Tourism leaders are scared to speak out against authorities, instead they are trying to pamper them : Sheik Ismail

Sheik Ismail concord exotic voyages

More than one lakh employees in Kerala’s travel and tourism sector have lost their jobs during this pandemic, says Sheik Ismail, vice-president of Concord Exotic Voyages. Many of them have turned to selling fish and vegetables to survive. He says though the industry has many associations and leaders, they have failed to raise funds for their needy colleagues. Some of them are selfish and request things for their own benefit and not for the entire industry, he says. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Kerala’s travel and tourism sector has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. The state is hugely dependent on tourism for its revenues, providing jobs to lakhs of people. But clearly, the government is looking away. Even after the travel and tourism employees got together and submitted an amount of more than Rs 50 lakh to the state government to help in coronavirus related healthcare, nothing beneficial has been done for the sector. Are you shocked?

Very much shocked, not only me but every tourism stakeholder is shocked. We expected some financial relief package or plan from central and state governments but unfortunately nothing has happened till date. In fact, the crisis started in the tourism sector and it will also be the last to recover only because the government is not taking this issue seriously. 

Q: In your assessment, how many people in Kerala’s travel and industry would have lost their jobs during the lockdown period? Is that number higher than what you initially expected?

I think more than a lakh people have lost their jobs and around 9 lakhs have got their salaries reduced. Initially I thought it would affect only 1000-2000 people but now the situation has totally changed. People are now losing jobs on a daily basis.

Q: How are the people, who have lost their jobs, surviving at the moment? Are they doing alternative jobs in other sectors?

Many of them are sitting at home because of the lockdown. Few of them have started selling fish, chicken, pickles, coconut oil, grocery, vegetables and some others are going for construction work because none of them are getting any benefit or support from the industry or from the government during this difficult stage.

Q: With many of them struggling to make both ends meet, is it time for various industry players to start a fund to help them?

We are already very late as the crisis started in March. Many employees have not received their salaries from March and some employers paid salaries partly. For some time, people managed but after April they are in a terrible stage. I am getting many calls on a daily basis from those who are struggling and requesting help from the industry. Few of them ask for at least Rs 2,500/- so that they can meet their basic needs. We have many associations and leaders but they fail to raise funds for the needy industry colleagues. It had to be done from the month of April. Even if we start now, we can save some of our colleagues.

Q: Do you think some of these employees will never come back to the industry, even after the pandemic ends? Have they lost their morale?

Many of them will never even look back at the industry ever, if no one supports or motivates them during this pandemic. They are suffering a lot and no other industry is struggling like the tourism industry. Banks are not giving loans to them, and it looks like the central and state governments have also abandoned tourism as a sector. 

Q: Do you think the industry has a singular, strong voice in political circles? How can we ensure the sector’s needs are better represented?

There are many voices but they are not reaching anywhere because most of the leaders are scared to speak out against authorities. Instead, they are trying to pamper them.  We need better leaders to speak for the industry and lead us strongly. Some of them are selfish and they request something for their benefit and not for the entire industry.

Q: What’s the response in a state like Goa, which has opened itself to tourists with precautions? Since Concorde does considerable business in Goa, can you give us a sense of how the state government there is looking at the trade at this point?

The Goa state government is taking some initiatives to bring back tourism and that’s why they have opened the border with some safety measures. They gave sanctions to around 218 hotels to function with safety norms.

Q: Do you think Kerala will be able to get somewhere close to normal business next year, after international travel resumes?

Why not? We have the potential. Our main strengths are beaches, ayurveda, backwaters, houseboats, clean and green environment, and if we market them well then definitely tourism will be back to normal.

Q: What kind of impact will the pandemic have on tourists coming in from the erstwhile Soviet nations? Russia and Ukraine are some of the key destinations that you depend on.

They are ready to come any time to India, especially to Goa and Kerala. Now Russia is promoting their own domestic tourism till August and after that they will give permission to their citizens to travel abroad also. They have already uploaded their charter programme to Goa on their booking sites.  Ukraine and Kazakhstan are our next biggest markets. They keep communicating with us on a daily basis for updates.

Q: In the post-pandemic world, what do you think travellers will be insisting on the most?

They would like to travel freely without any restrictions but will give more importance to safety measures. Most of our markets like Russia and Kazakhstan are very conscious about their citizens’ health and safety. For this to happen, we need strong help and support from the tourism department and the government.