What is missing in the Indian tourism industry

Tourism as a secure livelihood?

The world is currently experiencing unprecedented upheavals due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In India, according to estimates by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), sales of over five trillion Indian rupees (over 58.6 billion euros) could be lost along the tourism value chain, of which over 18 billion euros in the organized sector. It is taken into account that around 70 percent of Indian tourism can be assigned to the unorganized, informal sector. The Corona crisis reveals the weaknesses of the highly acclaimed tourism sector.

The slack is currently visible from afar. Hotels are closed, the beaches are empty and only a few restaurants remain open offering pick-up or delivery services. “Since the start of the lockdown, the reservations for March, April and May have been canceled and over the next few months most tour operators will be operating in the tourism sector with no turnover. At the same time, salaries, electricity, water, maintenance costs and other fixed costs still have to be paid. Hotels have to be comprehensively repaired in order to be able to be used again. A successful recovery of the tourism industry will only be possible with substantial state support from the federal states and the Union government as well as the trade associations, ”says a manager of a hotel complex in Varkala, a well-known tourist destination in Kerala, southern India. It looks the same in almost all tourist destinations.

“We have no guests and no other sources of income. We are completely dependent on tourism and have no capital to invest in alternatives, ”says Deepak Gupta, a representative of the Association of Street Vendors from Bodh Gaya, a famous Buddhist pilgrimage center. As an alternative to traditional forms of livelihood, tourism makes communities particularly vulnerable in times of crisis.

But unlike conventional tourism businesses, community-based tourism is more resilient. It is about a niche tourism that is decentralized, more sustainable and fragmented. “We see tourism as an additional income to our income from agriculture. The tourism we promote is not capital intensive and preserves our rural identity. We use existing infrastructure such as home stays, '' says Mallika Virdhi from Munsiari, a Himalayan village in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, no guests have come here in the past three months. But a safety reserve of five percent of the total income from tourism helps your community during this time. “We don't want a bailout package from the government. We want our important role in tourism to be recognized, ”says Rekha, also a home-stay operator from Munsiari. She is certain that what works during this crisis will continue to work in the future.

“In March, April and May we lost our income from tourism, but we are not under pressure. It is now monsoon time and we are busy with some of our agricultural activities. We have postponed planting rice seedlings for a month so as not to lose another crop in case the flooding occurs again, ”said Jayesh and Sindhu, a married couple from Wayanad, Kerala. Her district suffered severe flooding from the monsoons for two years in a row. In 2018 and 2019, home stay tourism helped some farmers to absorb losses from agriculture. Now they have adjusted their planting calendar to reduce the risks.

The future in our hands

Apart from its negative effects, the corona crisis is an opportunity to critically examine the resilience of tourism as a development model. The increasing role of the state in tourism through rescue packages and other measures should be an opportunity to formulate new conditions for state aid. For example, companies must meet strict requirements in terms of their carbon footprint, community participation, the benefits of tourism to the local population and better destination management. Governments should set guidelines based on positive examples as conditions for their aid. The experience of many community-based tourism projects must flow into future planning and political action plans.

Experience shows that the ideal resilient destinations are those that deal effectively with crises and quickly recover from them. They are those whose political action plans take current and future risks into account. This also includes the decentralization of decision-making and management powers in tourism. Some of the experiences from community-based tourism show that such initiatives make communities more resilient than conventional tourism models.

We have to analyze global tourism after the Corona crisis in the context of "overtourism", financial crises, climate change and other upheavals. Such an analysis can provide insights into other resilience aspects, such as the low profitability and liquidity of the industry, existing overcapacities and oversupply, subsidies and tax incentives, the deregulation of the markets and the development of the disruptive platform economy.

A fundamental change and paradigm shift for more sustainable tourism can mitigate the effects of a crisis like Covid-19 and also increase the resilience of the tourism sector. Distance regulations can be an occasion to say goodbye to the mass tourism paradigm. The corona crisis represents an opportunity to get away from quantity-oriented tourism and focus more on quality.

Joyatri Ray is the managing director of Equitable Tourism Options (Equations), a non-governmental organization that conducts research, campaigning and advocacy work on tourism and development in India.

K.T. Suresh worked for 20 years in various positions Equations and is currently the organization's vice chairman.

Sumesh Mangalasseri is the founder of Kabani - the other direction and Kabani Community Tourism and Services, a non-governmental organization and social enterprise promoting community-based tourism in India. He works with Equations in various programs, for example on the development of a network of community-based tourism organizations.

Translation from English: Christina Kamp