“It’s a pity that many tourism leaders abandoned their employees during the pandemic after enjoying the fruits of their hard toil”

george scaria TPC

By George Scaria, President, Tourism Professionals Club

The travel and tourism industry has been the worst-hit sector across the globe, during the  Covid-19 pandemic. The sector is a major contributor to India’s tax kitty, representing over 8% of the country’s GDP. It is also the second largest contributor to foreign exchange earnings. With regard to Kerala, the industry’s GDP contribution is nearly 10%. Until March 2020, India used to boast that the tourism Industry takes care of around 12% of the total employment opportunities in the country. Unfortunately, these numbers became the biggest pain-point during the pandemic as the sector started bleeding. The pain of loss is understandable but abandonment is suicidal.

As a tourism professional, I can’t move forward without mentioning the sad plight of the employees in the tourism Industry. In Kerala, we have around 1.3 million people who earn their livelihood from the Industry. Since April, we have been conducting counselling sessions with our members and other tourism professionals. We could not digest the unjustifiable abandoning of at least 25% of the employees by their employers and the rest left their jobs with a minimum sustenance allowance. And now as we complete four months of lockdown, it can be seen that even more people have either lost their jobs or have been sent on leave without pay.

Tourism Professionals Club was the first trade organisation in Kerala which identified the critical situation faced by the employees and started helping the members so that they don’t lose hope and go into depression. Many of our members are trying to earn their livelihood by doing any available alternative jobs, like door to door grocery selling, wayside fish vending etc. But this is not the right solution.

The biggest crisis isn’t behind us yet. Once we are back to regular tourism activities, we will not have many of our professionals back in the industry, because they are demoralised by the stakeholders who have abandoned them.

Personally, I will say that the working professionals are the real stakeholders of the tourism industry. Most of the entrepreneurs can only invest money and take the profits. It’s a pity that many owners left their employees during a crisis after enjoying the fruits  of their hard toil.

We could never understand the attitude of most of the entrepreneurs, except a few, going by the way they were looking to overcome the crisis. A good number of entrepreneurs just closed their offices immediately and they cannot be seen or heard now. Their employees are left to deal with their fate. Some passionate entrepreneurs are still trying their best to sustain themselves with the available resources and are supporting their employees. What is shocking is that the big entrepreneurs are not initiating anything towards the sustenance of the industry. This is not a positive sign. 

Tourism is one of the most effortless revenue sources for any government, because the major investment comes from private investors. So, how can they ignore tourism completely during this crisis? Unfortunately, this is what has happened. When the Central Finance Minister announced financial sops to the tune of Rs 20 lakh crore, tourism wasn’t even mentioned.

What wrong did we do to the government? In all developed countries, governments were supporting tourism employees by paying a substantial chunk of their salaries. But what happened to our own industry leadership? Where are our leaders who were keeping close connections with the governments? Are we led by the wrong leadership?

Doubling the shock, banks put the hospitality industry on their negative list which stops any of us from getting an additional loan. The so-called Credit Guarantee Scheme by the central government did not help most of us, as the eligibility was based on the existing loan availed as on February 29. Most of the inbound operators or even hotels might have availed only minimal loans during that period as it was peak season with pretty good cash flow. When we approached many industry leaders in Kerala to see the possibility of filing a suit in Supreme Court against the banks’ policy of putting the hospitality industry on the negative list, we could not gather any momentum as most of them were not interested. Was it because of the fear that they would have to pay salaries to their staff, if they get extra loans?

Now many are talking about revival. But as people operating from the ground, we are afraid whether we will have a professional workforce once we are ready to be back. I personally think that it was the joint responsibility of the industry, trade associations and the State and Central Governments to protect the real stakeholders – the working professionals in the tourism & hospitality Industry. As of now, we all are blanked out as many of our leaders are out of the scene and governments are not even mentioning tourism.

The industry and governments will regret it once the atmosphere becomes favourable for tourism because without a proactive and passionate workforce, no tourism product can be delivered well. When our competing destinations have done their best to keep the tourism industry intact by protecting the morale of their workforce, India will be far behind when travellers visit us again soon. And due to the totally unacceptable attitude of the governments and the so-called giants of the industry, many have lost their passion for tourism.

To conclude, we see a clear lack of vision both from the industry as well as the governments.  This became clear from the inaction of the industry and the government with regard to the banks’ attitude, despite the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) urging them to support MSMEs. Are we waiting to see a total collapse so that only very few will exist post-Covid?