COVID-hit tourism industry looks at govt for survival

While the novel coronavirus has had a terrible impact on almost all industries, for the tourism sector it has been particularly catastrophic. With most borders shut, flights grounded and only a handful of special trains running, the travel sector is in shambles. The industry is counting losses in billions of dollars, says Nakul Anand, Executive Director of ITC Limited. “Hotels are empty and flights grounded. These are indeed difficult times and thus strategies need to be worked out. We are thankful to the Ministry of Tourism for emulating our voice. We are all anxious and will be waiting for certain reliefs from the government,” says Anand. With losses drowning the industry, all hopes are now pinned on the government. “From the point of total lockdown to complete suspension, recovery will be a slouching process. Although domestic travel may come into place, we are merely sure about international travel. We are trying to connect with the government and are asking for rebates for our survival, salaries, and other reliefs. Our members are severely suffering,” says Jyoti Mayal, President of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI). To ensure the recovery, the government needs to come into play.

“The Government of India and Ministry of Tourism realize that this sector is going to be affected the most. I am looking at a very stiff scenario and this sector will face the major brunt. It gets a little compounded as a large number of backward and forward linkages are linked to the tourism sector. It is easy to identify certain sectors which are directly related to tourism but a large number of employment and people whose jobs are created through this sector will also get impacted,” says Meenakshi Sharma, Director General, Ministry of Tourism. With major players of the tourism sector asking for an intervention by the government, The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) is doing everything possible to aid the sector. “There are numerous levels at which FICCI is trying to help. Luckily, before lockdown, many people saw this coming and therefore we interacted with the Tourism Ministers. We have been planning on how to restart and reopen.” says Dilip Chenoy, SecretaryGeneral of FICCI. Despite assurances by the government, many like Naveen Kundu, Managing Director of EbixCash are skeptical of getting any major respite from the government. “I am unsure of what the government will do.

The government of India as a whole in the last 17 years has not recognized tourism and travel as an industry, even though it currently employs 42 million people. But internally as a sector, we should focus on cost-cutting. In my opinion, the health ministry should come up with certain guidelines and health certifications for people from a waiter to airport personnel to front office manager and each and every employee to safeguard their interests. So that with the certification those people can get back to work,” says Kundu. In the wake of the pandemic, many are hoping for an eventual revival and are optimistic about the situation limping back to normalcy, “People will be apprehensive about traveling, crossing borders and exploring foreign countries. International travel will be the worst hit although domestic will pick up faster”, affirms Ashwini Lohani, Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) and former CMD of Air India.

With the optimism of eventual revival, the sector is already preparing how to not tide over this crisis but also to gain customer trust in the aftermath of Coronavirus. “Revival will depend on domestic demand. With every disaster comes an opportunity. Health and hygiene will be a crucial aspect. We have Ayurveda, medical tourism, and yoga, the need of the hour is to work on our strengths and advertise them well. There are new avenues people would like to travel for and we need to be all set for that, concludes Anand.

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