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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020 10:15 [IST]

Last Update: Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020 04:44 [IST]

COVID-19 and scope for tourism sector

Before Sikkim’s tourism entered its peak season in March, the country went into a stringent lockdown and the tourism industry has been hit the hardest. Sikkim’s tourism revenue loss is projected to be more than 500 crores, with thousands of people losing their jobs. So it’s no surprise then that state governments are rushing to restart tourism from the month of October. In the absence of a major overhaul of tourism policies however, this could expose vulnerable local communities to the coronavirus, while offering little reassurance to potential travelers. As we are going through a new "normal" and learn to live with COVID-19, Sikkim’s tourism industry must evolve to create a COVID-ready destination, one that is also sustainable and resilient in the long run:
Rather one can say that the great pause brought about by COVID-19 has offered such destinations a much-needed breather – and a rare opportunity to assess their tourism carrying capacity. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines carrying capacity as “the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic, socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors”. Once measured, it can be implemented through prior registration, travel permits, limiting the number of rooms available or a tiered tourist tax
Tourism needs to evolve in the new normal to create better places to live first, and host second. When tourism development focuses on the needs of the local community – incentivizing the preservation of our traditional way of life but also facilitating access to urban conveniences, it automatically creates destinations worth visiting. In turn, it helps pave the way for long-term sustainability and resilience. Souse tourism as a means to develop better places to live, not an end in itself.In Sikkim for instance, that means refocusing on indigenous sustainability practices and in a world wrecked by climate change, positioning Sikkim as an ecological paradise rather than a hill station for mass tourism.
I think the days of weekend getaways and selfie tourism isgone, as we learn to live with COVID-19. Tourism Department  must launch a public awareness campaign targeted at potential travellers with clear directions on coronavirus safety (including their interaction with locals) and an emphasis on meaningful experiences, supporting local livelihoods and being mindful of the environment.As tourism shifts towards creating better places to live, Sikkim can be repositioned as slow travel destinations encouraging people to spend more time in a single spot as they continue to “work from home”.COVID-19 – despite its negative impact on the tourism industry, can be turned into a rare opportunity to fix challenges that have long plagued the sector. Our tourism policies must evolve to create a COVID-ready, sustainable, resilient destination, to gradually unleash the Sikkim’s immense tourism potential.

(The writer is an advocate from Sikkim)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi