New Delhi: The travel and hospitality sectors have been among those heavily affected by the pandemic triggered by the Covid-19 crisis. The blow has been especially severe for small travel agencies heavily dependent on their savings to make ends meet. The graph had already begun to drop from Holi; there was a gradual decline from the second week of March when people started cancelling their tickets. The period from April to June is counted as the busiest time in the travel sector due to summer holidays. Travel agencies have seen almost no activity until June and even after that, final bookings are too few.

Sankar Banik, a travel agent hailing from Assam, had started his small agency along with his brother, hiring only an accountant to take care of finances. Banik told The Sunday Guardian how difficult it has become for him to support even a single employee in his small agency. He said: “We paid him (the accountant) full salary until May, but had to care about our own financial situation after that. We didn’t want him to be laid off, so we decided to slash his pay by 50%. My brother and I have decided to make up for that at the end of the financial year, if things look up.”

Ratnadeep Roy, who is co-founder of Discovrit, a Delhi-based start-up that organises treks to off-beat destinations, told this correspondent that despite receiving lots of enquiries from its large travel community, it is currently unable to arrange any trip. “Transport costs have soared due to travel restrictions taking up exponentially the entire price of the travel package. So, the number of people who would actually go will be too less and this would lead to a loss for us. We have been catering to college students and corporates who want to opt for budget travel,” he said.

Rahul Shukla, who belongs to Delhi, is COO at Travel Target, an air ticketing travel agency. He told this correspondent that he had to surrender his office space because there was no way to pay the rent for it. He said: “While the unlock process is on its way, flights continue to operate on a repatriation basis. We still face a lot of problems, as there is still plenty of confusion about the guidelines and airline workers seem to be uncertain about their operations themselves.”

For Ratnadeep Roy, the changing guidelines are a major hindrance to a smooth rollout of treks. He told The Sunday Guardian, “If you have to cross the border of Himachal Pradesh, earlier you were required to get a coronavirus negative report 72 hours before the departure which has now been increased to 96 hours. Often, a new guideline comes and we need to remind our clients about this changing information.”

Start-ups like Discovrit, that pull their maximum clients through their Instagram page, have been trying to keep the curiosity of the travel community intact throughout the pandemic by putting up engaging posts.

He added, “Our work is primarily done with local community collaboration, and we don’t want to take chances with their well-being because there is a shortage of medical services. Moreover, they are also a bit alarmed of outsiders at this time.” Despite reopening of Jibhi and Tirthan valley for tourists from 5 September, the mandatory stay for a minimum of 10 days will hold back people from exploring these places.

Mandatory hotel quarantine and the shutting of institutions in metropolitan cities have severely impacted mobility and have slowed down the revival of this sector even as lockdown is being lifted in many places. Sankar Banik, who works closely with corporates, believes that with the extensive use of platforms like Zoom, companies in the near future may skip physical training sessions which are held in places like Pune and Kolkata for category 2 and category 3 employees, in order to cut expenses.

Talking about the big travel firms, Sankar Banik told The Sunday Guardian, “Large companies have a huge market; if I know thousands of people, they know crores of people. If my company is down, it’s also theirs but, unlike me, they have to handle a lot of staff. We hear so many complaints from people who are concerned that their ticket amount for bookings of March, April and June has not yet been refunded, which would eventually affect the customers’ faith.”