Coronavirus robs tourist guides of their livelihood

The neglected lot of the tourism sector

Tourism

March 31, 2021

/ By / Delhi

Coronavirus robs tourist guides of their livelihood

A photographer waiting for clients in despair (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

With tourism industry crippled for over a year due to the lockdown and other restrictions on travel as well as the collapse of the economy has left tourist guides struggling for survival.

“Even though we are not frontline workers fighting against the pandemic, we are the frontline workers of the tourism industry, but our plight was completely ignored by the government,” Gopal Sharma, a French speaking tourist guide operating in Rajasthan, tells Media India Group.

In March 2020, when the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic brought the entire world to a standstill, most segments of the economy took a huge hit, with perhaps travel and tourism being amongst the worst impacted. The situation of the tourism community in India has been even worse than in many other countries, the governments did manage to find some compensation or fiscal assistance to the industry such as furlough pays or tax holidays.

However, in India the industry, that accounts for nearly a tenth of the national GDP and employs 55 million persons  directly and indirectly across the country, has been left to fend for itself with practically no help coming from the government.

Even within the tourism industry, the crisis has been more severe for tourist guides, an overwhelming majority of whom are freelancers and do not have an employer to look up to for emergency assistance. The tourist guides in India, solely depend on the fees and tips given by Indian and foreign tourists.

Battle with the pandemic

“For the past one and a half years, the guides have been going through severe financial problems as tourism, their sole source of livelihood, has been completely shut down. These people are dependent on influx of tourists for eight-nine months in a year and therefore don’t focus on earning from other sources,” Gyanendra, an employee at Mangalam Tours, a travel agency based in New Delhi tells Media India Group.

However, the financial problem is not the only worry they have as many say that the emotional and mental stress they have been going through is a lot to deal with. “We have been sitting at home since last year and there is no income from tourism, but our expenses have been the same,” says Gopal Sharma.

In his career of 26 years, Gopal had managed to create other sources he could fall back on in these challenging times but unlike him a lot of his colleagues, who are the sole bread earners of their families, are finding it difficult to sustain. “A lot of my colleagues are suffering from depression and many have taken drastic measures,” says Gopal.

Missing government

As early as April 1, 2020, KPMG, a global consultancy firm, had warned that Indian tourism and hospitality industry could end up losing 38 million job losses, or nearly 70 pc of all employment in the segment. Despite these early warnings, tourist guides and other tourism players say precious little was done by the government.

In a press release on April 10, 2020, the ministry of tourism said that the government was sensitive to the needs of the citizens on the marginal levels of existence and everything was being done to assist them in this grim period, but the first-hand experience of Gopal and other guides like him tell an entirely different story. “The government gives us a license but does not guarantee jobs. We pay taxes regularly and the revenue generated through our work amounts to a large sum. As I have observed in the past 26 years, we have contributed a lot to the country’s GDP, but the fact that we are not even asked about our struggles and are completely ignored is a failure on the part of our leaders. We never asked them to provide financial relief or grants but simply acknowledging our problems and sitting with us to find a solution would have been enough for us,” says Sharma.

“For years we have played a major role in driving the tourism industry in India. People call us tourism ambassadors, as it us who represent our country’s culture to foreign travelers. I have travelled with a lot of foreign delegates and professionals and even though I accredit our leaders who have brought FDI in our country, I believe that representing our culture to these people and connecting with them at a personal level as we have also plays a substantial role as it motivates them to invest in our country,” he says.

One of the major reasons why the situation for people associated with tourism industry is bleak right now even after a lot of restrictions on domestic travel have been lifted is because unlike technology, pharmaceuticals and other industries, tourism is entirely dependent on mobility of people and their willingness for non-essential travel to sustain, but many are hopeful that after the distribution of vaccine their problems even if not entirely resolved will at least begin to lessen.

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