Industry bodies CATO and APT sense no stimulus in govt’s package, feel ignored and let down

CATO and APT President

The Indian tourism sector must be feeling an orphan right now. Despite being a huge foreign exchange earner and providing jobs to millions, the industry has been left in the cold. The Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package does not have anything significant for travel, hospitality or tourism, and that’s a shame considering that employees working in these sectors have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Two of the leading tourism associations, the Confederation of Accredited Tour Operators (CATO) and Association of Professionals in Tourism (APT) have come out in the open criticising the stimulus package, which they consider as neither a worthwhile stimulus nor a visible package.

CATO president Sanjeev Kumar minced no words. “The stimulus package has been very disappointing. What is in it for tour operators? It’s quite unbelievable that all our concerns have been ignored,” he said.

Kumar feels it was a mistake that a large body like the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH) represented the entire sector. Though it’s a nodal association, was it really possible for it to adequately represent the concerns of the whole sector? “Do we need to go under the umbrella of large industry associations like FAITH, while pushing for our demands? It’s not working for us. We will be better served if we represent ourselves as tour operators and meet the concerned authorities,” he said.

“Bodies such as Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) should have represented us and presented the concerns of tour operators separately with the authorities,” he said.

APT president Hari KC was very vocal about the issue, as well. “We feel deeply let down by the way tourism sector has been ignored by the central government, despite so many representations,” he said. “Being one of the largest income generators, forex earners and employment providers, tourism hasn’t got its due share. It’s a shock and surprise for all of us in the trade,” Hari added.

Even before the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 25, the industry was facing headwinds as international tourist flow was hampered by flight curbs imposed by various countries, and various Indian state governments had imposed travel restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19.

To help ensure the survival of the sector, FAITH had proposed a dedicated interest and collateral-free long-term funds for paying salaries and operating costs. That fell on deaf ears and so did the request for banking liabilities waiver for a minimum of 12 months. With no visibility of cash inflow the Indian tourism industry is now looking at large-scale bankruptcies and business closures which will lead to large scale job losses across India.

APT’s Hari points to states like Uttar Pradesh, which is trying to take some proactive steps, as examples to follow. “Uttar Pradesh is trying to provide 50% salary support to tourism employees,” he said. Its director general of tourism has come up with this proposal which is now before the principal secretary for approval. “That’s a very thoughtful and compassionate move. Hope other states take a cue from this, and come out with suitable bail-out packages. Tourism is a sector that is tipped to bounce back last, when such crisis happens,” Hari observed.

On the other hand, Kerala had promised a relief package for the industry but it still remains a promise. Resorts, hotels, house boats, ayurveda and wellness clinics and homestays are all struggling to even pay salaries as revenues have dried up.

Says CATO’s Sanjeev Kumar, “We understand that Kerala Tourism is working on a package for tour operators. That’s our only hope.”

But time is ticking and small-time tour operators, minor resorts and homestays may go belly up, if adequate assistance doesn’t arrive. The damage done may be too big for a repair job to fix, if timely aid is forgotten.