In the aftermath of tsunami, tourism industry had hit the nadir. The hotel
occupancy had dropped to zero. The central government came to the rescue of the islands by extending the Leave Travel Concession to Andamans. The employees of Public Sector Undertakings could go to Andamans by air instead of their home towns. The employees lapped up the opportunity to travel by air – a rare chance in the lives of many of them.
The hotels offered discounts to the extent of 60% - just to survive. The LTC tourists were unable to pay more. But soon the things started to sour.Unscrupulous traders and travel agents on the mainland jumped into the fray.They found out short cuts to siphon off public money in connivance with the PSU employees. Airlines were willing partners in it. Deal Code came into existence. The employee could manage to earn about Rs 5000 per return ticket worth Rs 27300. He could make some more through fake bills for journey to Diglipur, Havelock and other places. This way, he could take home Rs 25000 after a trip to Port Blair.
Local taxi and autowallahs have hired flats at Lamba Line and Dollyganj. The tourists come, stay put in a jam-packed flat 20-25 in each, eat in roadside eateries, collect fake travel bills and return after two days. They come with names and phone numbers of the phoney agents to contact at Port Blair. They do not hire the services of any tour operator. 70-75% air travellers these days are LTC tourists. Local people don't get tickets even at the full fare. Neither the local ticketing agent nor the hotels/lodges nor travel agents get any business out of these tourists.
G. Dinakaran, President Andaman Nicobar Tourism Guild was fuming when LoA contacted him. He was positive that the industry would sustain and 'sustain very well' if the LTC tourism was stopped tomorrow. "LTC is driving away the upper-end tourists. Airfare is the largest component of a trip to Andamans. Once the 70% load is taken off the airlines, genuine, upper-end tourists would flock to the islands as tickets would be available for Rs 4000-6000. Now, one is not sure if he would get even the full fare ticket. The occupancy in hotels has gone down since the LTC people don't go to hotels.
They rarely travel. They don't buy air tickets. It was a boon that has turned into a bane for the industry in the islands. "In the short run there will be some problem for a few months. But the business will pick up. The prospects are very bright. But if we delay, the damage would be permanent. Prospective tourists would strike off Andaman Islands from their itinerary" said Dinakaran. He agreed that one can't stop
anybody from coming to the islands as a tourist. "Let them come. But come to visit the place like others do. Not to make money and dupe the exchequer" explained Dinakaran. He also said that they trade delegation had an audience with the Lt. Governor who expressed his inability in the matter. The Guild and the Chamber of Commerce had taken up the matter with the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. If nothing came out of it, they were prepared to file a PIL, said Dinakaran. "We are prepared to come out into the streets and launch an agitation to save the industry" "There is no dearth of genuine upper-end Indian and foreign tourists. The LTC people are pushing them out. They do not get the services they are prepared to pay for" said Ashraf Ali, an hotelier.
"LTC Tourism is killing the industry. Andaman is the only destination in the world where the tourists make money" said M. Vinod, President Association of Tour Operators of Andaman. The local people too have turned against the LTC tourists as the prices are going up, the quality of food in small restaurants have gone down and above all, they have pushed up the cost of air travel.
The tourism industry has launched a campaign and it is determined to go to any length to salvage the industry. It might take an ugly turn if nothing is done to stem the tide in time.
Contact: Zubair Ahmed. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pics by Pankaj Sekhsaria