2020 in review: The year that was

The year when ‘normal’ was derailed

Tourist spots like Charminar and shopping malls wore a deserted look during the lockdown due to COVID.  

This was the year when many Hyderabadis had to make do without their regular dose of biryani, streetside dosas, Chinese takeaways, Irani chai and haleem.

For months, the restaurants stayed shut, something that didn’t happen even during long stretches of curfew during the 70s, 80s and early 90s. The result has been a devastating blow to the informal food sector, which employs tens of thousands of people in Hyderabad ranging from the tea vendor who walks with a flask and disposable cups to sous-chefs in fine dining restaurants in Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills areas. Ramzan during May, which would have meant dozens of Haleem joints minting money, was a washout with zero income robbing thousands of young men and women of seasonal employment.

The COVID pandemic and the hastily-imposed lockdown in 2020 gutted the tourism and hospitality sector, which is one of the biggest employers in the informal sector in the city. According to Airport Authority of India statistics, between April and November, Hyderabad saw 91.9% dip in arrival of international passengers and a 77.2% dip in aircraft arrival at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad. While 27,31,545 passengers arrived in the same period in April-November 2019, the numbers were down to 2,19,912 in the same period in 2020.

This dip in visitor arrival was a body blow to hotel occupancy and the leisure sector. According to an industry statistical study, the Revenue per available room (RevPAR) dipped by 52.8% between January and September over the corresponding figure last year. Another industry consultancy firm pegged the loss at ₹90,000 crore.

The impact could be seen in Hyderabad as dozens of small restaurants and cafes went belly-up or changed ownership as COVID fear saw customers shun dine-in places. But in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, some of these restaurant owners became saviours for the migrant workers. They used their kitchens to rustle up packed hot meals which they distributed in areas populated with migrants and to others walking home on the NH44.

But not so lucky were some of the workers in the hospitality sector from Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who suddenly found themselves jobless without salary. Some of them stayed put near their old workplaces and survived on the hot food served by the Telangana government through its Annapurna meal scheme where the ₹5 was waived off. The State distributed a few lakh meals. From the beginning of lockdown till August, 1,30,18,162 free meals were distributed by the civic body, which became a lifeline for hundreds of thousands rendered jobless and homeless due to the lockdown.

When the Janata Curfew devolved into a lockdown, every sector in the hospitality and tourism industry was affected. As the lockdown ended in phases, the recovery appeared spirited as the liquor shops were the first to be allowed on May 6. Takeaways provided a lifeline to some restaurants, which did roaring business as citizens tired of their cooking skills searched for a break.

If things appeared to go swimmingly well for some restaurants, gig workers employed by an app-based food delivery firm struck work demanding wages they were getting before the lockdown. This gloomy scenario saw the emergence of rough tourism where city slickers were ready to rough it out to get away from the claustrophobic urban spaces.

Then there was Kondapochamma reservoir. Miles long vehicles clogged the road leading to the dam that is about 50 kilometres from the city.

There were other tourist spots that got created as a bountiful monsoon filled lakes, dams and reservoirs in the region.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 6:58:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/the-year-when-normal-was-derailed/article33406140.ece

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