The pandemic was harsh on travel agencies as the whole world paused due to coronavirus-induced lockdowns.
Keertiraj H., a former software engineer, runs a tour and travel business, named Keerti Tours & Travels. He looks after the google business aspect of the company. But his uncle, Shankar B., looks after the business on ground. As the pandemic put a halt on the whole world, his business was no exception.
The business used to own three buses and used to have three drivers till March 2020, Keertiraj translated for his uncle who doesn’t speak Hindi. After the lockdown was imposed, the business got no to minimal customers. He had taken a home loan that he could not pay back due to the first lockdown in March 2020.
Now, he is using his savings to get through this lockdown and he still not able to pay his Equated Monthly Installments (EMI).
On the evening of 24th March 2020, PM Narendra Modi, in a television broadcast, announced the first nationwide lockdown, in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus in India. With the advent of the pandemic-induced lockdown, every major economic activity was put on hold. Tourism and travel industry was no exception.
Along with many economic activities, the travel and tourism sector also got heavily impacted due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic the scenes were very different.
India is known for its exotic, religious and unique features in the West. India has always been fascinating to foreigners and has attracted millions of tourists. Millions of foreigners as well as domestic visitors visit various tourist places in India every year, for instance, the Taj Mahal. ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ is the phrase we’ve been using since time eternal when we welcome a guest.
Travel and tourism is one of India’s largest economic sectors. It contributes directly towards the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, ranking at eighth position among the leading countries in the world.
The tourism sector’s direct contribution towards GDP increased from 2012 till 2018. It was 63.73 billion USD in 2012 and grew up to 98.17 billion USD in 2018, with a prediction of reaching 194.69 billion USD in 2028.
In 2017, travel and tourism contributed over 91 billion U.S. dollars to the country’s GDP, with around 11 million foreign tourists reportedly arriving in India.
Not only international but domestic visitors also contribute towards India’s GDP. An exponential rise in the local tourist visits was seen from the year 2000 till present. In 2019, over 2.3 billion domestic tourist visits were made across India, an increase from the previous year with 1.8 billion tourists.
Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) during 2017 were 10.18 million with a growth of 15.6 percent over the same period of the previous year. During 2016, FTAs were 8.8 million with a growth rate of 9.7 percent over 2015.
In 2020, the FTAs were 24.62 million with a growth of -74.6 percent over the same period of the previous year.
With the government imposing the first nationwide lockdown on 24th March, all major economic activities were suspended. Countries suspended their flights between themselves. Trains, buses, autorickshaws, metros etc were also suspended until the first Unlock was announced.
With every mode of transport being suspended, and movement being restricted, travel agencies of the country suffered great losses. Many hotels were shut, travel agencies incurred losses – they’re still facing it, and restaurants were shut.
Tourism in Karnataka
Karnataka is one of the southern states in India, located on the western coast. It was formerly known as Mysore until 1973. Located in the midst of Western Ghats, Deccan Plateau and Konkan Coast, Karnataka is home to various forests, beaches, waterfalls, coffee plantation. It also boasts of historically significant monuments and structures attracting tourists from all over the world.
Tourism not only promotes the culture, food, heritage and landscapes of our country. It also generates job opportunities. According to a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2019, one in four new net jobs were created by travel and tourism in the last five years.
Keertiraj was not the only one facing this problem. There were many similar travel agents facing the similar kind of issue, Shamanth K. was another one of them.
Shamanth K., proprietor of Sanman Travels, deals in domestic and international flight bookings as well as car rental services. He said that there were no flight bookings for tours as most of the places were closed till November.
“As everything started opening slowly from November, we got a few inquiries. By the end of December, which is the peak season, we got some bookings,” he added.
Shamanth said that with the lockdown imposed again, his business has been affected again. “Flights are getting cancelled so frequently,” he added.
Little Revival with Unlocks:
With successive unlocks, the travel agencies were gaining momentum gradually. According to this report, Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) resumed tour packages last year in the month of June. The decision came after the central government issued guideline to relax lockdown rules and resume economic activities in the nation.”
Yogesh M.K., Manager for Tours at Karnataka State tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) said that the central government ordered them to resume operations since June 8, 2020. But they were still non-operational then. “It was only from October that we got few bookings of our tour packages.”
“Most of the tour packages are seasonal like the North Karnataka tour cannot be operational during the summer season as it gets really hot during that time. It is operational only during monsoon and winters. Except for the Tirupati tour package, every other package is seasonal,” he added.
“The Tirupati tour package is booked throughout the year. It is one of the hot-selling package in KSTDC.”
The North Karnataka tour was the first package tour that KSTDC started last year around October-November. After that it started the Goa-Gokarna tour package. Slowly, with other package tours like the South Karnataka tour package, the work was picking up.
“We also had a ‘Mini South India’ package which covered Tamil Nadu and Kerala as well,” said Yogesh.
Shamanth, owner of Sanman Travels, also said that his business was recovering slowly after December. In January and February, his business did some promotions as well. “It was getting back on its feet. People were travelling and the business recovered around 25 percent to 50 percent,” he added.
But with rise in COVID cases and the government imposing partial lockdown again in the month of March 2021, his business got affected again. “Flights are getting cancelled so frequently now-a-days.”
Yogesh said that till mid-March of 2021, the bookings were going well. After that, in April, the second wave forced the government to impose lockdowns again. “People who had booked for April and May, cancelled their bookings.”
“What is the most important thing in a human being’s life?” Dr. B. Janaki Ram, visiting professor at Canara Bank School of Management Studies (CBSMS), Bangalore University asked. I answered, “Life.”
He then went on to say that life is the most important thing right now, given the adverse conditions that we are going through.
“A traveller needs a travel agent or a travel guide when he/she is going to a new place, a place he is not familiar with. But right now, when the government is allowing us to go out only for four hours to buy essential goods, who feels the need to travel or the need of a travel agent?” he said.
The state of Karnataka went into a lockdown again from April 27, 2021. The government initially announced a ‘close down’ for 14 days, but as the cases kept on rising, it imposed a complete lockdown from May 10 to May 24. Now, the lockdown has been extended again till June 1. Now, the Yediyurappa government has extended the lockdown till June 7, 2021.
Janaki Ram later said that the situation will improve only if around 60 percent of the population is vaccinated. It may take travel agents more than 12 to 18 months to revive from this slump.
Madhura Bhasker, a producer, is right now staying in Tamil Nadu with her parents. Before the lockdown she used to live in Mumbai where she works. In the video below, she tells us why she is not willing to travel right now.
Nitin G. loves to travel places but due to the pandemic he is not doing so. In the audio below, he tells us which mode of booking, he usually prefers.
Ministry of Tourism under the central government took various steps to overcome the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the tourism sector, such as:
- Hotels, restaurants, B&Bs/homestays were allowed to be operate since June 8, 2020 to resume business.
- Recognition of travel agents and tour operators by the Ministry of Tourism was extended by six months. Those who submitted applications for recognition by the Ministry were given provisional recognition for six months, pending completion of required procedures.
- The Ministry launched the Dekho Apna Desh (DAD) initiative in January 2020. The ministry carried out series of webinars showcasing the diverse culture, heritage, destinations and tourism products of the country.