With the inbound tourism non-existent this year, locales which depended on foreigners find themselves struggling for survival
Back in March 2020, when a busload of Italian tourists in Rajasthan became the first major cluster of COVID-19 cases in India, nobody had any inkling that nine months later we would be staring at a hospitality sector that has been gutted by the global pandemic. In a recent interview on The Pioneer Conversations, Deep Kalra, the chief executive of India’s largest online travel agency, MakeMyTrip.com, stated that Indians were indulging in ‘Revenge Travel’ and that is a term that is being increasingly peddled across the world. It has come to the point that people are even taking “flights to nowhere” so as to get onboard aircraft again. However, none of these factors will take away from the fact that international long-haul travel has come to a complete standstill. While India still has some air bubbles with nations in the Arabian peninsula, Europe and East Asia, only those non-Indian citizens with work and official visas can travel to India with the exception of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders. So destinations such as Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan which depended on foreign tourist inflows find themselves in a piquant situation.
While in Goa, the flow of domestic Indian tourists and white-collar migrants who have shifted to the coastal state has actually led to the local economy growing; in Kerala and Rajasthan, hotel owners, taxi operators and even tourist guides are staring at bankruptcy. Indeed, in the southern State, the double whammy of the collapse of tourism and the remittance economy from overseas workers will have a devastating economic impact in the coming years. The Central Government has taken huge steps to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the overall economy and as economic activity comes back, prospects for India are less pessimistic than before, even though there will be a contraction for this fiscal year. But the hospitality industry will not recover for many years to come, because even with a vaccine there is no guarantee that international long-haul travel will return and as we are noticing mutations to the virus, a vaccine may not be the panacea that we expect it to be. Yes, domestic tourism will help the industry and should be encouraged, India has every possible landscape to offer and is really ‘Incredible India’ from the majestic mountains to sun-kissed sands. But those lower down the food chain in the domestic travel industry are suffering financially and should be given some succour through direct cash injections or more. If the industry and its workers are sustained well, when things do eventually return to normal, we could see an explosion in travel to this country.