Express press service
BHUBANESWAR: After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector in Odisha is finally recovering, but if industry stakeholders are to be believed, they are unconvinced to handle the traffic tourist season ( September to February) could bring this year.
Reason: Massive loss of skilled labor during the three pandemic waves, with some putting the figure at over 50%.
From travel agents, tour operators to guides, cooks to waiters, many quit their jobs in the past two years when the pandemic crippled seasonal tourist activity. A majority of them moved to other sectors to earn a living. Although the tourist industry is now returning, few people are sure they want to return.
Sanatan Sahoo, who has guided international tourists to the state capital for the past 24 years and opened his own travel agency, now runs a fast food stand in the city to survive. “The guides have been the hardest hit. Tourist numbers have dropped drastically and none of us have gotten reservations. As people have to feed their families, they have turned to other activities. Some have opened shops of paan, vegetable shops, others set up food stalls on the road,” he said
According to reports from the tourism department, Odisha had received around 46 lakh tourists in 2020 – a drop of 69.9% from 2019 – and the number was 37.4 lakh in 2021, a drop of 19.16. % compared to 2020.
Members of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) said that as the travel and tourism industry is mostly unorganized, it is not possible to get accurate data on the loss of manpower. “But I can safely say that there is a loss of about 60% of the skilled and trained workforce in the industry. Almost all travel agencies in the state (about 34 under IATO ) are now running their operations with only one or two trained professionals. The crisis cannot be felt right now, but from September when we start doing business, it will be very difficult to handle,” Gagan Sarangi said. , President of IATO Odisha Chapter.
The situation is equally grim when it comes to hotels and restaurants. Chairman of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha (HRAO), JK Mohanty, said facilities within the association have lost around 40-45% of the workforce.
“Everything is open now and international flights have resumed but we don’t know if professionals will return. Revenues from hotels and restaurants are still significantly lower due to low hotel occupancy across Odisha. “except Puri. Also, there are fears of a fourth wave that could hit the area again,” Mohanty said.
According to HRAO reports, for example, the Patia area of Bhubaneswar had about 400 hotels before Covid, but half of them have been closed.
IATO (Odisha) and HRAO officials said that although they have written to the state government several times over the past two years asking for help in overcoming this crisis, no action concrete has yet been taken. Efforts to contact senior tourism department officials yielded no response.