The hotel and tourism industry has dealt the biggest blow from the pandemic. In South Asia, it has massive socio-economic implications. In a discussion, entrepreneurs of the industry chalks out the way forward.
The whole world is reeling from the deadliest pandemic in history. As the situation prolongs, economies around the world have entered into a synchronised recession. The economic fallout has multidimensional implications which will persist for years to come. Undoubtedly, the tourism and hotel sector has been the hardest hit from the pandemic.
In a discussion titled, “RESTART ASIAN ECONOMIES: Ideas and Actions for the Hotel Industry”, hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), the panellists discussed the current state of the hotel industry. They explained the magnitude of the crisis and its implications on the local economy. The interaction facilitated the exchange of ideas, challenges faced by the entrepreneurs and their solutions as well as the role of the government towards reviving the sector. Moderated by Dr Nazmul Hossain, Country Representative, FNF, Bangladesh the session was panellists were Dr Mariyam Shakeela, Former Cabinet Minister (Maldives), CEO, SIMDI Group and Mrs Bhawani Rana (Nepal), President, Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Managing Director of Hotel Sneha Pvt Ltd.
Bhawani Rana expressed her anguish about the current situation. Her hotel, which is near the Indian border in the UP area, has seen the number of guests tanking. The loss has been multidimensional, not only in Nepal but for the entire region. Because the cross-border tourism industry prevalent for famous and adventure tourism has taken a hit. The sector has grown exponentially in the past decade and has become an essential part of the local economy. Realistically, it will take another two to three years to take the sector back to its initial growth rate. She also points out that the industry is exceptionally pivotal for Nepal, and entrepreneurs are working with the government to ensure that all the stakeholders manage to weather the storm. Currently, they are working with the government to finalise a revival package which will facilitate much needed support the sector needs.
On the other hand, Dr Mariyam Shakeela lamented that the impact has been worse than the 2004 Tsunami and the 2008 global financial crisis put together. Maldives is a small island state, and this has a unique vulnerability to external impacts. The economy has contracted significantly and all the businesses are very much directly and indirectly related to the tourism industry; the impact is enormous on all the entrepreneurs. The tourism sector is essential for our country, none of the other businesses, not most of the businesses will not survive without it. The Maldives Government is drawing up strategies to bring back tourism into the country. Strategies policies and guidelines have been put in place that are developed based on research internationals case studies and industry.
The panelists discussed on the ways to ensure a robust growth of th sector in the region and highlighted some key areas that the stakeholders need to focus:
Diversification of Tourism: South Asian countries should look to diversify their respective tourism sector depending on their strengths. Every country in the region may not be capable of attracting the same type of visitors. Countries can specialise on the different types of tourism ranging from religious to medical. It will allow each country to specialise on the specific sector which will lead to a drastic improvement in the quality of service. Concurrently, it will allow the tourists more options and better choices according to their preferred type of travel. It can be done on a consensus basis among the nations in the region.
Designing New Experience: The panellists agreed on creating tourism that is compatible with the safety standards of the post-COVID-19 world. The entrepreneurs of the sector will have to innovate ways to make the tourists feel safe while spending precious time with their families. The implementation of the strategy might be different depending on the nature of tourists’ respective countries cater. However, the marketing initiatives should be centred on the new normal.
Government Support: The hotel and tourism industry is the hardest hit from the pandemic and will recover last from it. Governments across the region must undertake this fact under consideration and act with a long-term strategy to revive the sector. The revival effort must be based on a comprehensive approach; the government should have a fiscal, monetary and diplomatic approach to this situation.
The respective governments should continue providing stimulus packages and loans to ensure the stakeholders of the industry survive this period. The pandemic has caused a lot of job losses in the industry globally, as the market is not going back to its initial growth rate, unemployment will keep persisting. The authorities should provide financial support and facilitate employment and training for the growing unemployed pool.
Stronger Diplomatic Ties: Strong diplomatic relations between the countries has the potential to change the region’s economy and its not exclusively for the hotel industry. Ensuring a smoother visa process and easing travel restrictions will exponentially increase tourism and will facilitate a boom in the hotel industry. It will generate millions in revenue for the respective governments and create employment opportunities for the growing young population. It can allow regional tourists the chance to enjoy cheaper holidays and the industry more revenues as it will take some time for the European tourists to return to the region. The entrepreneurs are already taking initiatives to accelerate regional tourism. They are working on establishing private sector to private sector MOUs and advocating the same between governments.
Watch the entire session here: