Unease over pre-travel testing

M!CE business hasn’t been able to catch a break since COVID-19 broke all over world and the industry is worried if immediate corrective action it is not taken, it may not recover at all this year.

Hazel Jain

In a bid to adjust to the new normal, the UK has scrapped pre-departure travel tests for vaccinated passengers. The travel industry in the UK played a huge role in calling out the measures as ineffective now that Omicron was spreading widely.

In another development, the World Travel & Tourism Council welcomed the French government’s decision to reopen borders for the UK travellers. “Once a variant is endemic, closing borders is pointless and only damages livelihoods, especially in travel and tourism,” stated the global tourism body.

Closer to home, an open letter was sent by 35 prominent doctors in India requesting the Indian government to stop the “unwarranted” practice of testing, medication and hospitalisation. Now, the question arises whether the Indian government will take note of the situation and act promptly in order to ensure that the events industry, which is struggling to revive itself, recovers in due course.

Rajeev Jain, Managing Director, Rashi Entertainment, who is also one of the significant voices in the events and wedding industry, says, “Restaurants and hotels are functioning at 50 per cent capacity, but no such provisions have been made for the wedding industry. Moreover, all other states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra are allowing a higher capacity of guests. Therefore, key stakeholders from the events and wedding industry in New Delhi went to meet Health Minister Satyendar Jain and requested some relaxations.”

Pre-travel testing has to goHaving conducted a few corporate events during the pandemic, Abhik Dutta, Director & Co-founder at The Wanderers, Outdoor Wilderness Learnings (OWL), and Colour Purple Events & Air Bookings LLP, makes his point very clear. “By now, I think we can all agree that these tests have become impractical, irrelevant and futile with most people not submitting to tests anymore… So, why continue with pre-travel testing that clearly harass passengers?” he opines.

Roshan Abbas, President, Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), echoes similar sentiments. “Every time the restrictions come into place, the first and foremost step taken is towards the closure of events or limiting crowds. We have always believed in and adhered to the guidelines shared by the government. But in doing so, the people in this industry have suffered a lot. A rally is held during the day and a curfew is imposed at night,” says Abbas.

A phygital world
Birju Gariba, Founder and CEO of Iskra Events & Celebrations, feels that events and celebrations have never stopped existing; they have only gone through a temporary metamorphosis. “The corporate side has gone hybrid or phygital and the social side has gone intimate. However, the scale of events on the corporate side has shrunk drastically due to the constant threat of a pandemic. Socials, however, have adopted the intimate model quite well,” he adds.

Defer, not cancel
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook India has been witnessing strong demand from M!CE groups and this is reflected in the fact that most corporates are opting to defer rather than cancel their plans. “With corporates keen on utilising their unspent budgets before the financial year ends, this continues to be a significant opportunity for the MICE sector,” says Meera Charnalia, Senior Vice President & Head, MICE, Thomas Cook India.

She feels that the domestic M!CE business has been a boon over the last 20-odd months. “We welcome the government’s support through the inclusion of corporate M!CE under IGST to help companies avail GST input credit. Suitable incentives, tax exemptions and budgetary allocation for the setting up of M!CE infrastructure; identifying and incentivising M!CE zones for the setting up of exhibition centres in high-potential regions of the country will help inspire demand,” Charnalia says. “Of course, uniformity of health and safety protocols across state borders would be a considerable relief,” she adds.

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