[Wayanad Matters] Quick buck makers won’t survive this pandemic while the resilient ones will, says WTO’s Vancheeswaran
The President of the Wayanad Tourism Organisation (WTO), K R Vancheeswaran, says that since properties in Wayanad are largely MSMEs, the chances of them closing down are very high.The quick buck makers are bound to close down, while the more serious and resilient ones will weather the storm and get back on their feet, he says. There are many fly-by-night operators who have already shut shop, Vancheeswaran, says in an exclusive interview, which is part of our mini-series Wayanad Matters.
This being a glamour industry there are many who can’t even openly state their plight, for it will affect their pride. There are many stories that are hidden and unreported, he says.
Wayanad should remain a high-volume, low-traffic destination so that its delicate ecology is preserved. He hopes post-COVID, the stakeholders will see more meaning in low traffic tourism in the region. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What has been the impact of Covid-19 on Wayanad Tourism? Has the extent of damage been more than initially estimated?
The impact has been severe, definitely more than what was estimated. The longer it takes to revert to normalcy, the impact will be even more severe, for tourism is the second biggest revenue earner in Wayanad after plantations. The impact is worse because 95% of the stakeholders belong to the MSME category.
Q: What steps did Wayanad Tourism Organisation (WTO) adopt to mitigate the damage?
The biggest trust between man and man is giving counsel. Going by this, we did have weekly Zoom meets to help each other out, sharing strategies, solving issues and representing ourselves before the government. As most of us are small timers, big time financial interventions are not possible, but the interactions help us to build confidence and keep our hopes alive at this hour of distress.
Q: Despite all measures, the global pandemic has still managed to wreak havoc globally. What are the lessons that the tourism sector can learn from this pandemic?
1. Ours is the most fragile industry, so save some for a rainy day.
2. Health and hygiene are of paramount importance.
3. Have a healthy mix of clients from across the spectrum.
4. Low traffic, high volume tourism sustains itself in the long run.
5. Community participation and creation of niche destinations matter in such scenarios.
Q: What changes do you foresee in post-pandemic travel in India?
1. People would want to travel to safe destinations
2. Travel would travel to less crowded places
3. Would seek experiences over touristy things
4. Health and hygiene will score over luxury
5. Multi-tasking training for hospitality personnel
Q: Wayanad has a fragile ecosystem which has been over-run by heavy tourist traffic. Post-pandemic, do you see the situation changing?
Wayanad always has a heavy flow of day time tourists, but the staying population was always in control as inbound traffic was very little. It was a weekend destination (except for a few weeks in a year). The agrarian life style of Wayanad people, did help to contain the spread so far, and can be a big scoring point in post-pandemic promotions.
Q: Do you think Wayanad is more suited to high volume-low traffic tourism?
200% yes. This is what WTO has been striving for. However, many facets including economic compulsions prevented it being fully enforced. I hope post-COVID, the stakeholders will see more meaning in low traffic tourism.
Q: How did the various resorts in Wayanad cope with the pandemic? Did any resort close down due to business pressures?
As mentioned earlier, the properties in Wayanad are MSMEs and hence the chances of closing down are very high. Especially the quick buck makers are bound to close down, while the more serious and resilient ones will weather the storm and get back to their feet. There are many fly-by-night operators who have shut shop, some are struggling to get a breather and many are clinging on to hope in times of despair.
Q: What steps do you think the resorts can adopt to tide over the crisis? What is the nature and extent of the difficulties that they are facing?
Get ready for many “new normals” and adapt quickly to changed customer behaviour. Train staff for multitasking and show more concern for hygiene, health. The costs for newer procedures are going to increase operational costs and the rentals can’t be increased. So, effective cost cutting and maximisation of output and minimising wastage are some things that can help us get back to our feet.
Q: With regard to connectivity, hotels in Wayanad still depend a lot on the Calicut airport. How do you think the connectivity can be improved?
The connectivity issues are sort of getting solved through Kannur and Mysore airports. Just when things were turning around, the pandemic hit. So, we hope post-COVID, we need to pursue these to improve footfalls.
Q: Were you satisfied with the approach of the Central and State Governments towards the tourism sector?
In this situation, which all of us are facing for the first time, it is easy to criticize but difficult to act. There was some support from the State and Central government. The expectations were high from Centre, so we were disappointed. Being a fragile industry, there should have been some concrete support. There are many allied areas that are unorganized and they will struggle to even survive. This being a glamour industry, there are many who can’t even openly state their plight, for it will affect their pride. There are many stories that are hidden, unreported.
Let’s hope the Indian resilience and perseverance will help us to prevail over this catastrophe.