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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Let’s Worry About Xenophobia If Tourism Has To Revive Soon


Prateek Hira
Prateek Hirahttp://www.tornosindia.com
Mr. Prateek Hira is the Founder President & CEO of Tornos, and two other exclusive brands Gastroutes and Indian Frontiers. Mentioned as an Out – Of – Box tour operator by leading travel magazines, he was first to introduce walking tours back in 1994, and food walks in 1995. He is also the Chairman of IATO - Indian Association of Tour Operators for the states Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand.

In my earlier article, I clearly mentioned seeing xenophobia making inroads if COVID-19 issue is not handled well psychologically by our government, now it seems to be actually creeping in, even before corona situation is laid to rest. The early signs are evident with naked eyes and the warning is on the wall for all to read and understand. Probably we are so engrossed in containing coronavirus that we have blinded ourselves for this disease to take over us and this would be for a longer time and deadlier than COVID-19. 

Let us first understand what ‘xenophobia’ is and then underline all the fears. Xenophobia is defined as resentment or hatred for foreigners. And this could be for many underlying social reasons that may have roots in history. This word originated from Greek, ‘Xenos’, which meant people from another land and ‘Phobia’ of course comes from another Greek word, ‘phobos’, meaning ‘fear’. Simply put, ‘xenophobia’ is a conflict of host and guest where guests (foreigners or people of another race or origin or even domicile) are seen with suspicion by ingroups, often seeing them as the reason of their miseries and problems. 

Foreign Virus not Foreign Invasion

From the beginning of the COVID-19 era, we have projected as if we were holier than all, and all problems came from foreign lands. The first reported tourist group that was Corona infected was from Italy and then on, we looked at all foreigners with an eye of suspicion. In some places ‘Chinese’ became a cuss word, not only that we looked at Chinese with suspicion but even saw Chinese food, Chinese goods et al. with suspicion and hell broke loose when we in north India saw northeasterners of India having Chinese facial similarities with utter suspicion and as a potential threat. Statements coming from the United States and calls on social media to shun Chinese goods and whatnot, only added to this unfortunate hate-wave.  

China is (at least was) a huge tourist market for the world. Each country loved the Chinese tourist influx and their new spending patterns. A dedicated Chinese tourist attraction policy was in place and many countries relied largely on the Chinese travellers to boost their tourism economy and that included India as well. Suddenly, we are talking quite opposite only because the virus originated in one small place of that country though they too suffered but silently and efficiently contained it.

Slamming a nationality or a country, in my opinion, was wrong in the first place and the worst was, not containing all the negative unverified news that did the rounds. This probably was the first sign of creeping in of xenophobia and this having a further ripple to include all top reporting countries, including US, UK, Spain, and France some of the top tourist source markets for India.       

Analysing the data from 2018, barring Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Bhutan, we have about 75% foreign tourist arrivals from all other places that might get depleted in case xenophobia creeps in and if we are unable to manage the situation well.  

The right way would now be to decipher right information and percolate this to Indian masses, if we have to arrest the xenophobia at this early stage and minimise the potential harm to tourism due to this. After all, tourism is people’s industry and without the support and willingness of hosts (locals) it just cannot survive.

On another front, coronavirus unfortunately in India is being viewed as a religious and regional disease too where within our own country we are looking at people from outside our own religions and regions with great suspicion as if all are carriers of it and have been knowingly and intentionally spreading and harming all others. Videos and news of police brutality that is being circulated on social media too are very unfortunate and nowhere an infected person who is actually a patient is dealt in this manner. In villages and low-income urban clusters, entry of outsiders is not only banned but people guarding entry points are rude and inconsiderate, similarly, in high-income residential apartments they are having their own protocols and behaviour of security guards and residents welfare associations is no different than village folks. Imagine such restrictions being ‘new normal’, how unfortunate this could be when our own people become unwelcoming and uncomfortable in guests’ company.

