As lockdown eases in Europe, we go out of our home to catch up with friends & family over a long-due beer on terraces. The perfect hue of sunlight jogs the memory of South Asia & all the wonderful people met.
Many South Asian countries grind again to combat the coronavirus outbreak, while stakeholder of tourism faces the threat of another indefinite dry spell. WTTC estimates about 30 million of the 50 million jobs that could be lost would be in Asia. The majority are drivers, guides, aviation employees, hotels, and restaurant staff & indirect employment like souvenir makers, etc. Tourism contributes up to 10 -12% of GDP in these countries, therefore its domino effect is appalling & triggered the shoving of the middle class into poverty. With zero or jot of financial assistance from their Government, many had to look for another income source desperately to survive.
Our driver & transporters had to radically reduce their fleet, unable to pay bank installments. Mostly return to their village or took up available part-time jobs.
In Sri Lanka, Driver Krishantha brought his vehicle at 8% interest rate, like many of his fellow drivers or locally known as chauffeur guide. However, he too had to sell his vehicle to waive off EMIs. He was driving a lorry to meet his bare requirements & feed his 2 kids (2 & 7 years). He is out of job again due to the new lockdown. He might have to let go of his house, if he does not pay his rent soon.
In India, Driver Ram Kewal went back to his village & took up farming. He was scared the untimely rain (drastic weather change is a common phenomenon due to global climate changes) could destroy his harvest & current livelihood. Driver Subhash battled Corona recently, now his health does not permit labor-intensive jobs like farming so looking for a less strenuous job to run his family of 5. Driver Bhupinder sold everything he could to go to Doha to earn a living like many others.
During a visit to India in March 2021, Shanti Travel CEO Jérémy Grasset was first foreign tourist in a year for many. Warmth & gratitude was mutual, he recalls.
However the emergence of the 2nd wave in April has decimated hotelier’s hopes, brought by the rise of local travelers in the 1st quarter of the year. Now the hotels & resorts are fully or partially closed. While some try to retain co-workers on lowest salary, others sold to new management. Our hotels create decent work & economic growth which came to a halt too.
Jayantha (Hotel Jays Habarana, Sri Lanka), started organic farming of vegetables & fruit but his project was dampened due to the country’s travel restriction. Alamdhari hotel in Sidemen, Bali, Indonesia opens only on weekend with reduced staff to minimize operational cost. For rest of week, they go back to families & farming.
The crisis is incessant particularly for local guides & tour leaders since most of the domestic travelers do not seek their service. It is said that adaptation is the way forward post-Covid therefore some took irregular paying jobs at the call center or doing translation. Some have opened shops for grocery, mustard oil, seasonal fruits, etc. Without acumen for business, it is a long shot
In India, Guide Hareram opened a hardware shop using all his savings in his village in Bihar. It has been a difficult year to cope with a completely different work profile along with financial distress.
The situation is similarly grim for our experience providers like heritage walkers, families depending on cooking classes, Kathakali/Kecak Dance Performers, Naturalists, Porters, Airport Representatives, so forth.
Shruti Chowdhury, Operation head of Shanti Travel in India, says at this critical juncture, the tourism industry is in the doldrums. We & our partners like any other organization are also passing through an unprecedented precarious condition so far as its business is concerned. She misses the travelers and cultural exchange. The confinement highlighted the importance of travel than ever before. Therefore while we wait for effective policies leading to the resumption of a better, freer life for all of us, the team has used this time to formulate safer; more sustainable & immersive journeys & eagerly waits to share’.
The magnitude & nature of the second wave, predominantly in India & now Nepal increase the uncertainty. Suffering has been inconceivable & visibly impacted mental wellbeing.
It is a reality check that no country can be left behind to recover from this Pandemic. Historian says every pandemic changed the course of humankind, mostly for the better. We cannot let COVID-19 be any different if we stubbornly all do our part to support & restore each other.