COVID-19: The Goan Tourism Industry

We are investigating how tourism is being impacted by the coronavirus crisis and lockdown in Goa

On March 24th, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nation-wide lockdown as a response to the spread of the coronavirus: from March 25th, all non-essential services were suspended for 21 days. On April 14th, the lockdown was extended to May 3rd, however, some states may be allowed to relax their restrictions. As part of our Future of Work and Sustainable Goa initiatives, we are investigating how labour is being impacted by the coronavirus crisis and lockdown in Goa. This is the Covid 19: Goa series.

The tourist industry is currently the biggest industry in Goa, making up 40 percent of the state revenue in 2018. 40 percent of the Goan population is dependent on tourism for an income, as well as many migrant workers who travel to Goa to work in the industry. There are fears that up to 70,000 tourism jobs could be lost as a result of the coronavirus crisis in the state. Therefore the effects of the coronavirus crisis, current lockdowns and future disruption to the travel industry will have a potentially dire impact on those who rely on tourism for income.

Current situation

The 2019/20 tourist season in Goa was struggling even before the coronavirus crisis. In January 2020, a pre-budget memorandum was sent to the Chief Minister of Goa raising concerns about the tourism sector suffering from de-growth and negative publicity in the international sphere, due to harassment of tourists, crime and poor infrastructure. These issues had led to a decrease in tourist arrivals over the past few years. Additionally, due to cyclonic monsoon weather extending into the beginning of the tourist season in October and November, there was a delay to the start of the season, which also impacted the number of tourists visiting Goa, as well as businesses’ ability to provide their normal tourist services.

As concerns around the coronavirus grew in February, foreign tourist arrivals in India already saw a 9% decrease compared with January. March and April tourist figures were then severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis, travel bans, and lockdown

Even after the lockdown is lifted, we cannot immediately think of opening our borders. We have to make sure the tourism industry resumes only after health protocols are followed,” said Ports Minister Michael Lobo.

Due to the states’ high dependence on tourism for revenue and income sources, the industry’s labour ecosystem is wide-reaching and complex. Ranging from large hotel and cruise chains, to small, informal beach shacks and restaurants, there is a diverse demographic of people working in tourism who will have potentially lost their income sources and resources due to the pandemic.

For many businesses within the industry, their customer base disappeared virtually overnight from March. Put simply, one human resource officer for a large resort chain stated “we are in a zero revenue situation”. There is a huge dependence on income from tourists even across sectors such as the taxi industry; one taxi business owner we spoke with, with a small fleet of cars and drivers, stated that he relies mostly on tourists for his business. For his brother who rents out bikes, around 90% of his customer base is tourists.

Due to a lack of income, business owners may fall behind on EMI payments and rental costs associated with their business. The taxi businessman indicated having loan payments for three cars, in addition to taxes and license fees. He stated that he was worried about his ability to pay these due to both the lockdown and lack of customers.

Businesses may also face difficulties in ensuring staff salaries are paid. The human resource officer we spoke with, stated that his hotel was paying salaries to their regular full-time employees for March, but may struggle in April. However, this is not the case for all the hotel’s workers. For those such as security guards, who are contract workers, they are the responsibility of the contract agency and are often paid on an hourly basis, which means they are unlikely to be covered for periods of no work and lack the assurance of a guaranteed salary.

The vast majority of those working in the tourist industry are working in the informal sector without a formalised ‘employer-employee’ relationship. The covid-19 crisis is especially challenging for India’s 450 million informal workers whose incomes may have disappeared due to the lockdown, and who lack social protection measures to counteract financial losses.

There are around 1 million migrants living in Goa. This includes many seasonal and semi-permanent migrant workers who work directly in the tourism industry in occupations such as shop or beach vendors, hotel or shack staff, waiters or cooks, entertainers or beauty therapists. Many migrant workers also work indirectly for the tourism industry, as construction workers for tourism-related infrastructure. Many of these workers are now stranded in the state, unable to either earn money or return home. Some migrant workers are being housed in unused tourist shacks, of which 80% have already been dismantled with the remaining 20% being used to house stranded workers.

Some unions or cooperatives within the tourism sector are planning to approach the state government requesting support: the All Goa Shack Owners Association president stated, “We will request the government to waive off license fees after the crisis is over. We don’t want to pressurise the government at this time when it is tackling the present situation”.

There has been a warning from the World Travel and Tourism association that once the outbreak and lockdown is over, it could take 10 months for the industry to recover, which means next year’s season would also be affected. Although the Goan government refuted claims that there will be no tourism until October, it seems unlikely that even domestic tourism will be active before then due to the fallouts of the pandemic, such as the financial pressure on families and the impact on the aviation industry.

Short term measures

What can be done to support people who rely on tourism for an income, across all sectors and levels?

The Department of Tourism needs to do a comprehensive mapping of each level and sector within the industry. This needs to be carried out for all workers in different levels of the industry, from those working in large chains, to smaller hotels and businesses, ancillary businesses (such as security, domestic work and catering) and migrant workers. A wide-range of workers within the industry need to be engaged with and listened to, so that the government can provide appropriate and targeted support, based on their diverse needs. The initial priority should be supporting the most vulnerable people who rely on tourist income. Both migrant workers who are currently stranded and informal workers fall into this category, and must be provided with financial support as priority.

Even if the lockdown is lifted, the return of normalised travel will take a long time, and many small and medium businesses will not be able to survive without stimulus packages. The state tourism minister recently wrote to the chief minister advising him to seek financial support from the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 relief fund for businesses and workers in Goa’s tourism industry.

Long term measures

There is a growing consensus that the impact of Covid-19 signals the need for a drastic recalibration of how we live our lives. The pandemic provides an opportunity to sow seeds for a new economic paradigm that centres social and environmental sustainability at the centre, instead of the periphery. For Goa’s tourism sector, there is an essential need to refocus resources and capacity to ensure the longevity of the sector in the face of climate change.

As mentioned above, last year’s monsoon cycle extended into the tourist season with a 33% surplus. With the losses the industry faces due to extended monsoons, there is a need to forecast the potential impacts of climate change each year and base decisions for tourism on the optimum time to host people. Currently, the state operates on a calendar that designates when certain activities are allowed; however the impacts of climate change have affected weather patterns in Goa. Additionally, this can provide stakeholders with a more realistic insight into how climate change will impact logistics and revenue each year, allowing them to build capacity and plan resources better.

The pause in incoming tourists provides an opportunity to rebrand Goa as a tourist destination through an improvement in infrastructure and environmental sustainability. As mentioned above, Goa has lost favor as a top holiday destination both with local and international travelers. To revitalise this industry, Goa can envision a way to change its reputation and potentially rebrand itself. Updating some critical infrastructure in the state, such as transportation systems can be used as a way to create jobs while bringing back tourists. Additionally, a tourism strategy that places sustainability and ethical tourism at the centre will support businesses longevity as well as ensuring the preservation of the Goan ecosystem. Although there are examples of such responsible tourism, more businesses in the industry will need to be supported through capacity building and resources to improve their environmental practices and ultimately ensure the preservation of businesses and the Goan environment.

The publication was first published by the authors under auspices of erstwhile Tandem Research.

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