Agra: Tour guides, travel operators stare at an uncertain future
Agra (UP), May 6: With the tourism sector taking a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the livelihoods of several people associated with this industry have been severely affected in Agra.
Tour leader Mahendra Soni, who was living a comfortable life before the pandemic struck, has been forced to take a loan to fulfil the financial needs of his family.
"I am living on borrowings. I have been a tour leader for 34 years, but since the beginning of the pandemic, my profession was affected and I was forced to opt for tiffin delivery service, but that too did not work," he told PTI.
With the temporary closure of the Taj Mahal due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases, tour guides like Soni are struggling to make ends meet.
Shamsuddin Khan, the president of the Approved Tourist Guides'' Association, said there are about 2,500 tour guides in this Uttar Pradesh town, of which 400 are approved by the department of tourism, 700 are approved by other departments of the state government and the rest are working on stay permits.
Besides, there are 5-10 lakh people in Agra who are dependent on the tourism sector either directly or indirectly. With the sector taking a hit, the livelihoods of the tour guides, tourist photographers, travel operators, taxi drivers, emporium employees, hotel and restaurant owners and several others have been affected.
"My earnings have been hit since last year. I did not get any assignments since then and was forced to choose another job to feed my family," Narendra Lawania, who used to work as a French-language tour guide before the outbreak of the pandemic, told PTI.
"I opened a garments shop, but due to the lockdown, even that is now closed. I do not see any good job prospect in the future as I have no idea when the tourism sector would revive," he said.
Another French-language tour guide, Subodh Kumar Saraswat, said for the last 13 months, he has been running a grocery shop. "Every day I struggle to arrange the basic necessities at home. If things do not improve in the tourism sector in Agra, my future is bleak," he said.
Sharing his ordeal due to the lockdown, a foreign-language tour escort said, "I have taken a loan from the bank for a car, but now I am unable to pay the installments because I am not earning enough.... Most of the time (since the pandemic broke out), I have been unemployed."
"When the Taj Mahal was open, I used to earn about Rs 1,800 daily but within a year, everything is ruined," he lamented.
Demanding financial help for the tour guides, Khan said, "Expenses are high these days and the income is low, so both the Centre and the state government should support the tour guides, who are facing a crisis."