‘Tourism sector won’t recover until COVID-19 vaccine is in place’

Tourists at Mullayanagiri hill, which is the highest peak in Karnataka, in Chikkamagalur district in June 2017.   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

A peak summer season gone bust, a lockdown, and then an unlocking period that failed to take off; the tourism industry is terming this year as its worse in recent memory, and one that could be do or die for many.

Despite being given the go ahead to welcome tourists after restrictions were lifted, many big tourism destinations had to shut their doors again following a spike in cases. The travel sentiment, too, took a back seat with the number of COVID-19 cases quickly spiralling out of control within a month. This has left the sector, which includes hospitality, tour operators, transport, restaurants, guides and other related jobs, gasping for air.

The sector is now estimating that the scenario is unlikely to change much until a vaccine is found, which may not be until next year.

The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), which represents several tourism, travel and hospitality bodies, recently revised the sector’s economic value at risk to ₹15 lakh crore from the ₹5 lakh crore estimated in March.

“Given the way the virus spread is progressing, tourism supply chains have broken down in India across all its key inbound, domestic and outbound markets. They are not expected to recover for the next five months, taking the total impact to a minimum of nine months starting from March this year,” said a FAITH spokesperson.

This, FAITH says, is evident across all segments of tourism — in shut down or vacant hotels and restaurants, empty or locked down convention or wedding halls, tourist transport lying locked in parking lots, and staff who have either been laid off or are on leave without pay.

M. Ravi, joint secretary of the Karnataka Tourism Society, and vice-president, Karnataka Tourism Forum, said the Chief Minister gave his nod for the tourism sector to resume operations, but locals and local leaders in popular tourist destinations objected, especially following reports of crowding in some places and disregard for COVID-19 norms.

“For the past four months, everything is closed. They know this is a virus that is not going to go away soon. Destinations are closed. But niche hospitality establishments, such as resorts, are familiar with the SOPs. Why were so many people allowed in Mullayanagiri hill in the first place? The idea is to regulate, not shut down tourism,” he said.

Enquiries and business were received when tourism was open for barely two weeks, he said, but with the opposition and sudden closures, there was hardly a recovery period. “The impact is massive. Many travel agents have wound up and have started selling vegetables, or got into other small businesses. Employees have been laid off,” he added.

Tourist transport drivers have seen their business crumble overnight.

“Tourism is not given preference in our country and is considered a luxury. Though we are contributing 10% of the GDP, a complete chain of tourism related jobs – such as shopkeepers near monuments and drivers – are now without work,” Mr. Ravi said.

What’s needed

For now, FAITH has demanded, among other things, an immediate full-year waiver of all Central and State statutory liabilities, such as income tax, GST, fixed power and utilities bills and inter-State tourist transportation taxes and license fees, and a tourism fund to help businesses take care of employees.

But a section of the industry is hoping that business will pick up by Deepavali.

“Sure, it will take a long time to revive. But once it does, we expect a boom in domestic tourism,” said a tour operator.

The challenge lies in staying afloat till then.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 2:35:51 PM |

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