The tourism industry has been facing difficulty in finding lifelines after being hammered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Achieving sustainability in the sector demands inclusive growth. But, is the Indian tourism sector aiming for that?
The governments in India are happy to celebrate both bureaucracy and the executive. Because there is money in celebrations!
What a pomp and show were around for World Tourism Day Celebrations! And an interesting slogan- Tourism for Inclusive Growth. Arre Wah! For just one day all officers and Ministers related to Tourism forgot that they discarded the entire Tourism Industry during the Pandemic, especially the human resources. Without the human element in Tourism, what does inclusive growth mean! Some of the ministers even manipulated the meaning of Inclusive Growth to another level.
India is a land of Announcements and when it comes to Tourism Industry, now Kerala tops in Announcements. As long as India never expects the announced projects to be implemented, political leadership is happy to announce more. Paris Treaty and other elements of Sustainability commitments are all there, but India doesn’t need to wet the new projects according to Sustainability Standards or environmental threats.
Indian Tourism Industry boasts about the biggest employment provider but when the majority of lost jobs during Pandemic, the governments started announcing new Tourism projects so that the investors will be attracted to the new areas. Who is bothered about the job lost millions!
In my experience in Tourism Operations, I always found our tourist taxi drivers were the most neglected segment among our hospitality manpower. Unfortunately, most of them are not in the payrolls ever and hence doesn’t come in the count of the Governments. But can we imagine a quality touring experience in India without knowledgeable, decent and healthy chauffeurs? All the Indian Tourism Awards (Most of them can be bought for a price) are focused on our Chefs, Managers and CEOs. I never heard about a “Best Driver Award”
Many may wonder why I opted for the most discarded tourist driver community as my topic today. Basically, because I had the fortune to experience the life of a tourist driver as myself was driving tourists in Kerala since 1995. I would say, the most frustrating job, especially in India.
Most of the drivers have to take commands from their immediate boss, managers of the principal agents, managers from the hotels where guests stay and sometimes from the guests themselves too. Ha, sometimes from our mighty police officers who are on their sincere duty at the end of a sharp curve hiding like panthers. When I used to get chances to train the tourist drivers, I focussed on the matters which concerned them most. I used to advise them that there are no bad customers though we have really good ones!
When I entered tourism actively, we used to find many hotels that used to provide a decent dormitory with staff food for the drivers which was a great relief especially in remote destinations like Munnar, Periyar and Wayanad in Kerala. But gradually this facility was cut by many hoteliers citing many reasons on the behaviour of the drivers and the newly built hotels never had such a driver facility at all. I feel ashamed for the Indian Hotel Classification criteria for not including such a facility as mandatory and the mighty Tourism Industry for not making laws for ensuring the safe and comfortable sleep of the drivers who carry our Tourists (Our Gods!)
Along with a few of my like-minded friends in the Industry, few years before started a discussion with the tourism Industry about providing decent stay facilities for the drivers at major tourist destinations but thanks to the different voices of our own giants in the Industry, all efforts got aborted.
I personally am very clear that the travellers, at least the Inbound, will be very serious on the hygiene of their transport and any facility they use. Most of the itineraries of India have the majority of the time the guests spend in the vehicles either commuting between destinations or local sightseeing.
Hence I just requested Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism to look into the matter of driver accommodation at destinations to ensure the travellers feel comfortable about their drivers have a peaceful sleep before they drive the next day. Also, many of us will not like to travel in a car where the driver sleeps the night, as he has no alternative.
I have to appreciate the immediate reply, even on a Sunday from our Tourism Secretary clarifying that it’s the duty of the Tour Operator/Transporter to ensure accommodation to the drivers and he also reminded that the Operators cant push the responsibility to the Government. Fair enough! (Actually, I never asked the Government to provide facilities for the drivers as the government’s primary and ultimate duty is to collect taxes from any business happening in the country).
I found the answer from the Secretary, a fair one. But then the government should bring a law in the country to make it mandatory for Tour Operators /Tourist Transporters to provide accommodation to their drivers. I mean, “ALL OPERATORS IN THE COUNTRY”. India may be the only Nation in the world where anyone can start a Tourism business even without registration or license. So how does the government ensure the tourist drivers are being taken care of by their owners?
My humble suggestion to the government is to ensure that everyone doing tourism business have a valid license to operate and then bring uniform laws to become mandatory to all. Unless they don’t do this, the above explanation is just a bureaucratic command which will not solve the issue. And of course, not a passionate approach.
If such a law is being implemented, most of the genuine operators will be happy to provide such facilities at the cost of the tourists and bring a healthy operational ground for Indian Tourism. And if they cant make such a law, let them show the guts to be transparent in explaining that they are helpless in the situation.
Going forward, any development discarding the human element in Tourism will only reduce numbers to such destinations, in spite of any gigantic slogans or loud announcements.
(George Scaria is the Managing Director of Keralavoyages India Pvt Ltd, a Travelife Certified Tour Operator.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Partnersincrave.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)