Portrait, Graceful in Old Age, Holipura, Uttar Pradesh

World Tourism Day 2020

What’s in a smile?
I’ve been writing content for a new travel website for a client, somewhat optimistic perhaps, but he’s determined to be prepared.  In doing so, I was flicking through past content for other websites I’ve written seeking inspiration; “Infectious smiles,” was a phrase I came across and smiled to myself, and thought, in my usual flippant way that I wouldn’t be using THAT phrase in times of Covid.
But then I realised that today is World Tourism Day and in this industry, we have very little to smile about.
I used to be a little bit embarrassed in some ways about working in travel, I mean, we didn’t have to have specific qualifications and we weren’t saving lives or finding solutions to global poverty, all we had to do was deal with the expectations of travelers, help people spend a lot of money to take themselves out of themselves for a while. In my case, take them to an extraordinary land I was fortunate enough to live in, India.
But then three or four years ago, I read a fact that something like 1/11 people globally are involved in tourism. That is a lot of people and yet, it is still not officially recognised as an “industry.” But think, in this crisis just how many people have lost their jobs as a result of the decimation of the travel industry? The figures are eye watering. It’s not just travel agents and tour operators, it’s drivers and guides, of course it’s the hotels, but it’s also the restaurants and cafes and sweet shops, dhabawalas, rickshaw wala’s, NGO”s etc tourists visit; it’s the museums and galleries, it’s the homestay owners and village artisans. It’s the gardeners and people who wash up, it’s the companies who run trade shows, airlines, car park attendants. The list goes on and on and on. How do horse safari operators continue to look after their horses? How do local artisans survive? It’s an endless list of people from all walks of society.
Domestic tourism offers a thread of hope but how do any of us look to the future?
By Repurposing? Many people have left to find alternative types of employment which is a necessity.
By being Enterprising? Yes, I’ve been approached by a couple of brand new platforms who are looking to feature virtual tours as paid opportunities to try and bring some sort of income to guides and I’m working with our IE partners to provide these for them.
I also joke about ‘upcycling’ myself, as I’m now also writing content outside of the industry, I’m lucky, there’s a demand for it and it’s a skill that can cross over into any field. But many people aren’t so lucky.
Governments globally do not seem to be grasping the full extent of just how vast and important tourism is to their economies. When will they wake up to this?
I’ve been proud to be associated with the many people we work with through Indian Experiences, they’ve been on the ground at grass roots level doing what they can to assist the local people, again in some cases repurposing and evolving, selling apples instead of rural experiences in one instance and many other examples. We’ve featured all these excellent efforts on our IE FB and Insta pages if you missed it and would like to offer support.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know where we will all be 12 months from now. All we can do at IE is continue to offer whatever support we can, passing on opportunities, being there for a good old whinge, bringing a bit of escapism for ourselves (the irony!) with writing and new Yorkshire discoveries and sharing this collection of images for the smiles the industry once shared and will one day share again.

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