It’s late, but never too late

             Dr Manoj Matta, DirectorOriental Vacations and Journeys

Since the pandemic hit the world, we, the tour operators, were the first ones to face the repercussions as clients started cancelling bookings. Our payments got stuck with foreign tour operators, hotels, railways, airlines, etc. It’s been almost two years and we don’t see any positive approach with concrete steps from the government to boost this sector or provide any kind of reparations to the community.

Our requests for direct financial relief from the govt. has fallen on deaf ears despite the fact that besides individuals, various associations have written to the highest authority of the country severally, our PM, who boasts of tourism on almost every occasion.

Besides the so-called ECLG scheme that too is only applicable to those who already had debt on their heads (which is just to get you further debt-ridden), nothing has been done to ensure our survival, let alone revival. Our Finance Minister had proudly asked us to be ‘Aatmanirbhar’ as if earlier we were being supported by the government. The SEIS benefits have already been stopped and were paid at lower than the committed/announced rate. Our fraternity friends are running post to pillar to get their 10 lac rupee loan sanctioned, as announced by MOT as the only support to approved tour operators.

It’s visible that we are at the mercy of our politicians and bureaucrats. Our “so-called” industry (as we don’t enjoy the industry status as yet) which contributes to over 9 per cent of GDP and is the highest generator of employment is not all a priority. They think that ‘leisure tourists’ are the only cause of virus spread and that too who travel by scheduled flights. Those travelling via Air Bubble Arrangements, Vande Bharat flights or Chartered Flights have somehow developed immunity hence they can’t contribute to Covid infections.

Our politicians and policymakers think that election rallies, various melas (fairs), etc. increase immunity against Covid which is why these are not restricted however restaurants are closed even though they follow proper social distancing norms. Republic Day Parade and Beating Retreat can be organised but weddings, meetings can’t happen and moreover opening up private offices will super spread Covid as if DDMA has given some kind of immunity to those attending RD Prade and govt. offices.

Aviation ministry had announced resuming of scheduled flights from 15th December which came for a toss and the flights have now been suspended till 28th February, let me ask on what grounds?

Countries such as the US, UK, Europe, etc. have alarming numbers in terms of Covid infections however, they have not restricted the flights and have further liberalised their Covid norms. It seems that few influential people in various ministries have clout with the airlines’ officials that’s why the scheduled flights are not being made operational. A spokesman from India’s LCC had recently said that their airlines had never done charter flights before Covid however now they were doing at least one charter flight a day.

It’s high time we learn to live with the virus and start treating this as the normal flu. Many of our hoteliers, guides, tour operators have already lost their lives to suicide and many others have collapsed due to no direct financial support from the government. If the government seriously wants us to survive, revive and thrive then it should immediately consider the following requests:

  • Open up skies to pre-covid levels
  • Start issuing multiple entry visa (No tourist will plan a visit to India just because we are offering Gratis visa to the first 5 lac tourists till 31st March 2022 so stop doing this eyewash)
  • Give one time upfront financial support to Tour Operators (don’t trap us by asking us to take loans to pay rent and salary of our staff whom we have employed till now despite zero business for last two years).
  • Grant GST holidays for tour operators registered pre-Covid for at least 5 years to ensure that India remains a competitive destination and the tour operators survive
  • Announce income tax holiday in the forthcoming budget for tour operators registered pre-Covid so that tour operators could recover some of their losses to sustain themselves
  • Offer one-time financial grant equivalent to income tax paid by tour operators in the last three years before Covid struck us
  • Offer marketing budgets to tour operators and let them decide which fairs/exhibitions they wish to attend and do let them organise the same (GOI officials from the respective country may join locally).

Creating infrastructure is important be it Kashi corridor or Bodhgaya Circuit however most important is the ‘tourist flow’. Where would the tourist come from and even if they come who will serve them? Most of the employees and even entrepreneurs in the tourism industry have found an alternate source of income and hence may never return to join this industry which is prone to such risks of being worst impacted. Most of the ground handling agents were forced to sell their fleet at throwaway prices because they were unable to pay installments, road tax, insurance etc. due to zero business. Many FTOs have closed their shutters and will never resume. It is important that government should start supporting tour operators wholeheartedly else this infrastructure being created shall get rusted.

Govt. of India needs to come up with a new campaign, ‘Immune India’ as our infection rate vis-a-vis our population is extremely low as compared with the rest of the world. Govt. should get away with the requirement of mandatory RTPCR tests for fully vaccinated guests.

Any further delay in opening up skies and welcoming the tourists shall be lethal.


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