[ Dr M Lama ]
Tourism is one of the worst affected sectors by the Covid-19 pandemic. Arunachal Pradesh, the land of dawn-lit mountains, has lost an estimated 2.02 lakh tourist arrivals during mid-March to June as issuing of tourist ILP was temporarily suspended on 17 March to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The loss in tourist arrivals occurred as the lockdown period coincided with the peak tourist season in the state. March-May happens to be the peak tourist season in the state as it receives around 32 percent of the total tourist arrivals in a year during this period. The loss in tourist arrivals is likely to have a huge negative economic impact on the state’s tourism sector, which had been progressing well in the last few years.
In fact, the state has been emerging as one of the most favoured tourist destinations of India. Situated in the eastern Himalayan ranges, the state is one of the most beautiful and attractive place on planet Earth. The hilly and mountainous topography of the state, with the presence of numerous river valleys, peaks, passes, lakes, waterfalls and dense green forests make its landscape highly mesmerizing and scenic. The state has the pride of having 79.63 percent of its total area under forest cover which houses a diverse species of flora and fauna, some of which are highly rare and endemic.
The state is also rich in historical and cultural heritage sites such as the Itafort, the Bhalukpong fort, Bishmaknagar, Galden Namgyal Lhatse (Tawang monastery), Parasuram Kund, etc. The colourful festivals and unique cultures and traditions of different tribes of the state are added attractions for the tourists.
Thus, the state has a high potential to attract tourists for various types of tourism, such as nature-based and ecotourism, heritage tourism, cultural and pilgrimage tourism, adventure tourism, rural tourism, wildlife-based tourism and spiritual tourism.
Some of the important identified tourist destinations of the state are Itanagar, Tawang, Bomdila, Dirang, Tippi, Bhalukpong, Ziro, Malinithan, Aalo, Pasighat, Parasuram Kund, and the Namdapha National Park. In the last few years, the tourist arrivals in the state has been growing rapidly due to dedicated efforts made by the state government in the form of organizing fairs and festivals, infrastructure development, vigorous advertisement, simplifying entry formalities (online issue of tourist ILPs), and promoting tourist cab services under the Chief Minister’s Paryatan Vikas Yojana.
The number of tourist arrivals in the state has increased from 50,873 (50,560 domestic and 313 foreign tourists) in 2005 to 5,200,89 (5,124,36 domestic and 7,653 foreign tourists) in 2018. During 2010 to 2018, tourist arrivals in the state grew at a compound annual growth rate of 9.42 percent, which is higher than the northeastern regional average of 5.4 percent. The high growth of tourist arrivals in the state indicates that tourism can be one of the engines of growth of the state’s economy if it is promoted with proper planning and management.
The state’s share in total tourist arrivals in the region improved from 3.72 percent in 2010 to 5.20 percent in 2018. Currently, the state is ranked 4th among the eight states of the region in terms of its share in total tourist arrivals in the region.
Using time series data on tourist arrivals from 2005 to 2018, it is estimated that the total tourist arrivals in the state in 2020 would be 6.005 lakhs, had there been no pandemic. Due to the lockdown, the state has lost an estimated 33.70 percent of total tourist arrivals during mid-March to June, which is 2.02 lakh tourists.
With average spending of tourist per person estimated at Rs 7,585, the total loss in direct sales from tourism was estimated at Rs 153.27 crore till June, owing to the pandemic. The total loss of income from tourism to the state was estimated at Rs 142.43 crore, which is 0.91 percent of the gross state value added. The loss of income from tourism could be even higher if the pandemic continues for few more months.
As tourism is highly sensitive to sociopolitical disturbances and pandemic, it may take some more time for the revival of this sector. Even if the travel restrictions are lifted and tourist ILPs issued, people may hesitate to visit the state until the Covid-19 pandemic is fully controlled. The government cannot do much to help the tourism sector, but it can provide some incentives and concessions to mitigate the sufferings of the people involved in tourism business.
The measures which can be taken are: tax concession to tourism businesses; use hotels and lodges to quarantine returnees; engage tourist cabs to transport returnees; and temporary engage workers of tourism sector to fight Covid-19.
These measures can provide some income and employment opportunities to the people involved in tourism businesses. Further, as the duration of the pandemic is uncertain, people involved in tourism businesses can be encouraged to take up alternative activities through special schemes.
The state also needs to publish the state’s tourism statistics, in line with the Indian tourism statistics, which can provide vital statistics for policy formulation concerning the tourism sector. (The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, RGU, Rono Hills. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
[ Dr M Lama ]