Sometimes, rains are good to mask the tears

monsoon rain

DJ Hector

Kerala Tourism often markets its rainy season as ‘Monsoon magic’, but this year there is no magic in sight.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday said the south-west monsoon has made an onset over Kerala, marking the start of the country’s four-month long rainy season. Pre-monsoon rains have already lashed many areas of the state, signalling the arrival of heavy downpour in the coming days.

Tourists usually visit Kerala during monsoon to receive ayurvedic treatment. The weather is cooler, dust-free, with an overhang of moisture during this time. This helps in opening up the pores of the skin, making the ayurveda treatment more effective.

The monsoon may not be the peak tourist season in Kerala, but it’s a unique period during which more discerning travellers come to the state. Photographers around the world flock to capture the breath-taking views that nature presents during monsoon.

A Dubai-based 3D artist Ajai Poovadan Kuruvankandy, had recently released an animation video called ‘A Rainy Day in Kerala’, and the instant popularity it received was another reminder of the Kerala monsoon phenomenon, which is both majestic and nostalgic at the same time. The Kerala Tourism department shared the video on its social media handles almost immediately.

Monsoon is also the season for honey moon travellers. Kerala is one of the best romantic getaways in the country, with its backwaters and lagoons presenting the perfect backdrop. The water falls in the state, like the famed Athirapally Falls, can be seen at its best during this period.

But this year none of this will hold.

Kerala Tourism, which recorded annual revenues of Rs 45,000 crore last year, has been devastated by the pandemic and the industry doesn’t expect an immediate recovery. While the Central government has totally ignored the travel and tourism industry while announcing its Rs 20,000 crore relief package, the state government has not come up with any concrete measures to support the sector despite several assurances.

In 2018, Kerala’s tourism sector was badly damaged due to the heavy floods but the very next year it swung its fortunes around, with the collective efforts of all stakeholders. On the back of this progress, many of the tourism entrepreneurs had renovated their ayurvedic resorts and houseboats expecting good returns this year. But the investments are not likely to yield any returns.

The advent of COVID-19 has put paid to all aspirations of the industry. The sector is populated with thousands of small-time entrepreneurs, many of whom are riding on huge loans, to do business. It’s not enough to give them moratorium for a few months. The coronavirus crisis is a once-in-a-lifetime event and such a crisis demands wholesome support from the government. Already, people have started thinking of shutting down their homestays and little resorts and cafes for good. There are people who have taken loans on high interest rates. Some have taken loans on collaterals, and could possibly lose their homes in a few months. Why on earth would an industry that gives jobs to lakhs of people, directly or indirectly, be made to suffer without a modicum of support?

The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) has revised its annual guidance for the sector by doubling the estimated losses to Rs 10 lakh crores. Earlier, the loss for the year was pegged at Rs 5 lakh crores. The guidance was revised, seeing the way tourism supply chain was breaking down across all its key inbound, domestic and outbound markets.

FAITH tried to tell the government that tourism is an economic multiplier. Each rupee spent on tourism could have an economic multiplier effect of 2.5-3 times, as the sector percolates deep into Indian hinterlands. While this is India’s global competitive advantage in tourism, this can also quickly translate into a disadvantage due to this pandemic, as tourism jobs are spread right across cities and down to the remotest of areas.

Empowered Group-6, an inter-ministerial group headed by the CEO of planning body Niti Aayog, has said that it will take up the matter with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Central government. FAITH has requested Niti Aayog for a COVID-19 tourism fund of Rs 50,000 crores which can be used by tourism enterprises in India, as a 10-year interest-free loan for taking care of their employees. But these demands are still on paper. The needle hasn’t moved a beat.

With the Central and State governments taking time on the matter, livelihood of millions in the sector will get affected. Many of the employees have been furloughed or laid off, and their re-entry into the industry will solely depend on the nature of intervention by various authorities. It doesn’t look like they are in a hurry to help the sector which now stands an orphan.

Sometimes, rains are good to mask the tears.