Free visas for inbound tourists, more bar licenses for restaurants, tax benefits for domestic travel: APT’s Hari KC

Hari KC APT president

With job losses an imminent reality in the travel and tourism sector, the Association of Professionals in Tourism (APT) is rallying behind the employees, trying to protect their interests. In an interview, APT President Hari KC says employers in the sector should not lay-off employees in the first four months at least, and instead retain them even if at a lower pay, ensuring their day to day survival. The immediate task is to identify the most impacted employees and help them in their careers, he says. Excerpts:

Q: The Association of Professionals in Tourism (APT) has been doing a great service to people employed in the tourism sector. But with the coronavirus outbreak, the immediate future of the sector looks bleak. What is your sense of the impact that the epidemic will have on the sector?

A: Practically speaking it’s not just the immediate future which looks to be in crisis, the effects will be for long term. Everything depends on how soon we contain the epidemic. In any case we don’t see the industry bouncing back before October or November this year. Not just tourism but most other sectors will be affected and a global economic slowdown looks very much on the cards.

Q: How can APT come to the rescue of the employees? What measures can be taken to protect their interest?

A: Majority of APT members are employees and they have been badly hit by COVID-19. We are doing online meetings with members, listening to their problems and suggesting practical remedies which are within our hands. The first and foremost task is to identify and handpick the worst affected lot and provide assistance to them in their careers.

Q: The sector is bound to see hundreds or even thousands of job losses. Is there any way the industry can restrict the number of jobs lost? Will you be making any representation to the travel and hospitality heads in this regard?

A: Very true. Job cuts are definitely going to happen. The government has appealed to companies not to go for lay-offs or salary cuts which is fine but again on a realistic angle it doesn’t look practical as with zero business no organisation can survive. We have made our submissions and suggestions to the competent authorities through the various webinars attended in last couple of weeks. In my view for the next 4 months or so there should not be any lay-offs, instead retain the employees even if at a lower pay ensuring their day to day survival.

Q: Many people will have to undergo pay cuts. Is there any welfare scheme that APT can plan for such people?

A: Yes, that’s the sad part but it looks inevitable. It’s too early to comment on the effect on our members. We have spoken to all members and have asked their feedback and fortunately the financial situation is under control for most of our members for the next 3-4 months. We expect business to pick up by then and hopefully things will be back on track. If not, we will have to review the situation then and look at a supportive mechanism for affected members.

Q: What are the alternative sources of revenue that the employees can seek, to tide over this crisis?

A: Tourism and hospitality are the worst affected sectors and we have a major challenge as the employees have single trade experience only. People with good language skills can look at temporary jobs in call centres, freelancing as financial advisors, insurance sector etc. Those who have a flair for cooking and baking can start home based ventures with online delivery options where non working spouses too can contribute. On tourism front they can create new products and excursions and manage on their own where they can earn extra on the guiding part as well.

Q: What steps do you think the state government can take to ensure the well-being of the employees in the tourism sector?

A: Both the state and central government can do a lot of things to support the industry. Proposals have been made from the various associations of the industry and APT too has contributed to the suggestions. Being an unorganized sector it’s a tough task to quantify the needs of various segments. However, from the state point of view soft loans with minimal formalities need to be extended to suffering employees as well as business houses which can help them tide over this crisis phase. Tax cuts would be another relief. Proportionate reduction in electricity charges during lock down days should be passed on to hotels. Bar licenses for more restaurants too will create more jobs. From the central government point of view a one year GST holiday can be declared. Domestic travel can be encouraged by giving income tax benefits, LTC etc. Also visa charges to India could be made free of cost and process simplified to woo more tourists. ASI can think of reducing monument entry charges to foreigners, thereby attracting more inbound traffic.