupancy in hotels is at pittance, they have liquidity issues, etc. Hotels may have to cut jobs as hotel occupancies will be low, yatra has been drastically cut down. So customer confidence is essential. Kashmir has multi hill stations unlike Shimla or Mossouri or Dharamshala, therefore we need to promote diversified destinations. dispersing the tourist inflow to different destinations in the region. Mr Rakesh Wazir and Mr Rahul Sahai stressed that Kashmir and Jammu are interlinked and effect on tourism in one place affects the other. Therefore it is critical that the industry in two regions support each other’s demand. They echoed the sentiments of others on the need for support as the hotel industry which has been suffering since long has to not only pay wages to its employees but also spend on maintenance of the facilities without which the place will experience severe damages. Mr Rahul Sahai added and informed that the industry needs to focus on maintenance of facilities as this will send signals to customers and build their confidence and hotels need to redesign their places to be able to follow social distancing in banquets, pools, etc. Government needs to issue health certificates to hotels. We need to develop and follow SOP`s and win the confidence of tourists. Mr Saurabh Sanyal, Secretary General and Ms Mallika Verma concluded the meeting by thanking all the eminent speakers and the state leadership for the initiative. Ends. Media Division PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry