The Omicron, the latest variant of COVID-19, is casting an ominous shadow on the international tourism industry. It will be a long time before tourism returns to its former self.
Thailand, which reportedly hosted 40 million tourists in 2019 with revenue peaking at US$59 billion, had planned for a fraction of arrivals and revenue for 2022. Now with Omicron travelling across the countries at supersonic speed, it is at a crossroads just like every other tourism destination.
The international media is agog with tourism news and its recovery potentials. A few days ago, EMEA President Satya Anand of the Marriot International was on France 24 Channel TV giving a lengthy overview on the risky road to tourism future. The news 'Euro 1.8 trillion loss in tourism in 2021' scrolled during the programme.
Earlier, I watched a panel discussion on tourism under the clouds of the new COVID-19 variant on Zee Business. Subhas Goyal, adviser to the Ministry of Tourism, was the most vocal.
His STIC Travel has played a seminal role in promoting tourism not only in India but also in Nepal. His company was GSA and PSA for our national carrier in India.
During the TV panel discussion, Goyal informed that COV- ID had battered the Indian tourism industry that once generated US$30 billion. Before the onslaught of the pandemic, tourism contributed nearly 6.87 per cent to India's GDP and 8.23 per cent to the jobs market.
The other two panelists' contributions were minimum. A certain Dr Rawat from the government COVID-19 team gave the official voice on the precondition for opening tourism. He spoke of a 14-day quarantine across the country.
Goyal countered why it was necessary to put the tourists who had taken two or more vaccinations on a lengthy quarantine.
He felt that the hospitals in India could take care of the tourists who come under the COVID weather. Although the government advisor, his voice is still of the private trader. But the discussion hammered home the importance of tourism to the Indian economy. Such public debates will force the government to listen and come up with practical solutions.
We in the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal need to have meaningful dialogues and discussions on the revival of tourism in the face of the Omicron variant. The good news is despite the uncertainty, new hotels of various sizes and shapes are cropping up all over the country. Nepal's tourism recovery will hinge on the local tourists, provided the government can keep the pandemic at bay.
Still, we need brainstorming and firefighting for seeking a big pie of the international tourism industry when COV- ID-19 recedes.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 10, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.