When cooking in regular households come to a halt, when flocks of pandal hoppers move around the city of Kolkata, when there are long queues outside the famous as well as the not-so-famous eateries of the city and when the airports and railway stations tend to look more crowded than usual, one can understand that the festive season has arrived. Starting with the Durga Puja, this season is followed by Diwali and Christmas. A report by travelnewsdigest.in states that 12.38% of India’s employable workforce is involved in the tourism sector. The sector is such that millions earn their living directly or indirectly. The revenue generated in the travel and tourism sector trickles down to the local population of the tourist spots. However, this year, the pandemic has disrupted it all.
Kedar Gupta on behalf of Hammocks Huts Holidays, told BE, “This time of the year usually generates a lot of income for those who are dependent on the tourism sector. Many people who earned their living as drivers in tourist spots had to sell their cars and those who have taken lease on properties for a year or so for hotel purposes are in deep trouble. They have already lost six to seven months without any business and there is no promise of better business in this festive season.”
According to a 2019 The Times of India report, visitors from Bangladesh, China, and the United Kingdom had topped the list of people from abroad who thronged the city during Durga Puja as claimed by a travel e-commerce company. The scenario will be different this year because of international flight restrictions.
Gupta stated, “Generally, more than 80% of the puja bookings are completed latest by July. Christmas bookings are completed around October. During the puja days, there are hardly any vacancies in the hotels. However, this year only 20-25% rooms have been booked so far.” He also informed that they usually receive more than 20-25% of their bookings through online platforms like MakeMyTrip. However, there has been hardly any booking this year through such platforms and the situation has been more or less the same for other companies in this sector as well.
Gupta stated, “People are further reluctant to travel because railway services have not yet resumed. Still, we are getting a lot of queries about North Bengal and tourists are visiting our properties in Mandarmoni and Shantiniketan. However, these are the people who have not been financially affected by the pandemic as there have been job losses and salary curtailments which are also the reasons why people are reluctant to travel this year.”
The restaurants in Kolkata also look forward to the festive season for good business. According to industry insiders, usually the period from October to January is traditionally the best time of the year in terms of sales as this period generates as much as 45% of the annual restaurant business. However, this year things are not looking too bright for the restaurants as well. Media reports state that despite the business slowdown last year, during the Durga Puja, the restaurants in Kolkata registered a record footfall. A report by The Times of India stated that last year, before the pujas, the footfall in the restaurants were down by 10-15%. However, it increased by 15% during the pujas. Moreover, sales also increased by 12-15% during the festive season.
Abhijit Ghosh, Marketing Supervisor, Spice Kraft, a popular restaurant in south Kolkata, told BE, “There will be 30-40% less business this year during the pujas because of the pandemic situation. As a precautionary measure, we also had to reduce our seating arrangements by 50%.” Ghosh also informed that they are anticipating that there will be an increase in the takeaway facilities of the restaurant during the pujas as people are refraining from waiting in long queues for food, a popular sight in Kolkata, during the pujas. Spice Kraft will also introduce a special puja menu to attract customers and are highlighting the precautionary measures undertaken by the restaurant on social media platforms.
In an earlier interaction with Hospitality World.com, Anjali Nathwani, Associate Director, Crisil Research, said, “Once the restrictions are lifted, restaurants will have to rework their business models and overcome operational challenges. With consumers turning more health-conscious, hygiene protocols at restaurants and supply chains will need to improve materially, which will increase cost.” This increase in price may also hold back customers from visiting restaurants this year.
Industry insiders are of the opinion that though sales might witness a slight improvement during the festive season in the hospitality and tourism sector - that is negligible compared to past years. There has not been any financial support to this sector from the central government or the state government. Industry insiders have emphasised on the need for immediate financial aid to revive the sector.