Agony faced by tour operators can’t be metered, says Swaminathan
The corona virus outbreak has hit the tourism sector hard, in an unprecedented manner. In an interview, S Swaminathan , Managing Director of Dravidian Trails Holidays Pvt Ltd., Cochin, Kerala tells us why we can’t have a fixed time-frame for revival of the sector. He feels all stakeholders should spread the positive news about all the precautionary measures taken by the authorities. The authorities should now give the sector the required benefits that will help the tourism entrepreneurs rebuild the business.
Q: Corona virus has impacted Kerala’s tourism fortunes to a very large extent. Can we attach a value to the loss incurred to Kerala tourism due to the pandemic, both from the hospitality sector and tour operator stand point?
A: As far as Kerala is concerned the threat of Covid-19 has impacted all sectors of tourism from tour operators, airlines, hospitality, supplier agencies, transporters, restaurants etc….it touches everyone’s life. There was a press release by Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) regarding the loss of business by Corona virus impact and based on the inputs received from their members the volume is about Rs 15000 crore. The Kerala business is about 20-25% of the all India volume. Also this does not include the outbound volume which is suffering from January onwards and other segments like MICE, domestic tours etc. Hence the real amount should be much more.
Q: What kind of lasting impact can this have on the tourism sector? Where all do you think the sector has been hit the hardest?
A: It has directly touched the lives of large, medium and small entrepreneurs to a very large extent and put the employment of many under risk as the business volume has come down to literally zero. The uncertainty and the unanswered questions on health security matters around the world is at its peak and we don’t expect a sudden change in the situation which would make the above situations continue further and there is no expected time frame for the revival. Since Kerala is popular for its globalised community connected tourism, this will directly affect the unorganised sectors starting from daily wagers, fishermen, taxi drivers, farmers and the local vendors.
Q: The hospitality sector has seen plenty of booking cancellations in the past few weeks. What kind of impact has this created for hoteliers?
A: The cancellations have been really a nightmare for the hoteliers. The cancellation of room reservations has affected the revenue from restaurants and other associated services causing huge loss and even trying to meet the daily expense/running cost has become difficult. However we should really appreciate the support from most of them with a retention free cancellation.
Q: The operators have been asked to restrict the movement of the tourist groups. Have you tried to assess the impact of the crisis on the tour operators?
A: Yes, this had affected us more than the cancellation in terms of the monetary impact, because it impacted the goodwill of the destination. There are a good number of occasions where guests have been forced to shorten the trip and fly back home due this instruction and it includes the leisure stay guests too due to the way in which this was implemented by certain hotels and resorts. Alternative flights or amendments of existing tickets had to be done in a very short span of time and operators were really operating on a war-footing to finish this and the supplements/charges were exorbitant in most of the cases. The pressure and agony faced by the guests as well as the tour operators cannot be metered in terms of money and we are sure this has really impacted the goodwill of our destination.
Q: The airline sector has been very badly affected too. What measures can be taken to uplift the sector and ensure continuity of flights once the crisis blows over?
A: It is true that airline sector is badly affected, still the cancellation policies by many of our domestic airlines continue to be the same which caused financial loss to the customer.
A charge free date amendment offer is extended by some of them, but it would not be helpful in most of the cases as it is too early to decide the future travel dates and not sure whether the same programme will be adopted again. Ideally it should be a full refund if necessary supporting documents are furnished. Government should come up with some assistance like a reduction / waiver in the landing & parking charges or some similar benefits to help airlines fly over this crisis.
Q: It’s now clear that the damages caused are widespread. How do you think we can tide over this crisis?
A: Spread the positive news like the precautionary measures taken by the authorities and various departments associated with the disease prevention and support each other to avoid further spread of the disease and indulge in community development activities. Since it is a crisis faced globally and currently our status is comparatively on a better mode than the other affected regions it should be a favouring factor for us.
Q: What steps can the state government and tourism authorities take to help the sector come back to its original self?
A: The initial step is to join hands with the govt to restrict the spread of Covid 19 and educate the society and industry partners on its importance. Since the remedy is yet to be revealed /invented we have to take measures to prevent the spread and to give a positive note to the world that “how efficient our state is” to handle such global crisis. Those initiatives will give a better opportunity to build positive /confidence among travel aspirants in future.
Q: Can the authorities provide special benefits to the sector in the short term?
A:Yes, the authorities should provide special benefits to tourism industry. By extending exemption in luxury tax, waiver of interest on loan, moratorium on loans and financial assistance for promotional activities.
Q: What can the authorities do to ensure that there are not too many job losses in the tourism sector on account of this crisis?
A:Authorities should take a social audit in tourism industry to calculate the losses and ensure immediate monetary support / compensation packages to the affected from top to bottom without delay.
Q: What are some of the key lessons that we can learn from this episode? And how can we be better prepared in future?
A:It’s too early to conclude with a lesson from the ongoing uncertainties. But we have to make sure that there should be a proper monitoring system on global issues especially on health care and the epidemic diseases irrespective of the point of origin.