We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Himachal’s Tourism Industry has done it again.
A national daily carried an eye-catching illustrated piece under the headline Quarantine Tourism: Himachal gets ready to welcome tourists. This is the second time, recently, that our Himalayan neighbour has scooped us. The first was when it went all out to preserve its Heritage: the bells of its historic church and then its iconic British era administration building.
Why do we still shy away from passing a Heritage Act when beautiful old buildings, like the Mussoorie Library and the one occupied by the State Bank of India at Kulri, are endangered, apparently by state apathy?
Is the legendary “Developers’ Lobby”, which nearly devoured our historic Christ Church, still ravenous?
While the Covid-19 Pandemic is still hovering over us, why have we not announced the scrapping of the crowded mass-tourism scheme of the environmentally endangering Dehra-Mussoorie cable car project?
Why do our powerful Hoteliers, Traders and Taxi Owners Associations not demand that the State Government come out with a concrete Pandemic Recovery Proposal, for open discussion?
You don’t have to stage tamashas like dharnas or black-flag demonstrations. The print media still has the most lasting impact: it is not subject to the delete button. If you are really convinced about your cause, and have the izzat and the himmat to say it openly, buy space in the print media and assert it.
We’ll move onto some other topics.
We cannot predict how Transportation, Travel and Tourism (TTT) will fare in the immediate future. In all likelihood, business travellers will form the first wave of international visitors. They’ll be the Grey Collar workers: savvy young technicians, experienced shop-floor supervisors and the 20-going-on-60 hard-eyed and uncompromising buyers. They will come looking for new markets and collaborative opportunities. Many will represent companies fleeing from China. The Dragon realises this and has tried to create tension on our borders: business thrives in peace, not in troubled waters.
We should also expect a tentative rise in Domestic Tourism. It will start with a spurt in VFR: Visiting Friends and Relatives, as well as quests for the great outdoors among the children of our myriad millionaires. They are accustomed to vacationing abroad but since those watering-holes are forbidden, they’ll look for getaways in remote Indian destinations. This is the affluent traffic we should target creatively and determinedly.
Pilgrim tours, particularly short-haul visits, are likely to find favour with our luck-seeking traders. Those tour operators who can arrange special darshans will gain.
We see a growth in Rugged, Challenging, Experiences: the sort of thing promoted by high profile “Wilderness Guides and Survival Experts” with names like “Bear” and “Coyote”. One of our techie acquaintances did a gruelling, overland, self-drive car trip through Iceland, another climbed Everest. If you have the will and the money, the sherpas will get you up there, and back!
We have called this column Fast Forward to Yesterday because we believe that tourism has come full circle. This, in principle, was how things were when the famous travel Agents, Cox and Kings, started in 1758 as agents to the British Army. Then in 1841, a Baptist preacher got permission to take a temperance tour from Leicester to Loughborough by rail. His name was Thomas Cook.
With such chequered origins, it was natural for TTT to grow into a global, multi-disciplinary business providing the scaffolding on which many other world-spanning activities grew. Now, that the super-structure has collapsed, it is time to grow new shoots, applying past experiences to new opportunities.
Before we, in Mussoorie, can do that, however, we must do a little administrative sanitation. There are two, official-looking, tabulated statements floating around. They claim to be List of Hotels – Isolation Centres and List of Hotels – Paid Quarantine Centres. If they reach you, ignore them and, preferably, destroy them. They are wrong and could be gravely misleading.
While we are on the matter of misconceptions, our netas should brood on a single ignored truth: Tourism, in Uttarakhand, can lead to the growth of every one of your Ministries. Food, Fabrics, Festivals, Forests, Fitness, Folklore and Fishing have all been turned into profitable Tourism activities all over the world.
Himachal has discovered that. Hopefully our netas will, too.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)