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Tourism CAN save us, IF…


We, the Government


The GP’s editorial Recovery Mode (GP 23.5.20) hit the nail hard and squarely on the head. It said: “The entire chain of transportation, hotels and tourism that feeds the state’s economy requires imaginative solutions to become operational again”. Then it added, “Representatives of the tourism industry in the state, for instance, have been seeking all kinds of relief, but have not put forward models of functioning that are viable under the present conditions.”

We have been closely associated with the Tourism Industry for many decades. Sadly, we have not seen the Movers and Shakers of Indian Tourism so subservient to netas and babus as they are today. Quite apart from rolling over on their backs every time a political party wants to convert their hotels into 5-star Internment Camps for its purchased politicians, the Industry seems to be strangely dumb when it comes to informing our fellow citizens about the critical role it plays in the Indian and Global Economy. There are, admittedly, some shining exceptions to this craven rule but the majority, sadly, behave as if they are invertebrates!

So, if you are too spineless to speak out, dear colleagues, we’ll do it for you.

Transportation, Travel and Tourism are Siamese Triplets joined at the hip. Transportation is the Business of Movement. Travel is the Business of the Movement of People. Tourism is the Business of the Movement of People in Pursuit of Re-creation. We have hyphenated the last word to bring out its true meaning: the Creation of Something New, Discovery and Exploration. This is not just a whim: it is a genetic compulsion found in one in every five people who have the Restless Gene: DRD4 7R. These people generally become leaders. Often, however, after the first generation of gene-gifted pioneers have blazed a trail, they hand over to the Consolidators and Plodders. These next-generation folk, who have inherited a good life, are averse to risk-taking and prefer to plod rather than leap as their founding fathers had.

Our Tourism seems to have reached this pedestrian stage. Most of the present generation of top tourism professionals prefer to pander to the fads of political bullies rather than question their rent-seeking suggestions. In the last column we described how a creative Arab ruler had turned his barren sand dunes and arid boulder-strewn slopes into money-making tourist attractions. That was positive thinking. We, too, should start thinking creatively.

As soon as the lockdown is eased enough to permit people to travel, well-heeled people will want to escape to cool, distant, places with wide horizons. We have plenty of such high and lonely destinations. Most of them are beautiful. We must use them in their pristine, undeveloped state.

Set up tented camps in such places. Offer your clients all options from Rugged through Comfortable to Luxury; also from You Alone through Friendly Groups to Shared Interest Escapes. There is no limit to the variations on this theme. Our well meaning Uttarakhand Sarkar must remember that such activities, if intelligently handled, could make an economic asset of even a ‘Ghost Village’ and, gradually, help repopulate it and encourage a Reverse Migration. Think of the romance of pony treks, camp-fires, legends, gifted video recordings and a free album: Memories of Our Uttarakhand Escape. But don’t believe that this will happen overnight This will be a new, carefully crafted work with strong foundations being laid at every step before moving on to the next. The preliminary steps must be taken now: to identify the first locations to be visited by the first Escapees from the Pandemic. Involve SDMs, DMs and Panchayat heads in a competition for the best choice and in the planning of the first Escape. Reward the civic authorities of the most successful Escape. If these well-heeled tourists have a memorable experience, and this is well publicised by them and by our creative Uttarakhandis, then there will be no looking back.

But if this becomes another foot-dragging exercise then we should fold our tents and slowly fade away. Himachal, we feel, will be only too happy to make a success of it and we are sure that there are many competent Uttarakhandis who would be delighted to help our Himalayan neighbour.

(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.)