Northeast tourism urges Centre to formulate revival plan

 Friday, December 25, 2020 


A post-COVID-19 stock-taking deliberation on the state of tourism in the Northeast held hereearlier this week threw up not only the challenges staring at the nascent industry of the region but also opportunities that could be harnessed in the wake of the pandemic.

The discussion between private and government stakeholders, organised on December 20 as part of the two-day North East Festival, put the onus on the governments of the region to draw up an integrated policy to open up the sector for its revival.

Now that the tourism industry has to subsist only on domestic tourists for some time, the discussion hovered around ensuring hassle-free travel for inbound tourists across the Northeast.

“Travel experience changes immensely after every crisis and so will it be post Covid-19. We are all hoping for a better 2021 but forecasting possibilities is very difficult at this moment,” said Ranjit Das, the president of Assam Tour Operators Association.

Das observed that “when mainland India tourists think of travelling to the Northeast, they want to visit at least two to three states at one go.”

“This means we need horizontal collaboration between the state tourism departments, the tourism associations of the eight states and also the transport associations. That is why we feel that dialogue is very important at this point. We need uniform protocol for seamless travel across the region,” said Das, the moderator of the business-to-business discussion.

Tour operators from the region taking part in the two-hour-long deliberation sought a clearer standard operating procedure (SOP) from the state governments with regard to tourists.

Pointing at the constraints they are facing due to the existing guidelines meant for travellers, R.K. Sharma, founding member, Manipur Tourism Forum, said, “As a tour operator what I have been facing since the last one month or so, the time since tourists have begun trickling into the region, is lack of a clear SOP by the government on what kind of permit or clearance a visitor needs to procure for smooth travel across the region.”

He offered an example, “I have a client who arrived in Guwahati last week with all the necessary test results and documents following which she was allowed to move around Assam. After four days, she wanted to go to Arunachal Pradesh, which meant she had to do a fresh RT-PCR test to enter that state as the 72-hour deadline since her test to enter Assam had expired.

She was in Kaziranga by then, but couldn’t locate any lab nearby to get the test done, and had to drive to Tezpur town to get herself tested, spend a night there to collect the report the next day to proceed to Arunachal. As a tour operator, I had no way of giving her any clear instructions as I was not sure myself where these tests were being done.”

“Since Meghalaya will open for tourists from December 21, any tourist visiting the Northeast will face the same problem as the 72-hour norm will be applicable there too,” he underlined.

In his home state Manipur, the government has lifted the need for a mandatory test since December 18. “Still, the border town of Moreh (borders Myanmar), which most domestic tourists want to visit, is not open yet,” he added.

Tourists travelling from Assam need to drive through Nagaland to reach Manipur. Nagaland has not yet opened for tourists, though it has allowed visitors to pass through the state without a stopover.

“For a tourist, say, travelling from Kaziranga in Assam to Imphal takes over 12 hours, which is a challenge if he is not allowed an overnight halt anywhere in Nagaland. I think the government of Nagaland should think of an overnight special permit for tourists without the need for quarantine,” Sharma said.

With different rules for different states which don’t suit domestic tourists, Sharma offered a suggestion, “The governments in the region can sort out the bottleneck by issuing a common permit to a tourist or a single test that could suffice the entire circuit.”

“Such a request must be put to the Union home ministry or the health ministry by all stakeholders.”

Speaking at the discussion, R. Lalrodingi, advisor (banking and industries) at the north eastern council (NEC) under the ministry of the department of north eastern region (DoNER), batted for the promotion of tourists from within the region too to travel to each other’s states. “I think it will be also be a safe option.”

Concurring with her idea of inter-state tourism, Das suggested, “There are several good community tourism projects across the region about which we ourselves are not very well aware of. May be, the NEC should map these projects for us to be able to promote them not only within the region but to mainstream Indian tourists too. It can also hold some familiarisation fairs on such community tourism initiatives.”

Shyamkanu Mahanta, the festival organiser, prodded those in the sector and the government to focus more on high-end tourism in the region.

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