The lockdown because of coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected all the major sectors of the country. However, hospitality and tourism happen to be one of the worst hit sectors because of the lockdown. In 2018, travel and tourism contributed 9.2% in India’s GDP and generated 26.7 million jobs that year. This industry not only employs workers in cities but also provides a huge earning opportunity for the rural population. According to the Ministry of Tourism (MOT) annual report for 2019-20, over 87 million people were employed in the travel sector in 2018-19. It is estimated that in India, branded and organised hotels annual revenue is about `38,000 crore ($5 billion). The restaurant industry in India, has an annual turnover of around `4 lakh crore ($53 billion) and provides direct employment to more than 7 million people.
Kedar Gupta on behalf of Hammocks Huts Holidays told BE, “There can be no comparison between this year and the previous years. The losses incurred this year are huge and that has forced many players in this sector to look for other alternative opportunities, pushing them towards a hand to mouth situation.” According to an article published on tourmyindia.com, titled ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Travel & Tourism Industry in India and its Future’, the tourism and hospitality industry is expecting a potential job loss of around 38 million because of coronavirus. In the third week of March 2020 itself, the hotel sector saw a decline of more than 65% in occupancy levels as compared to the same period in 2019.
The ban of tourist visas has also played a decisive role in slumping of the business of the tour operators and hoteliers. In March when the visa ban was imposed, in a conversation with The Economic Times, Rajesh Magow, the group CEO of MakeMyTrip, said the government’s decision would have an impact on inbound and outbound international travel but as the situation remained dynamic, it was hard to quantify the actual impact on the company’s business. Gupta stated that with the unlocking phases going on lots of queries are coming from the prospective tourists but they are still somewhat reluctant to make a trip because of the rising Covid-19 cases in India.
No change in unlock phase
According to a news report in the Tribune, the Jammu and Kashmir government has announced that hotels in the union territory will be opened in full capacity. However, there are no visitors. The Vaishno Devi pilgrimage that draws huge domestic tourists around this time, has been suspended in the wake of Covid-19. Most other tourist places are also still shut with most hoteliers continuing to keep their establishments closed due to “non-availability of customers” and “unfavourable circumstances”.
Gupta informed, “We have a luxury property called Raktakarabi with 15 cottages in Bolpur. Footfalls have started there since June 8, after unlocking began on the June 1. However, though in summer season the occupancy is usually low with 30-40%. This year, it is not more than 5%.” Industry experts are of the opinion that this distress for the hospitality and tourism will continue as situation is unlikely to improve in the coming months. In the present scenario, though the hoteliers are taking proper precautions, people are unwilling to make a leisure trip.
Precautions against the spread of coronavirus are being taken by different states. For instance, in Himachal Pradesh, anyone coming to the state is required to undergo a 14-day home quarantine. Those coming from abroad are required to be sent to seven-day institutional quarantine and seven-day home quarantine under strict monitoring of health officials and police. There, the state government has also allowed reopening of hotels and restaurants. However, media sources state that the industry stakeholders are not yet interested to restart their operations.
Despite all these precautionary measures, industry insiders are of the opinion that as long as the fear in the minds of the people prevails, this sector will not see any improvement. They are also of the opinion that the tourism and hospitality sector generate huge revenue but has been terribly neglected by the government. The sector immediately needs a stimulus package or else will be on the verge of collapse.
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has recently come up with a number of recommendations for the different sectors in order to revive their business. The has recommended that Indian and foreign carriers be allowed to operate between two countries and India should allow foreigners to travel to India on reciprocal basis. It also suggested that the government may consider waiving off the requirement of quarantine for International Passengers holding “COVID Negative’ Certificate issued by the origin country and airports should provide support and resources to set up ‘safe corridor’. The FICCI recommendations also stated, “All states/UTs should have a clear date and announce this for every vertical under tourism so that this also gives time to the stakeholders to prepare themselves accordingly.”
Though FICCI has suggested several recommendations and the unlocking phase going on, it is evident from the current picture that people are not willing to make tours unless there is a significant check on the rising number of Covid-19 patients in the country.