I am not trying to read between the lines but only visualising airports, railways stations, historical monument entries, check-ins, security checks, immigration, customs and so many procedures that travellers will go through when travel begins. India’s security protocols have been loudly visible which are always feared by foreign travellers (at least first-time traveller to India) and now I am fearing same on health protocols which to me are not welcoming or comforting at all. Of course, protocols be followed in letter and spirit but according to me should not be harped so much as we do for everything in India.

Now considering domestic tourism, Indian states of Gujrat, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and even Delhi (comparing Delhi’s size against the tourist generating capacity) are known to be amongst the best tourist generating states. Now an examination of these against coronavirus shows, Gujrat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Delhi also being the worst hit in India. In such a scenario, how unfortunate it could be for other states to see the residents of these states with an element of doubt and suspicion.

We all are talking about ‘New Normal, really hope this doesn’t become ‘New Abnormal’.  

Patients of corona virus need to be seen with sympathy not with hatred

Many might differ with me and if they do, without any resentment I give in and accept their difference of opinion with me, as this is purely my own personal feeling and surely not imposing on any.

In India, COVID-19 was somehow made to be showcased worst than terrorism, and patients were somehow made to feel as they were terrorists. The way police took them away, the way it was publicised, “a case found”, “a case unearthed”, “warriors”, “war” and whatnot. I seriously think sympathy and empathy got missing. Then the kind of news about lodging police cases if a patient is found, sealing of hospitals, making companies responsible for infected staff et al are some other examples why I personally feel so. Having said that, now things are changing and the narratives of our health agencies, etc too have changed, plus of course, latest protocols of handling it too have gone through a change, but again, it’s probably late and a lot of damage to our psyche has already been done.

This is one reason why many cases went unreported; patients went into hiding and did not come forward due to the stigma attached to it. And then most of the quarantine facilities and hospitals were not up to the mark in India where patients or suspects were kept. Had it been open to private hospitals, at least the ones who could afford would have been comfortable reporting early symptoms. Not sure why is it here too that government has a trust deficit on private health facilities or is it a justifiable safeguard? – but now slowly private hospitals have to be opened with COVID Care wards and quarantine rooms at least to create better-paid facilities and opening up options for well to do people coming forward for treatments if required. I particularly appreciate the government’s move of offering paid hotel rooms for Indian nationals being brought from different countries as a part of their mass international repatriation exercise. The ones who wish to quarantine themselves in comfortable environs, may pay and do so, while others may choose free government facilities. At least this gives some amount of dignity and comfort to people who already are distressed and extremely worried too thinking about the disease.  

Differentiate Corona Virus from other deadlier diseases and causes of mortality.   

This should be done with real speed now and with a proper strategy in place. Fear of coronavirus has been instilled far more than it deserved. Fear of the disease is actually worse than the disease itself and only retards recovery. Now that the government is loosening the protocols, our very own AIIMS Director is heard saying. “do not fear, only take due precautions” and that the mortality rate in India is negligible as compared to other ailments thus now is the time for this fact to percolate well down to the last man.

India’s literacy rate is about 74% and the higher education rate (age 18 to 23 years) is only roughly 27%. This makes it so difficult for a larger majority of people to analyse and understand in the right perspective such threats themselves. In such circumstances, we really will have to work hard to contain the fear of the disease now than to curb the disease itself.

Ethics of tourism always teach to accept and treat guests well without distinction of their nationality, colour, race, religion, caste, or creed. “Atithi Devo Bhava” is India’s very own culture and suddenly we might be unknowingly going against it due to this dreaded virus that we all know is only temporary in nature and has nothing to do with any nationality, colour, race, religion, caste or creed.

Our government has really done well in managing the virus till now and has in fact laid a good example of how a developing country can score over developed nations with a political will. But now as we decide to open up in phases after being under lockdown, we see many challenges, of which ‘Fear’ has to be really dealt with well and then the clutter of information in people’s mind has to be rationalised, in order to deal with the virus and help all be safe and healthy, and yet coexist till the time we have an effective cure or better still a protective vaccine.  

The attention should be, not to allow xenophobia to make inroads as if it does, it will be really difficult not only to revive an economy that is globalised now but also will set tourism back by very many years and it will also project India in bad light around the world. 

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