The coronavirus pandemic has taken away a lot – lives, economy, health and any semblance of normality. This year we have missed everything connected to life and how to enjoy life. This pandemic has affected the socio-economic life of the people across the world that generated their income from various sectors including tourism. Tourism industry contributes almost 10 per cent to India’s GDP and is believed to cover almost five crores direct and indirect jobs. Nobody can deny that travel and tourism is one sector that has been hit brutally by the pandemic.
It is no hidden fact that Meghalaya is an exotic destination in the country. The State depends on tourism for its vast economic growth, and in summers, the State becomes an easy den for tourists. The State has an immense tourism potential as it is blessed with bountiful nature, forests, waterfalls, caves, wildlife, flora and fauna and the tourism sector played a pivotal role in providing direct and indirect employment to the local people. As per statistics, in 2019, Meghalaya recorded 1.2 million tourist footfalls.
Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector in Meghalaya had gained momentum and looked promising. But suddenly this year, the situation turned so bad. The State is not bustling with the usual tourist footfall, hotels and homestays are empty and tourist spots are desolate. As a result unemployment has soared record high as hoteliers, home stay owners and tourism agencies across the spectrum have furloughed employees. It is the first time in so many years that Meghalaya has seen such a drop in footfall of tourists.
While the tourism industry in India has come to a halt since March 18 this year as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Meghalaya has seen the devastating impact on the tourism industry since mid December last year. This was due to intermittent spells of curfew and invocation of Section 144, following protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and also the violent incidents in the aftermath of the Ichamati riot.
Since then, several tourism, hoteliers and home stay operators in Shillong, Sohra, Mawlynnong, Shnongpdeng and other tourist spots whose livelihood depends upon the tourism industry have eventually shut down. This invisible sector has had a domino effect on the economy, as not only travel agents but the further chain of tourist guides, transporters, tea sellers, restaurants at the tourist destinations faces the brunt due to the ripple effect. People dependent on the tourism sector are experiencing severe economic loss. The future of the tourism sector is anybody’s guess.
Sadly, the vagueness of a concrete plan on the part of the State government to revive the tourism industry is going to have lasting effects on the industry. As a measure to boost the ailing industry, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has proposed to develop a ‘Covid-19 resilient model’ to sustain the tourism industry. But till date the government is yet to announce the revival measures. The Meghalaya government has also formed a task force to study the challenges faced by the tourism sector during the coronavirus situation but the recommendations and action plan of this task force are yet to be seen on the ground.
With no visibility of tourist inflows, the Meghalaya tourism industry is now looking at large scale bankruptcies and business closures which will in turn lead to more job losses across towns and rural areas. Even if the tourists are keen on visiting the State, they are discouraged by the situation of security, inability to explore the destination and other restrictions. With the tourism businesses on hold, there is fear that this has the potential to set the negative course for the tourism, travel and hospitality industry in the State, taking it years behind.