Sadasivam M, a government authorised tourist guide in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), the heritage site in Tamil Nadu, gets foreign customers regularly every year between October and March.
While Europeans flock the place during the tourist season, post October 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, even Chinese visitors started to show interest.
Sadasivam thought his business is set to boom with the destination getting good publicity in both national and international media after the Modi-Xi summit.
But little did he imagine that all would come crashing down this year. With coronavirus disrupting the global travel industry and leading airlines in India cancelling flights to specific destinations like China, Singapore which are badly affected by the virus, Sadasivam says his income has come down by nearly 40-50% in the last two months. He fears the sluggish time would continue till mid-year.
After the Indian tourism industry started to witness good growth in 2012, he always got orders from tourist operators, almost every day without fail. For the man who spent 25 years in the tourism industry working as a guide, this year is turning out be a ban one already.
“Even when Chennai was hit by floods, I did not see such a slump. While I did not have to scout for clients previously, I now run behind tourist vehicles that arrive at Mamallapuram with a hope to get some domestic clients at least,” Sadasivam says.
“Many foreign tourists come during Dec-March because they want to avoid extremely cold weather in their countries and India’s climate during that period is pleasant,” he adds.
Sadashivam who made living as a tour guide managed to earn ₹25,000-30,000 a month during the peak season. But now even earning ₹12,00-15,000 is difficult, he says. He even cited the protest related to the Citizenship bill and the recent Delhi riots started to affect even the domestic tourists’ inflow.
But contrastingly, Ministry of Tourism on January 22 issued a statement saying the inflow of tourists was not affected by the (Citizenship Amendment Act) CAA or by the abrogation of Article 370. It indeed said, the visitor inflow at Mamallapuram between October and December last, before the coronavirus scare, increased by 35%.
But now, with a large section of holiday crowd from China and Europe staying away due to the outbreak, the tourism industry is facing a rough time. The coronavirus is not just affecting the Tamil Nadu tourism but across various destinations in the country.
Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) claim as many as 2,50,000 Chinese tourists visited India throughout the year, and about a quarter of them visit during the Chinese New Year season in January-February. He says this category of tourists’ inflow will see a steep fall this year.
“The Chinese nationals are the highest spenders with a budget of about $1,000 per head. So the loss is colossal,” Pronab Sarkar, president of the association says. He says that the lull is expected to extend with cancellations of March bookings, as well.
While the summit brought about an overhaul of amenities with better lighting, roads, and improved maintenance, it is disappointing that the place couldn’t ride on the popularity generated by the meeting, Paramasivam a tourist agent in Chennai noted.
While the Chinese comprise only three per cent of total tourists, Sarkar adds that the initial reports of coronavirus cases in India, especially in states like Kerala, have made Europeans and Americans cancelled their bookings too.
“The initial statements from the Kerala government which declared a state emergency created a scare among travellers. We saw 10 to 15 per cent cancellations in bookings from the United States and European countries soon after,” Sarkar says.
While the two back to back floods dragged down the tourism industry in Kerala, the coronavirus outbreak remains a cog in the wheel.
“At least 40 per cent of clients in the US and European countries like Germany, Switzerland, and the UK have cancelled their bookings to various destinations in Kerala,” says Benoy P Nair who runs his own tourist company. “Their fears also stemmed from the fact that the transit points for travellers from these countries are Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, which reported confirmed coronavirus cases.”
Houseboats and hotels around beaches around tourist destinations like Kovalam are at a severe loss yet again.
Besides a host of foreign airlines cancelling flights to select destinations affected by the virus, India operators like Air India cancelled its flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong till June 30. GoAir scaled down its flight services to Phuket and Bangkok. Vistara cancelled nearly 54 flight to Singapore and Bangkok for the upcoming month.
Over the years, The Indian tourism and hospitality industry emerged as one of the key drivers of growth among the services sector in India. India ranked third among 185 countries in terms of travel & tourism’s total contribution to GDP in 2018. As of 2019, 4.2 crore jobs were created in the tourism sector in India which was 8.1 per cent of total employment in the country, according to Indian Brand Equity Foundation, a market research firm established under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that its initial assessment of the impact of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 outbreak (COVID-19) shows a potential 13 per cent full-year loss of passenger demand for carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.
The industry body expects a revenue loss of $27.8 billion in 2020 for carriers in the Asia-Pacific region—the bulk of which would be borne by carriers registered in China, with $12.8 billion lost in the China domestic market alone.