Covid-19 phase to ‘back to business’ mode

The slew of reforms announced by the finance ministry in one hack removed ridiculous rules and regulations piled on over the last seven decades for the farming community. These bizarre regulations that made agriculturists sell their crops through a network of middlemen and obstructed their will sell to those giving the highest price.

 To say tourism has been hit badly is an understatement, being the first to get affected and the last to recover! The scenario created by the anticipated demands of the industry being brought to a closure by the Union Government was notwithstanding, the fatigue brought in by travel-trade associations after associations flogging the Wishlist on to a slow-death mode! While the tourism ministry continued to maintain an eerie silence about the noise being made by the industry, the track to survival set the WhatsApp groups across India on fire.

National travel trade associations found itself receiving brickbats for being unable to even elicit a reaction by the finance ministry, forget about the revival package! This resulted in over fifteen state travel-trade associations getting together to create a federation of regional travel associations and sending in a pitch for assistance to the Finance ministry! The clear disinterest by the Union Finance Ministry or the tourism ministry to address the tourism sector is alarming, considering that the current Prime Minister has made more positive overtures to its wellbeing than anyone before him!

With more and more states have decided to come out of an enforced lockdown and are now opening restaurants, hotels, and resorts, albeit, with safety conditions, it has also brought with it more confusing. Some states have decided to put passengers into a mandatory government quarantine once you land in, some states have opened the hotels to receive tourists, but have ruled that tourist sites remain shut! On a brighter note, what is India, without its confusion and chaos!

Innovation at the time of recovery often comes at a cost of stability. The entire industry has been trying a bit too hard to break the revenue stranglehold. Hotels have gone ahead and created additional revenue streams to manage services such as corporate transport, facility management services to provide laundry services, while travel agents have found love in selling sanitization products. The temptation to create a business opportunity is good, but like all enterprises, it needs to follow elements of branding and positioning. If hotels want to get into offering facility management services for companies, what stops from facility management organizations to get into managing hotels, just because, they have some excess manpower to spare!

Hotels and Resorts, that have opened bookings to guests within Karnataka and are within driving distances have already shown signs of slow recovery. Traveling and staying in hotels in a new normal scenario will take time getting used to, but to see the cash registers ringing once again is a sign towards the road to recovery. With most marketing gone digital and via WhatsApp groups, hotels are gone creative in marketing using bare resources with greater emphasis to reach out to clients who need a break from this ‘Once in a lifetime – lockdown fatigue!’

Some proactive state governments such as Karnataka have already set standards even with regard to weddings. This has encouraged hotels to market wedding packages with the upper-limit guest list of 50 pax. The ability of state governments to give permissions, on ‘what is possible and what is not’ will help in the early recovery of tourism businesses. There have been some ridiculous situations, wherein the hotels have been allowed to receive guests, while the local administrations have barred them from visiting tourist sites, and archaeological sites still not opened their doors! Hope better sense prevails to make the recovery a steady success. Karnataka has been at the forefront of providing practical time-to-time help to the industry, whether bringing a delayed payment mechanism for electricity billing systems for hotels or granting permissions to hotels and resorts to sell-off their liquor stock during the lockdown, albeit at MRP.

There never has been a better time to bring in reforms to the fore! The red-tape that has throttled the tourism industry with bizarre and outdated laws is now hopefully on its last legs. To be an entrepreneur in India, one has to give him the country’s highest honor. The sheer perseverance you need to start a business, wherein you still require about 52 licenses, permissions and NOCs to start a hotel in India and about 10 to even put up a corner Paan shop deserves a Ph.D. analysis in its own right! Even though India has upped its credibility in the ‘Ease of doing business‘ index, we have a long way to go to make investments into the tourism industry, one of pleasure! The thought goes around Bengaluru, on how it managed to make a niche as the Information Technology giant over the years is simply because the government did not have a clue on how professionals sitting in front of a computer box made money delivering code to enterprises around the world! Tourism, though gets its share on prime-time media these days, it is still a plane sucker for the discerning to play their favorite round of football with. The ability to play well and play smart may be the adage you associate with the Indian Cricket team, but the immensely assist the immensely talented Indian hospitality industry if it punches above its weight!

The Indian aviation industry has been one of the highlights of this entire Covid19 lockdown. On one hand, travel agents are scrambling to get refunds for their clients, who found themselves in a difficult situation, where they were left holding credit notes and airline vouchers for future travel! Amid all the noise about airlines starting with the crew and passengers in safety-mode spacesuits, Indigo announced its interest in bidding for Virgin Australia, which had filed for bankruptcy! These sure are interesting times for the aviation industry in India!

The social distancing norms that have come in, will encourage more self-drive and taxi options. The interstate tourist taxi permits are out of date and do not contribute more than a fraction of the state’s coffers. The objective to regulate the flow of transportation of people on the roadways is bizarre. Luckily there are no toll-gates and check-posts on the Airspace, while we fly from one place to another, maybe it is food for thought for those devising more ways to milk the humble tourist! A sheer case of discrimination for those using the roads. Having created a much better road infrastructure to the credit of this government, it is imperative to create a sound tourism facility by way of motels, wayside amenities, etc. The eradication of Intercity Road taxes and permits will give a much-needed fillip to the domestic tourism sector.

The strength of India as a destination and a bonafide outbound travel market is under test with the number of COVID-19 cases rising. As International destinations open up to receive guests, India would be one of the few markets around the world, that could see traction. India with one of the world’s lowest per capita cases of the virus, considering our population will be one of the key markets for destinations around the world! The tourism industry at least in the APAC region is already looking up to India to make up for the numbers, they expect to lose from China.

 The shakedown, with almost every segment of the tourism industry being adversely affected, the government incentives for business already declared a mirage, the inertia to get going lies with the stakeholder. The Indian love for the proverbial ‘Resilience’ is long gone out of the window, while the industry picks up its scrums and move on. Of course, you can still feel the warm smiles behind their masks – just happy to have you be back!

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