Lockdown 4.0: In the midst of layoffs, pay cuts and forced sabbaticals, travel agencies try to stay afloat

With the tourism industry among the most badly hit due to the Coronavirus pandemic, travel agencies and operators - small to large, are laying off employees, cutting pay to cut costs or sending employees on ‘sabbaticals’ or forced unpaid leaves to stay afloat.

Many of these agencies have gone into ‘cold storage’ or ‘hibernation’ till sunny days are back as Sheldon Santwan, Editor of Travel Biz Monitor, a trade magazine and travel news portal, put it.

With flight operations stopped in the end of March and the pandemic fears and travel restrictions putting off travel plans, as many in the ticket booking and tour organizing sector said, they were the first to be affected and will be the last to recover.

Says Raveena Deshpande who works in one such firm, that she is being paid a ‘very small amount’ which does not amount to even 50% of her pay of April. She was paid her full salary in March and is using it judiciously. But when her father had a medical emergency, she had to borrow and has now requested her house owner to give her more time to pay the rent. With a seven-year-old son and senior parents dependent on her, she says things are getting difficult.

Deshpande is more fortunate than Neeraj Upadhyay though, who works for a Lower Parel travel firm. He has not been paid since March. In February he got only half of his pay. This is the first time he has defaulted on his home and car EMIs. He is trying to find another job, but knows he will get much less than what he earns now - given the current situation.

Worse is the condition of Suraj Patil, who got laid off with around 100 others from a leading tour organising firm this month. The employees were aware this could happen and had got a pay cut in April itself, he says.

Vishu Mutta, Managing director of Nexus Travels a ticket booking firm in Marine Lines in which 20 people work, says he has been spending from his pocket to pay his staff since February, but may have to think of a 50% pay cut from May. “Business has been zero since February - all we did was cancellations. There was time I was busy will calls all the time, now all I get is calls from clients asking refund queries,” he says.

The proprietor of Kafe Holidays in Ghatkopar, Vishal Ashar says he has recently started an alternate business selling sanitisers, thermometers and other medical accessories to meet expenses of his travel firm. He had to cut the pay of his staff too.

Kalpesh Bhutta, founder of Harmony Travels who has had to cut pay of his staff too, says he expects leisure tourism to get a boost after six months, though corporates will prefer not to spend on travel.

A leading travel booking and organising firm in Mumbai with 800 employees here, 4,000 across the globe and a turnover of 15,000 crore annually, has confirmed that the will be cutting pay of their employees up to 30-50% for the next two to three months.

The head of another big firm with 3,000 employees said there is a 50% pay cut for those earning more and a 25% cut for those in lower rung. “25% have been sent on sabbaticals,” he said and lamented the lack of a government relief package for the sector he says is the worst hit.

Both these did not want their firms to be named.

(Raveena Deshpande, Neeraj Upadhyay, Suraj Patil are names changed as per requests for anonymity)

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