Feeling cooped up in her home amid the pandemic, little Meera was looking forward to spending her summer holidays with her grandparents in Mysuru, and visit her favourite attractions like the Mysuru Zoo, the Mysuru Palace, Brindavan Gardens and the Rail Museum. Like Meera, many visit Mysuru as a summer destination, with the city seeing maximum footfall of tourists during this time. However, due to the second wave of coronavirus infections and subsequent lockdown, the Mysuru tourism industry is missing the summer vacation crowd. Without the hustle-bustle of tourists, the streets of Mysuru don a deserted look.
The hotel industry is among the hardest-hit by the restrictions of the lockdown. In Mysuru, there are over 400 hotels, with a total of over 9,500 rooms, equipped to accommodate at least 35, 000 persons. This includes 25 star hotels, of which 15 have been converted into paid quarantine centres. But this summer of 2021 is a summer of discontent for travel agents and tour operators. â€śThe local economy in Mysuru relies heavily on tourism, and incomes of lakhs of people are determined by tourist in-flow. However, pandemic-induced restrictions and lockdowns have not only brought the tourism industry to a grinding halt, but also had a devastating impact on their livelihood. The loss per day due to the lockdown is estimated to be Rs 50 crore in Mysuru. Some people have resorted to alternative livelihood options like selling vegetables and farming. Others have dipped into their savings to keep their household running,â€ť says BS Prashanth, President, Mysore Travel Agents Association. â€śOut of the 1000 persons employed in travel agencies, 40% have incurred job loss, 50% had to face salary cut, and 10% are going without salaries. We have urged the government to provide a three-month grace period for repayment of bank EMIs on loan taken for purchase of commercial vehicles and also waiver of their quarterly tax,â€ť he adds.
The effects of the lockdown are cascading. Not just hotels or tour operators, guides and drivers who are part of packaged tours are also hit. â€śThe guides are in a state of despair. There is no safety net to fall back on. Monument guides are comfortable and can survive. But the woes of the local district guides are multi-fold. During the pre-pandemic days they were earning about Rs 2000 per day, but now it is absolutely nil. At present, we have mobilised the distribution of kits to them to tide over the present crisis. We have urged the government to allow the local guides to work in monuments.â€ť says SJ Ashok, President of the Mysuru Approved Tourist Guides Association. Though Sudha Murthy, Infosys Foundation chairperson, has donated Rs 10,000 each to around 300 tourist guides from seven different heritage hubs across the state, Mysuru has not been included in the list though it is a heritage city.
Street-side vendors and souvenir shops have not been spared either. Most of these shops, along with the ubiquitous Ashtanga Yoga centres, have been forced to close their shutters.
The Mysuru Palace and Brindavan Gardens, which see crowds from around the world, lay empty now. And with this, revenue collection from ticket sales has plummeted. The Mysuru Zoo had to shrink its ticket fee even as it faced a cash crunch. â€śâ€śThe entry fee which is the largest source of income for Mysuru Zoo, dwindled from Rs 32 crore to Rs14 crore in 2019-2020. Hence, the zoo authority had to bank on the the support of generous donors and philanthropists to maintain staff and nourish the animals in captivity. Thanks to the support and help from Karnataka Minister ST Somasekhar, who is also Mysuru District-in charge, a donation drive was initiated and Rs 4.5 crore was mobilised for sustenance and maintenance of the animals during lockdown,â€ť says Ajit M Kulkarni, Executive Director of Mysuru Zoo.
The streets of Mysuru are deserted amid the lockdown
â€śThe loss in terms of revenue in 2019-2020 was around Rs 4000 crore, and Rs 700 crore in 2020-2021. Five lakh people are directly or indirectly employed by the zoo. More than two lakh persons have lost their jobs and are now engaged in alternate sources of livelihood, mainly agriculture.Many stakeholders are not in a position to pay various loan instalments, rent and salaries to staff, leading to unemployment problems,â€ť laments Mahalingaiah, Secretary, Karnataka Tourism Society.
Karnataka Tourism Society, a body of all stakeholders in tourism in Karnataka, had submitted several requests to support the industry in May 2020, but were not considered by the state or Union government. â€śUnfortunately, neither state nor central governments are coming forward to support them with a (relief) package for the industry. We are in the process of coming up with sector specific relief packages with the state. We are working withthe state Tourism Department and hope to get more relief for survival,â€ť adds Mahalingaiah.
While the tourism industry battles the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns, Mysuru travel agents and tour operators are still hopeful of a better future in 2022. â€śWe are confident that Dasara 2022 would offset the colossal losses incurred during the pandemic,â€ť says BS Prashanth. Despite the enormous blow, the sector is salvaging resources and is finding ways to remain afloat.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer and photographer ,contributing articles, content and images to several national publications besides organising seminars and photo exhibitions. Her writings span a wide spectrum which also includes travel portals and guide books, brochures and coffee table books.