New Delhi: With the pandemic dealing a heavy blow on the tourism industry, tour operators across the country are facing hard times. Hundreds of tour operators took out a rally in Delhi Sunday on the occasion of World Tourism Day, seeking relief from the authorities to tide over the crisis.
As many as 300 tour operators in 150 vehicles took out a peaceful rally from Vasant Kunj to the India Gate carrying posters that read “we paid our taxes, we paid our employees and now the government needs to pay us attention”, “10% GDP at risk” and “lakhs of job losses”.
“A lot of money which we had paid to airlines and the railways is stuck. We have not received our refunds. This is putting us in a deep financial crunch,” Rajesh Mudgil, of Delhi-based travel firm Planet India Travels Pvt Ltd, told ThePrint.
He also said many among them had to sell their assets to pay salaries to staff. “We will no longer be able to pay our employees. Even if we take loans, we will not be able to pay interests. The government must help sustain our businesses.”
Lajpat Rai, a member of the Indian Association of Tour Operators that represents over 1,700 inbound tour operators, said the government should continue the Service Exports from India Scheme (SEIS) for tour operators for the next five years. Under this scheme, India-based service providers are rewarded for eligible export of services from the country.
“The SEIS incentive should also be increased from 7 per cent to 10 per cent for the financial year 2020-21,” added Rai.
Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General at the Ministry of Tourism, said many “registered tour organisations” have met ministry officials in the past few months.
“The government’s first priority is the domestic tourism industry. Recommendations provided by these organisations have been taken seriously. The ministry has also had several meetings with the finance and commerce ministries to work out solutions,” Brar told ThePrint.
On Sunday’s protest, she said, “The tour operators should not be disheartened. The government stands with them. If they have some recommendations, we will take note of them.”
‘Don’t see any recovery before 2022’
Many in the tourism industry called the Covid-induced losses one of the biggest existential crisis they have faced so far. Some even said they don’t see any recovery before 2022, though the government has allowed re-opening of tourist spots such as the Taj Mahal.
The tourism industry contributes 9.2 per cent to India’s GDP and generates 8 per cent employment. According to a latest research report by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the travel and tourism Industry may lose Rs 5 lakh crore because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the government declared a nationwide lockdown in March, the tourism industry was apprehensive about the impending effect. It was assumed that the situation would get better by July-September. But there is no sign of help from the central or state government yet,” said Rai.
Some of the other demands made by the protesters are Atma Nirbhar loans (collateral-free and deferred loans with low interests), soft-loans or one-time grants, free entry or reduced fee for visitors at all monuments and national parks till 2022, reduce or withdraw road tax on tourist vehicles till March 2022, create travel bubbles with friendly nations, provide subsidy in electricity bills and licence charge for hotels till March 2022 and faster RT-PCR test results to facilitate foreign travel.
Speaking to ThePrint, Shibani Ahuja Kapoor, owner of Delhi-based travel company Wander Globe who coordinated the protest, said they have “lost self-respect” with the pandemic hitting their livelihood.
“Our industry is derailed. We don’t know how to move forward. We all have lost self-respect. The government needs to support us,” she said.
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