COMA DHAM

Outlook|July 13, 2020

COMA DHAM
MY money or my life? Can I have both?
Chetan Mahajan

Gopal Bhatt’s old Alto was uncool. Tourists wanted a bigger, more comfortable taxi. He took a loan in January and his Wagon-R arrived with the lockdown. It’s been parked since. The three-month EMI moratorium didn’t help. The tourists haven’t returned. Whether be homestays, resorts or roadside dhabas, most such operators depend upon tourists for survival. At least 80 per cent tourism revenue comes in May and June. This year it was zero. The unlock hasn’t changed anything. The lockdown put tourism in a coma. An unlock doesn’t mandate it’s revival. There are two main problems—tourists are afraid to travel, and locals are scared of the few who do. Two carloads of tourists arrived at a local resort and moved around visibly instead of staying in quarantine. The village pradhan made them leave. All tourists are banned from that resort and nearby villages. Bad news for everyone.

The fear is understandable. Healthcare is hard to access, and the local populace is poor. A single infection could devastate the community. Yet, we want the tourists for our livelihood. Catch-22. Either we stay safe and our children go hungry, or we feed our kids but risk lives. To revive tourism, everyone needs to feel safe. Both, the visitors and the operators, need the knowledge and confidence that they will be safe.

Assurances mean nothing. Confidence comes from strong process and communication. This confidence can come from three steps. First, define clear standard operating procedures (SOPs). What does a taxi driver have to do for safety and sanitisation? Or a hotel or cafe? “Social distancing” and “sanitisation” should be translated into specific activities. Once a cabbie knows that he has to wear a mask, ensure all passengers sanitise hands and wear masks, and that he cannot take more than X number of passengers, then it becomes concrete steps.

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July 13, 2020