The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has overturned the fundamental slogans of Service with Human Touch and Service with a Smile on which the tourism and hospitality sector thrives. Touch is not a preferred practice any more and the very few faint smiles left around get hidden behind the mask.
People watched helplessly as the rapid spread of the virus ravaged economy quickly and changed their lives forever. Those associated with this sector say that to survive this crisis, revive their business and thrive again in the industry is the biggest challenge ever.
"All tourist destinations in the State have reopened this month but where are the people?" asks S. Prasanth, president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Andhra Pradesh (HRAAP).
Most hotels opened in July or August but there has been very less or no business. "We tried talking to our corporate clientele but they said unless the COVID-19 vaccine comes out, nobody is ready to take risk," rues Mr. Prasanth.
The pandemic has forced around 20% of the hotels in the State to permanently shut down while another 10% have downed the shutters with a hope to reopen in the next financial year.
The public response to the unlock process is very slow, he says. "Its over three months that the hotel industry has started operating but we have reached only 25% business today. People still feel unsafe," he says, expressing the hope that from April, things may start looking up.
The association members approached the government seeking help to revive their businesses and are hopeful of a positive news very soon.
Boating activity suffers
Even as the government struggles to find ways for revival of the tourism properties, operators of the aligned activities wait with a bated breath for normalcy to return. Adventure sports and boating activity are major attractions of the AP Tourism. The Bhavani Island, a prized possession of the tourism wing, wears a deserted look in the absence of boating facility, suspended for now on account of the floods in the Krishna river.
All boating activity was suspended in September last year in the wake of a private tourist boat capsize at Kutchulur that claimed many lives prompting the authorities to take a long, hard look at the rules that govern private boat operators.
Amidst murmurs of a very high security deposit and rigid terms and conditions for private investors, boats were set sailing in the Krishna and the Godavari rivers after a long gap, only to be anchored again due to torrential rains causing a flood.
"The year 2020 has been a disaster. We are waiting for the new tourism policy for clarity to emerge," said Tarun Kakani, co-convenor of the tourism panel of the Confederation of Indian Industry-AP chapter and CEO of the Amaravati Boating Club.
Sunil Nair, a travel and tour operator from Vijayawada, narrates his woes on account of the pandemic. "I have a client base here and I cannot shut the shop and disappear from the scene. Though there is no business I keep my office open in the hope that things will get better. But I cant afford to do this any longer," he laments.
Ray of hope
The Tours and Travels Association of Andhra (TTAA) State president K. Vijaya Mohan, in a media interaction, had said that the tourism sector had suffered a loss of business of nearly 2,000 crore by the end of August.
Managing Director of the AP Tourism Development Corporation and CEO of AP Tourism Authority Pravin Kumar agrees that the COVID-19 has given very hard times, but he also sees a ray of hope. "I can see the revival happening, although it is slow. Post lockdown, we started with less than 10% business in the 37 properties of the APTDC in the State but it has gone up to almost 35% now. Other activities like water-based adventure sports will also resume soon when the flood water recedes," he says and adds: "Today I may be struggling to pay salaries to my employees but I can see things slowly brightening up."