COVID-19: tour operators feel the pinch  02/14/2020 19:42:28 

Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), earlier known as novel coronavirus (nCoV), seems to be casting a shadow on the tourism industry. The outbreak of the disease in China and its spread to a few other countries has led to a number of tourists cancelling their planned tours.

Indian tour operators estimate they could lose up to $500 million and project the loss could register a four-fold increase, if virus persists through the year. The saving grace, however, is an increase in domestic tours.

Of the 3,20,000 Chinese tourists, expected to visit India this year, over 50,000 were expected to come during January-February. Most of these bookings have now been cancelled. India, like other countries, has blocked the entry of people from China and Hong Kong, says Dheeraj, vice-president of the Tours and Travels Association of Andhra (TTAA).

All the ASEAN countries are concerned about the decrease in the tourist footfalls to their respective countries. Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia have already announced that their countries are safe to visit as they have stopped allowing Chinese citizens to enter their countries, says P.S. Kumar, secretary of TTAA.

The ASEAN countries will have to work in tandem to allay the fears by informing them of the measures taken and announcing from a common platform on how safe it is to travel to the destinations, observes K. Vijay Mohan, president of TTAA.

Usually by this time, we see bookings being done for the summer. This year, the bookings are very dull and if this situation continues, the industry will be severely affected, and the losses for travel agents in Andhra could be around 12 crore a month, forcing many agents to down their shutters, adds Mr. Vijay Mohan.

GST exemption sought

The association is planning to appeal to the Government of India to come to the rescue of the travel agents by exempting them from GST till the situation improves.

We are promoting the tulip gardens in Srinagar and the destinations in Rajasthan and Gujarat and asking our counterparts in the north to promote the beaches in A.P., Karnataka, Kerala, the hill station at Araku, Lambasingi. Compared to last year, we have seen an increase of around 20% in domestic tours. State Tourism Boards can also play a big role in this regard, says Muralikrishna of M/s Travel iQ.

Apart from over 80 % cancellations in group booking from Vizag to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, we have also seen cancellations to Australia, he adds.

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