Coronavirus Impact: Final Nail in the Coffin of Assam Tourism Industry
Losses of hundreds of crores due to various crises since December; chances of easy revival unlikely, Indrani Phukan, Public Relations Manager of Hotel Vivanta Guwahati informed that the hotel has been completely shut from business given the lockdown.
Assam Tourism, an industry that has immense potential has mostly been left unexplored. In recent years the industry had seen some steady and significant growth finally, only to be paralyzed by the various crises of the times.
Since December 2019, the tourism sector of Assam has seen a steady decline. As per reports the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act that brought the state to a complete halt not only shut tourism operations for about a month but also portrayed Assam as an unsafe destination to the world, thus spurring the decline of tourists.
The industry lost around Rs. 1,000 crores during the months of December-January.
Ranjeet Das, President of the Tour Operators’ Association of Assam said, “We started to pick up pace during February but the agitations in Meghalaya further degenerated us.”
“Now the lockdown due to coronavirus has rendered the final nail in the coffin,” he added.
It has to be mentioned that the pandemic has completely shut the tourism business not only in the state but across the world.
G Plus spoke to a few significant stakeholders of the industry to take stock of the current situation and its impact on the numerous people attached to it.
Nirmalya Choudhury, Executive Director of Jungle Travels India Pvt Ltd said, “The industry is shattered. All stakeholders are worried if it’s even going to pick up in six months’ time, or will we even survive the coming 6 months. This is the peak season to travel to the northeast but we do not have any way to continue business.”
The tourism sector has manifold implications involved. Many companies and households are directly and indirectly involved in the business.
Choudhury continues, “Tourism works in such a way that every company that provides us business expects the best in return. So the tour operators also upgrade their vehicles and other amenities regularly. There are many companies in the state as well as northeast who have invested heavily in buying vehicles for tourists. Now how do they pay EMIs for these? Similarly, hotels are also incurring losses. Many have invested in upgrading but are not able to pay back their loans now.”
It has to be mentioned that the salaries of most of the staff members could not be paid due to complete closure of operations.
“How do we pay salary to the staff? We might be able to for a month or two but not for 6 months without any business coming in. We might probably be looking at a huge number of lay-offs,” added Choudhury.
As per estimates provided there are around three lakh families directly dependent on the tourism business. The number increases to around five lakhs if the indirect dependants are also calculated.
“In case of revenue, the loss can be estimated between Rs 200 to 300 crores including all stakeholders,” informed Ranjeet Das.
Given the recent boom in the tourist activities of the state many people have joined the sector in the last two years. These businesses include small hotels, restaurants, home stays, adventure tourism and others. For example, there are around 500 safari vehicles in Kaziranga National Park, 20 in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and 150 in Manas National Park. There are many such families dependent on safaries across the different wildlife sanctuaries in Assam. It has also to be mentioned that most of these have also taken various loans, EMIs of which have to be paid regularly.
Das informed that many start ups and entrepreneurs have been completely crushed and chances of their revival are low. The owners have become highly de-motivated.
Arijit Purkayastha of Koyeli Tours and Travels said, “The complete losses cannot be fathomed as yet. There are many people involved including staff, drivers, guides and others. And not just due to the lockdown, we have been incurring losses since December. Many reservations were cancelled but we are not yet able to return the money as the hotels that we have already booked have not refunded as per their own norms. After such incidents we might expect Indian nationals to come back but foreign tourists cannot be expected so easily.”
“Tourism will take a long time to revive and the test right now is how to survive till then. We can hope by October-November situations might improve but it is unlikely after this pandemic,” informed Choudhury of Jungle Travels.
Ranjeet Das further added, “This will also have repercussions on the employment sector. There are 16 colleges and universities in Assam offering various courses on tourism. But how are we to offer the students jobs? The effects will be very long term."
“The chain of involvement is not limited. Lately we have also encouraged students to learn tourism guidance, bird watching, river dolphin spotting etc to guide the travellers. From tourists travelling to Sualkuchi, Hajo, etc, the Assam silk industry had been benefited. Tourists have also shown interest towards Assamese jewellery, and cane and bamboo products that they take as souvenirs. As such all these industries are also linked to tourism. So it’s very difficult to weigh the losses altogether,” added Purkayastha.
It has also to be mentioned that of the many number of hotels in Assam, many smaller ones are also operating in buildings taken on rent. Owners of such hotels are worried that given the complete lockdown and the scare of the COVID-19 pandemic amongst people they might have to shut businesses for a long time. As such owners of many hotels are expecting the government to provide relief funds so that rents and salaries of staffs could be paid off.
Earlier, due to the Coronavirus scare, wildlife spots and parks in the state as well as hotels and resorts in Kaziranga had been ordered to close operations even before the national lockdown was announced.
Indrani Phukan, Public Relations Manager of Hotel Vivanta Guwahati informed that the hotel has been completely shut from business given the lockdown.
Varun Vohra of Hotel Palacio said, “We are completely closed and all our employees have been asked to take leave. Only a few residing in the employees’ quarters at the hotel are currently maintaining the building. But we have no guest as of now, neither are we accepting any bookings.”
Talking about losses, he informed that the hotel had seen a 75 percent decline in revenue in the month of March and similar losses or more are expected in the coming months.
It has to be brought to notice of the readers that the Kerala government had announced a financial package of Rs 20,000 crores to deal with the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak in the state. Reportedly, a substantial amount of the package has also been dedicated to the tourism industry and hospitality industry. As such the stakeholders of the tourism industry of Assam has also requested the state government to provide relief for them.
Arijit Purkayastha said, “We request the government to give us six to nine months of financial relief. We should be given soft loans to pay the salaries of our staff. I am not asking for grants but loans at minimum interest rates that we will return at the earliest possible.”
Ranjeet Das, “Assam has incurred multiple blows in a very short span of time. The season this time has completely been washed out. I don’t think travel plans of the people will be revived anytime soon. Unless we get some boosting packages from the government it will be very difficult to sustain.”
- Assam Tourism Industry
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