Pummelled by the pandemic, this outflow of people to nearby districts and states is being seen as the new wave of revenge travel or revenge tourism. The term has its origins in China, where after many decades of state-imposed restrictions, the country’s economy finally opened up for business, so to speak, and consumers went on an overdrive of shopping, which was termed as revenge spending.
Unfortunately, this trend which was being looked upon by industry stakeholders as a potential messiah of the travel business is severely crippled in the absence of simultaneous reopening of places of public interest such as heritage sites, tourism hotspots and the accompanying economic ecosystem, such as galleries, performance art spaces, auditoriums, food courts and nature-based attractions such as ecological parks or beaches. To top it off, states across the country are following a different roadmap concerning how they are opening up their public spaces. For instance, here in Tamil Nadu, the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur, and Children’s Park in Guindy were recently thrown open to the public, but footfall was considerably poor as the public is still skeptical about venturing into spaces that would entail proximity to others. Those debating the reopening of the city’s beaches to the public have been crying hoarse about the potential gain in revenues for the vendors and eateries in the vicinity of the shore, while still failing to arrive at a consensus on the safety aspects of opening up.
The neighbouring state of Kerala is in a similar predicament as the government re-enforced the draconian Section 144, which prohibits the assembly of more than five people in one place, earlier this month until November 15. In fact, for a lot of potential travellers, such re-imposition of lockdown has spelt disastrous results, as many of them have been cooped up in their resorts or hotel rooms with nowhere to go. As per a recent report, the losses sustained by the hotels and hospitality industry due to the slowdown is close to Rs 90,000 cr, or about 57 pc considered in terms of business erosion. The report added it may take a few years for the sector to hit pre-COVID levels. They estimated while occupancy levels will return to normal by 2022, the ADR (average daily rate) will normalise only by 2023.
For the record, under Budget 2020–21, the Centre allotted Rs 1,200 crore for the development of tourist circuits under the Swadesh Darshan programme for eight Northeast states. The same year, it also set aside a sum of Rs 207.55 crore for development of tourist circuits under PRASAD scheme. But this year, more than any financial incentive, the industry is in dire need of government support in terms of interest-free loans, exemption on GST across the board and PF waiver. For the small-time operators, the challenge is infrastructure-based - as in readying their properties with COVID guidelines in mind, a move that could shoot up their overheads substantially. For the big-ticket properties, the hit comes from the fact that a big chunk of their clientele comprised high-value international customers who are now unable to come to India for tourism. Although India has entered into bilateral air bubble agreements with 18 countries, a majority of the passengers are flying in or out on account of repatriation. For the next year and a half, India’s challenge will be to handhold the local tourist into embracing the idea of travel once again.