May 13, 2020
Riddhi Roy /
Tourism and hospitality have been the worst hit sectors of the economy all over the globe following the coronavirus outbreak. While in many countries, the governments have stepped forward to help the sector, in India, travel companies continue to bleed and even die while the government decides if there is indeed a crisis and if there is a need to lend a hand.
“We were the first one to be affected and will be the last one to be cured.” That’s exactly how we, from the tourism industry, would describe ourselves amidst the pandemic. Tourism industry is highly vulnerable to every force majeure event whether it is the pandemic or the flood or riots or terrorist attacks.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, tourism has come to a complete standstill till indefinite period. Since early March, even before the nationwide lockdown was announced, we had to cancel a lot of trips for places like Bhutan which had sealed its borders, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh had stopped issuing Inner Line Permits for tourists and Thailand and Sri Lanka had stopped their e-visa and visa on arrival services. Many countries also revoked visas which had been already issued before the pandemic had struck. This resulted in huge losses as the air tickets and hotel bookings for group travel had already been paid in advance.
Its already more than two months wherein we haven’t had any business. Even the business that had been booked and paid for before the pandemic has become a total loss for us. For instance,we had several group bookings with different airlines for Delhi to Leh for the period May to September. The deposits were paid already but these groups cannot be operated, and airlines are on their credit shell policy, where the amount can be used for any other group travel before December 31, 2020. Any unutilised amount from the group booking will be forfeited by the airlines.
As travel agents, we are in a jeopardy since the threat continues to hang on us as we remain clueless regarding the resumption of group package tours amidst social distancing norms. We have invested a lot in hotels, airlines and other bookings for both inbound and outbound trips. We are not certain if we will recover that.
Even though we have not had any revenues for the last two months, our expenses continue. We have 20 employees and we have to pay their salaries, not only for the two months but for months to come even if we do not have business. Guests are also asking for refunds and we are in absolute mess.
Whenever the lockdown is lifted most of the industries will restart their operations, but the tourism industry will keep dwelling in uncertainty. Until the entire country or even the entire world recovers from the virus,the tourism industry will continue to have its dark days. It will be most difficult for this industry to sustain for months like this and in the most unforeseen circumstances the industry is yet to get support and empathy from the government.
Many tourists have been stranded around the world. Many groups from Kolkata have also been stuck in various parts of India for almost 55 days now in their hotels with limited money. There hasn’t been much help from either the central or state governments in evacuating tourists and bringing them back to West Bengal. Recently, after the West Bengal government declined to allow trains to bring back tourists from those places,the tourists were forced to come back by bus at their own expense. Being their travel company, we felt responsible for their well-being. Raktim Roy, director founder of Dolphin Travels and Subrata Bhattacharya, director of Monarch Tours took the lead and organised the return of 38 passengers stuck in Haridwar who were brought back by a private bus, after having organised the necessary permits and following the COVID-19 precautions. However, many more tourists remained stuck in places like Manali and Kinnaur. Since then the two have rescued nearly 3,500 tourists from all over India, even though most of these were neither their clients nor were they known to them.
The tourism sector has already appealed to the government to waive off GST for the next one year till the industry revives. Also, it has been requested to stop the enactment of the 5 pc tax collected at source. But so far, we have not received any response from the government on these demands.
Tourism industry is one of the biggest employers in the country and generates jobs in all parts of the country, even in remote areas and villages, helping the government in its goal of bringing prosperity to all. Today, the tourism industry ne the government’s help to move forward or even to survive. The government ne to urgently prepare bailout schemes to help us in our moment of extreme distress. The government will have play a huge role to play in reviving tourism as tourists may continue to be concerned about their health and safety. Small hotels, rather than the big hotel chains, will need the extra support in maintaining sanitisation and hygiene. Tourism campaigns need to be promoted to make people aware that it is safe to travel. All surcharges and taxes should be waived off as even the tourists won’t be well off post lockdown. People won’t have enough money in hand to plan a vacation and that also amidst uncertainty or till there is a breakthrough in this pandemic.
Many countries are ready to open their gates for international travel with PCR tests done on both arrival and departure airports but expenses being borne by the tourists themselves, with each test costing around USD 200 putting an extra burden on the tourist. If this continues, there would be enormous unemployment in the tourism sector and many companies will go bankrupt and will be forced to shut down.
The situation right now looks bleak as people will not be willing to travel even when the lockdown is lifted. Domestic travel may take off in few months’ time, but people will not think of travelling abroad in immediate future.
All said and done, tourism is a beautiful industry that brings the world closer. With a little help and cooperation from the government, we could save the industry and protect over 20 million jobs in the sector.We have to fight to overcome and rise from this situation.