India’s Tourist Sites Open Up, But Where Are the Tourists?

‘Incredible India’ struggles to lure back tourists after COVID-19.

2 min read

Camera: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

It is a hot Delhi afternoon, a scorching 40 degrees, and an almost deserted Red Fort.

Today, at least a few visitors are around, clicking photos with their smartphones. With his Nikon DSLR and an album of photos, tourist photographer Vishal approaches the visitors in the hope of finding some business.

But to his disappointment all of them are locals. There’s not a single tourist.

“I never thought that things will change so much. The lockdown has crushed our income. It used to be so crowded here but now you can count tourists on fingers.”
Vishal, Photographer at Red Fort

India’s tourism has taken a serious beating in this pandemic. It is one of the worst-affected sectors. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Hotelivate, the tourism industry is expected to suffer losses amounting to almost Rs 5 lakh crore. And to get a sense of how bad the scene is on the ground, one just has to visit the tourist monuments in Delhi.

The tourist guides and photographers are earning almost nothing. Forty-seven-year-old Rajendra Singh, a tourist guide at Red Fort from the past 8 years, says:

“Before the lockdown, work was good. We used to earn somewhere between Rs 2,000 and 4,000 every day. Now we earn about Rs 200-500 a day. I have even charged a mere Rs 120 rupees from a client. At least I can pay for my ride back home in the evening.”
Rajendra Singh, Tourist Guide at Red Fort

Few paces away, Vishal manages to get his first customer of the day after some hard convincing.

“People used to wait in line to be photographed. Now there are days when there’s no work at all. Sometimes, I borrow money from others to go home.”
Vishal, Photographer at Red Fort

Barely 6 km away at India Gate, the entry to the innermost part is restricted. And barely any visitor is around. Rajesh Kumar, a photographer, has exactly the same narrative as his counterparts at Red Fort.

“During the lockdown, I had no food to eat. So, I decided to go back to my village. I was farming during the lockdown. There is nothing else, no jobs in villages. Our work here depends on foreign tourists. Local tourists don’t pay much.”
Rajesh Kumar, Photographer at India Gate

Much of their work and earnings depend on foreign tourists and their absence is worrying them.

“The closing of international flights hampers domestic tourism, too. Local tourists don’t pay for guides. Ninety percent of them don’t understand what a guide does.”
Rajendra Singh, Tourist Guide at Red Fort

They are now pinning their hopes on the winter and the elusive vaccine for things to change. Perhaps the lower temperatures and the lower death count will lure back tourists to ‘Incredible India’.

“There is not much hope for this year. 2020 has been hard for us. I hope and pray 2021 brings some good to us.”
Vishal, Photographer at Red Fort

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