Tourism sector in Puducherry showing signs of revival
Arrival of weekend tourists after scrapping of e-pass is giving hope to the industryby M. Dinesh Varma
PUDUCHERRY With the first signs of tourists returning to the city, the hospitality sector is hoping to pick up the thread and attract more footfalls in the closing months of a year battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With tourism being the mainstay of the local economy, there is a lot riding on weekend travellers returning to the destination for not just the hospitality industry and its employees, but also for ancillary sectors such as two-wheeler rentals, curio boutiques and retail trade. Even in a normal year, weekend domestic tourism accounts for a lion’s share of business in Puducherry.
“The budget hotels are seeing 25 to 30% business in restaurant sections, but room occupancy remains sporadic. Though we are seeing some inflow of tourists after abolition of the e-pass, the non-resumption of inter-State public transport from other cities, especially from Bengaluru, remains a major bottleneck,” said Prosper Anand, a spokesman for the Hotels Association of Pondicherry.
A large section of tourists from Karnataka prefer overnight buses.
The more expensive hotels have remained shut since March and are opening up only their banquet halls for marriages or other special occasions.
“There will have to be extensive government support for an asset and capital-based business like the hotel industry to come out of the unprecedented situation where cash flow has been nil for several months,” said Amitava Roy, general manager at Atithi Hotel of the TGI group.
Typically, the food and beverages services account for 40% of the overall operations and top-line hotels need 50-60% room occupancy to break even. “The industry has been been asking the Centre for a one- or two-year moratorium on loans and extending the pay back term,” he said.
Some properties are using the downtime for restoration or reinvention. “We are in the process of a makeover to present a new experience when we reopen,” said Dipen Desai at The Promenade.
“On the bright side, with international travel likely to take months to normalise, we can hope to attract tourists who usually plan an overseas vacation,” said Mr. Amitava Roy.
As early as mid-July, the Puducherry administration was batting for reviving tourism as proposed by the Centre by delinking the unlocking of the economy from the state of the pandemic.
Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy had said that the administration was seriously thinking of re-starting tourism in the U.T. from August to check the slump in revenues and revive trade and business. He had pointed out that several countries, which were battered by the pandemic, had re-opened the tourism sector alongside COVID-19 control measures.
Industry’s wish list
Representatives of the hospitality sector are counting on a benign policy from the government. In a memorandum to the government, V. Ramachandran, president of Hotels Association of Pondicherry, sought carry-over of the excise licence fee that had been paid upfront to the next fiscal as bars had been shut for over five months.
The association has sought relief in property tax, municipality trade licence and fixed electricity charges. The hospitality sector feels that the government needs to do more to build confidence of travellers in choosing the U.T. on the lines of the aggressive pitching by some other tourism-dependent destinations. The government would have to take a call on reducing liquor prices, which it had raised to a par with rates in neighbouring Tamil Nadu to cut off influx of tipplers from neighbouring districts in the early stages of the COVID-19 spread.