Over 26000 tourists visited Meghalaya since Dec 2020: CM Conrad Sangma
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Tuesday informed that the total number of tourists who came to the State since the facilitation centre was set up at Umling in Ri Bhoi district is 26,123.
Giving a break-up of the figure during the ongoing budget session of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly, the CM said that, as of December 2020, the registered number of tourists was 5551, 9558 in January 2021, 9664 in February and 1350 till 4th of March 2021.
Reacting to a question raised by Congress legislator Mohendro Rapsang, Sangma said that when tourism was re-opened in the State, tourists who wished to stay for less than 48 hours, were turned away.
“The State Cabinet had decided that during COVID time, we need to be extra careful; therefore, based on COVID situation, it was felt that if the tourists are coming in, they should not be one-day tourists... Let it be the serious tourists who want to stay and add revenue to the State. That is why we decided to allow tourists to come in and stay for at least 48 hours,” he said.
Later, the duration was changed to 24 hours as the situation improved, Sangma added.
The CM further admitted that people had faced inconvenience but, “that was not our purpose. The idea was to keep our people safe; at the same time, ensure that serious tourists come in and that some revenue was earned by our stakeholders.”
Meghalaya witnessed a huge drop in the number of tourists last year because of COVID lockdowns and restrictions.
“Last year was a very difficult year. Tourism was one of the first to be hit and last to recover. It was a difficult situation for stakeholders,” he said, adding that apart from "strong, aggressive" marketing strategies and information passed on to the tourists, the government has taken several steps to revive the sector.
Sangma said that flights are being pushed from different metros, high-resolution and good quality videos for tourism locations were created, investment in infrastructure, stakeholders were trained through different government schemes besides others.
“Multiple factors are going on. We have worked in one year to clear the externally-aided projects from New Development Bank (NDB) amounting to Rs 700 crore,” he said.
All these will be invested in infrastructure projects, upgrading work in rural areas besides, creating a user-friendly app that keeps travel agents connected to enable tourists to register easily and connect to different programmes, he added.
"This year will be crucial for us because a large number of these infrastructure projects will be implemented this year," Sangma said.
Replying to a question on relief packages for stakeholders, the CM said, “There was no specific proposal to give general relief to everybody but, whatever possible help the government could provide, that was done. There are a large number of businesses that have taken government property on lease. For that, we realised that they could not recover the money, so we decided to waive off the one year’s dues that they had to pay to the government that amounts to almost Rs 1.82 crore," Sangma added.
He said that the stakeholders were directly and indirectly integrated into the fight against COVID, like entrusting work for the preparation of food and lodging for COVID patients and front line workers.
"Rs 20 crore was spent on hotels alone, out of which Rs 10.6 crore has already been cleared and, the remaining Rs 8.9 crore is yet to be paid," he said.
To a supplementary question raised by Nongpoh MLA Mayralborn Syiem on plans to facilitate local taxi associations, Sangma said that the government is engaging with local taxi associations on how to connect them better with the tourists.
He said that different activities and programmes are incorporated into the app, like bookings for hotels and tourist locations. “But we have to upgrade it further where tour guides and taxis can also be booked through that. It will become a one-stop-shop for tourists,” he added.
Furthermore, Sangma said that since drivers are usually the best guides, the government is working to upgrade their skills since they play an important role in creating the right image for State Tourism.
To a question on any proposed plan to bring in a system allowing Meghalaya taxis to take over from Umling, the CM replied in the negative.
We have received suggestions but, we realised that if we start doing that, it might have a flipped side-effect where our counterpart may start doing the same and prevent Meghalaya tourist vehicles from entering Assam, he pointed out.
Replying to a question raised by Umroi MLA George B Lyngdoh on the applicability of the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA) at the facilitation centre in Umling, Sangma said at present, the registration is done purely to monitor for COVID and health purposes.
"MRSSA was amended to allow registration of tourists to be incorporated but, since the amendment is yet to be approved by the Governor, the registration of tourists, based on MRSSA, is not in place right now."
“But it serves the purpose as it enables us to keep track of the movement of tourists, at the same time, ensure that COVID is contained while keeping our people and tourists safe,” he added.
(Edited by Iban Mawrie)