HVS Monday Musings: Rethinking Heritage Tourism in the Post-COVID India
By Mandeep S Lamba, MRICS, President (South Asia), New Delhi and Dipti Mohan, Senior Manager - Research, New Delhi
India is ranked 6th on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites globally, with 38 World Heritage Sites, much ahead of global peers such as Australia, the UK, the US, and Japan. Heritage tourism in the country has been growing rapidly over the past few years as India blessed with centuries of intriguing history, numerous forts, palaces, and monuments attracted a growing number of domestic as well as international tourists. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to this growth story due to the temporary closure of heritage sites across the country. Even though most of these sites and monuments were reopened to public in September 2020, they have not yet seen much traction as tourists have been wary of crowded places and are visiting remote destinations instead.
The way forward
Going forward, effective marketing campaigns communicating the COVID safety measures being implemented for different activities such as heritage/cultural walks, cycle tours, culinary events etc. at the various heritage destinations are of primary importance to rebuild tourist confidence and trust. Emphasis on conservation, preservation and restoration of the heritage sites should be increased. The government's 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme that promotes public-private partnership by encouraging companies and individuals to develop and maintain heritage sites in a sustainable manner as part of their CSR activity is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be promoted and executed aggressively.
Focused efforts are also needed to increase the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Only 42 additional sites have been nominated to be included in the World Heritage list while there are close to 3,700 centrally protected monuments/sites under the ASI in the country.
Though connectivity to heritage sites has improved in the last few years, lack of infrastructure and amenities is still a challenge which has negatively impacted tourist arrivals to these destinations. The massive investments for improving the road and rail network in the country announced in the recent Union Budget will further improve the last-mile connectivity to these places going forward. The improving connectivity will in turn encourage private investments especially in infrastructure development (including basic amenities like restrooms as well as peripheral infrastructure such as hotels and restaurants) at these sites.
Focus on digitization and sustainability has increased in the COVID era. As a result, investments on technology to ensure contact-less transactions, creating advanced reservation apps and setting up daily visitor limits etc. to proactively reduce overcrowding at the monuments and sites once people start traveling again will be crucial for the revival of this segment in the post-COVID world.