Should Meghalaya’s post-COVID tourism thrust be all about the upend tourists?
The answer will be big ‘No’ if we are to take in to account how the middle-class tourists, mainly from Assam, have helped in money circulation in the local market by way of patronising the local vegetable farmers and vendors, mostly women.
A huge number of vegetable vendors, who enjoyed a buoyant business along the road leading to Sohra, Dawki etc, have fallen into bad days since March 20 this year, when the lockdown began and tourism came to a grinding halt.
That most of these stalls are now abandoned bear testimony to the disastrous effect of the sudden grinding halt to tourism. Only the very brave hang on with the hope that tourism opens up and the lockdown is eased so that even local visitors buy vegetables and fruit on their way up or down this highway.
On the way to Sohra, Dawki etc., beginning from 3rd Mile Upper Shillong right up to Mylliem and beyond many stalls had come up in the past few years selling fresh vegetables, fruits and other local products.
A conversation with those owning these stalls reveals that their products are mostly sold to tourists, especially the day tourists coming from Guwahati.
Two such vendors, S. Lyngdoh and T. Kshiar, rue the bad times that COVID has brought with it just when ) the tourism season was beginning.
“We earn about Rs 1000 on a good day and make a decent profit but COVID has made life difficult for us,” they disclosed adding that the buyers are mostly tourists from Guwahati.
“On a given day about 100-150 tourist vehicles pass this way. Most of them stop to buy the fresh radish we grow around here; the cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, mustard leaves (lai patta) which are not available in Guwahati,” Lyngdoh says.
Knowledgeable circles say that tourism is not just about destinations and luxury hotels.
For a state like Meghalaya, tourism provides many ancillary economic activities mainly food and tea stalls, vegetables and fruit stalls, jobs for tourist guides from the respective villages that are now jobless. And catering to tourists in hotels means that the local markets to are abuzz as their sales largely depend on procurement by hotels and guests house owners.
“It’s a whole circular economy and we are all interdependent. We were just thinking of promoting local massage by some of our traditional masseurs but for now, all those plans have had to be shelved,” a tour promoter said.
Meanwhile, all eyes are now on Goa which had opened for domestic tourists since July 2 this year with all standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place. The Goa Government has put in place strict protocols of airport test and quarantine of 48 hours until the test results are out. At the same time, the Government says Goa is so heavily dependent on tourism that it has no option but to open up.
In sharp contrast, due to COVID infections, Meghalaya is rightly reluctant to throw open the doors to tourists. But the worrying part is that the new tourism policy is going to put thrust on niche tourists rather than budget tourists much to the jeopardy of the local vendors. It is the latter category of tourists who, by their sheer number, lend stability to the ancillary activities, they argue.
Question is will the policy framers listen?
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