Tamil Nadu enjoys a high tourist footfall, both domestic and foreign, and has been a preferred destination since 2014. In the 2018 fiscal, the state had received 39 crore domestic and 61 lakh foreign tourists. Its attractions include religious and heritage tourism covering hundreds of temples, churches, mosques and Jain temples, and several monuments, besides its exotic beaches and vast and continuous shoreline.
However, suspension of surface transport as well as domestic and international air travel, closure of hotels and restaurants, and thousands of places of worship, beaches and tourist spots have dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry. MICE ( Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) segment too has been affected, insiders say.
A tourism department official, requesting anonymity, told PTI: "with the pandemic causing havoc globally, it will be unwise to open up the tourism sector in Tamil Nadu (immediately)."
Unofficial estimates peg the job loss at a few lakhs while the economic impact could take months to recover. "Rebooting the sector would be challenging because the lockdown has substantially weakened the financial health of tourism and its allied activities," said Krishanu Pradhan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) here.
Job and income losses to people due to economic slowdown have also affected their ability to take up tourism-related activities, he said. "Besides, fear of uncertainty, enforcement of social distancing norms, and tourists' unwillingness to come out from self-containment would continue in the coming months," he added. Sources in the hospitality sector claimed that 'lakhs' of persons across all categories have lost their jobs since the lockdown period. The allied services in the tourism industry like temple and tourist guides, taxi and tour operators have also been hit.
"There is no tourist activity since the last four months. Theme parks, hotels and restaurants have been closed. About 750 registered and 40,000 unregistered tour operators have closed shop unable to pay rent due to lack of business," V K T Balan, chairman, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), Tamil Nadu chapter, said.
"This has resulted in job loss to over five lakh families directly," he claimed. "We are unable to pay salaries to our drivers (of coaches and cars). To make matters worse, airlines have declined to refund our deposit amount or even the fares towards cancellation of flight tickets," said Balan, CMD of Madura Travel Services.
He urged the Central and State governments to waive off road tax and insurance on tourist vehicles not plying since the lockdown was enforced and also refund the GST paid for at least one year, to pay the drivers and other employees.
M Venkada Subbu, president of The Tamil Nadu Hotels Association wants the government to provide subsidy to tide over the crisis. "Rather than give food grains or relief to the migrant workers, we have urged the Central and state governments to provide us 50 or 100 percent subsidy-either half month or one month salary--like several counties are doing, so as to enable us pay salaries to our staff and retain them," he said.
Nearly five lakh guest workers who constitute 50 percent of the workforce in Chennai and Coimbatore hotels and restaurants have left the state, he said adding the two cities accounted for the predominant employment of migrant workforce in the state.
According to Himavathy, once a busy flower seller near the ancient Sri Parthasarathy Swamy temple at Triplicane here, "with the devotees barred from darshan, there is no sale of flowers or garlands to be offered to the Lord. I can't even sell souvenirs or eke out a living because of the lockdown."
The world heritage site at Mahabalipuram, housing the group of monuments that Prime Minister Narendra Modi popularised by holding an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, the "Land's end"- Kanyakumari, temple towns of Madurai and Kancheepuram are among the numerous tourist haunts out of bounds for travellers owing to the lockdown.
"Much would depend upon the revival of the sector and the reopening of the tourist spots," a senior Tourism official said and added the policy decision ought to be taken by the government. The state-owned hotels chain run by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has seen a dip in cancellation, sources said. "It may take several months for the tourism sector to again pulsate with action," the official added.