“In my lifetime, I have seen a lot of crises like the Indo-Bangladesh war, Indo-Pakistan war, Indo-China war etc. This is not only the mother of all crises but a complete disaster,” confesses Subhash Goyal, Chairman - STIC Travel Group and Hony Secretary- Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) in one-on-one with Today’s Traveller.
Goyal is an industry veteran who has seen the highs and lows of the travel industry and steered it through difficult situations in the past in his capacity of President IATO, a powerful all India association of tour operators.
TT Bureau: Your reaction to the financial package announced by the Govt of India
Subhash Goyal: Reference the financial package announced by the Govt. of India, I have not been able to understand how repaying our tax refunds on time can be a stimulus. Refunds are our rightful dues and the government should pay interest on delayed payments.
Neither can a loan be a stimulus because it must be repaid with interest. What we were expecting from the Govt. was to give a specific grant for the Tourism Industry like the UK, France, Germany, the US, and all other countries have done, which could be used for our cash flow.
As far as SSIS, Microenterprises and MSMEs are concerned this seems to be a good step and we welcome it. Apart from this, there has been no specific bailout given to the tourism industry which is the largest employment generator in the country.
TT Bureau: The impact of Covid19 on the Travel industry in India?
Subhash Goyal: COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge not only in India, but the entire world is facing. In my lifetime, I have seen a lot of crises like the Indo-Bangladesh war, Indo-Pakistan war, Indo-China war etc. This is not only the mother of all crises but a complete disaster. It seems we are going through an undeclared third world war where the enemy is not visible, and it is not any country but a virus which we till now have not been successful in destroying.
The Aviation, Travel & Tourism Industry has come to a grinding halt. Since no visas are being issued, no airline is operating even buses & trains have stopped. This has never happened in the history of the world.
TT Bureau: What kind of Revival strategies are being planned by the travel community?
Subhash Goyal: I don’t think Tourism Industry is going to bounce back for the next one year. If the vaccine is found in September then also it will take a few months before millions of people are vaccinated, then also the airlines will have to start operating and visas will only be issued to those who are vaccinated and social distancing will have to be maintained on the aeroplanes as well in the buses, with the result the cost of transportation will go up three times and for many people, it may be prohibitive. This means that only in the middle of 2021 can we see the revival of Tourism, if by that time the tourism industry in India is able to survive.
However, Tourism the industry cannot revive without the government help and intervention. On behalf of FAITH Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality we have requested for immediate support for revival & survival from the Government: -
A twelve months moratorium on our EMIs of principle and interest payments on loans and working capital from all Financial Institutions (banking & non-banking). Additionally, we request for doubling of our working capital limits and on interest-free & collateral-free terms.
A deferment for twelve months of all statutory dues whether GST, Advance Tax payments, PF, ESIC, customs duties at the Central Government level or at any state government level the excise fees, levies, taxes, power & water charges, deferred renewals periods for all permits, licenses, bank guarantees & security deposits across the tourism, travel, hospitality & aviation industry.
A support fund for twelve months on the lines of MNREGA to support basic salaries with ‘direct transfer’ to affected tourism employees.
TCS (tax collected at source) on travel as proposed in Finance Bill 2020 from April 1st not to be introduced.
A deferment of increase in any insurance premium for a period of 12 months such as for example for Standard fire and special perils rate for fire, loss, or profits.
The restoration of 10% duty credit of SEIS scrips and the previous year’s foreign exchange earnings can be taken as a reference point for credit.
A 200% weighted exemption for twelve months on expenses to Indian corporates to hold exhibitions, conferences, and incentive trips in India.
A national tourism task force of all relevant ministries of the Central Government along with the Ministry of tourism and chief secretaries of State governments and industry stakeholders headed by the Honourable Prime Minister of India or Cabinet Secretary and the Tourism Minister.
If the above is done and timely action is taken, then I am fully confident that we will not only be able to survive but also successfully revive the industry.
TT Bureau: Your thoughts on Domestic travel in the post Covid19 context.
Subhash Goyal: If we will be able to survive with the help of the Government, we will have to completely restructure and reorient our businesses. International Outbound & Inbound Tourism will take at least 6-7 months more or maybe a year, so the only segments which will bounce back fast are: -
Yoga & Wellness Tourism
In Domestic Tourism, people will visit only nearby places which can be comfortably covered by their own transport. The second sector that will emerge will be V.F.R. traffic. People who have been unable to visit their friends and relatives would take the opportunity immediately after lockdown and starting of public transport to do so.
Another sector which will bounce back slowly is M.I.C.E. i.e. events, weddings, marriages, conferences would now take place in India rather than abroad. If the government gives incentives to these sectors, they will bounce back faster. The government instead of giving LTC once a year should give LTC twice a year for all banks and government departments. The private sector should be given a tax incentive for sending their staffs on travel & tourism leave once a year. This would help the industry to bounce back.
TT Bureau: What precautions would travel agencies introduce to safeguard guests post lockdown?
Subhash Goyal: The travel agencies should focus more on hygiene, cleanliness, renewable energy so that while taking care of tourism we also take care of our environment as well. They should maintain health, security, and social distancing standards as per the guidelines issued by the Government. In fact, all hotels, airlines, airports, railway stations will have to be sanitized and health scanning and safety protocols will have to be strictly followed. The Ministry of Tourism has come out with the protocols to be followed, some of the highlights are: -
All hotel staff including security guards must wear masks and single-use gloves mandatorily while performing their duties at the property.
A safe distance of at least 2m (6 feet) should always be maintained while at the property. All staff and guests should follow this mandatorily.
2 m distance markings at the reception area should be done for guests to stand during check-in process.
To ensure that all hotel personnel use masks, hand gloves and sanitizers while doing daily activities, they need to be properly trained. Ground ops/ team to train the staff on this.
A well informed and trained security person and a 24x7 security guard to keep a check at the main entrance gate of the area should be available (wherever applicable).
Visitors to the hotels should not be allowed.
CCTV cameras must be fully functional.
All touchpoints (like doorknobs, switches, door handles, safety latches and taps etc.) must be cleaned regularly with surface cleaner i.e. R2, Detergent water, Lizol. It is advised to use Sodium Hypochlorite 1%/solution having at least 70% alcohol should be used to clean these touchpoints
Daily Temperature to be checked with a thermal gun thermometer for all staff members and every guest.
Common area cleaning checklist should be displayed at the reception and rooms cleaning checklist should be displayed inside the room on the back of the door.
In case there is an event happening at the hotel, table and seating arrangement should be done following social distancing norms