Agra: With the nationwide lockdown adversely affecting different sections of society financially, around 3,500 men and women acting as guides at different tourist places and spots in the region too have not remained untouched.
With no financial backing from their association for such exigencies, they are all at sea as to what the future holds for them. They claimed that they wrote to different authorities but got no response.
Unesco World Heritage Monuments include the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Humayun's tomb and Qutub Minar in Delhi and Mahabalipuram etc. In the second category, there are monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India like the tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah in the city and Sikandra near Agra.
These monuments have been closed since March 17, even before the nationwide lockdown was announced amid coronavirus fears.
Agra Approved Guides Association President Sanjay Sharma said that while all sectors of the economy had been hit by coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector and those associated with it directly or indirectly too had been hit hard and left in the lurch.
"The tourism sector and guides have been hit hard because the work is seasonal and tourists make bookings in advance," he pointed out.
Normally, the tourist season in this part of India is from October till March. A tourist guide charges Rs 2,000 for showing tourists around the Taj, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
Sharma said that tourists were not willing to venture out of their homes at present due to coronavirus fears, adding that tourism sector will remain affected till April 2021.
The tourism situation will normalise only in September or October next year, he added.
He said that the Ministry of Tourism and Culture issues licences to regional guides, which number from 3,500 to 4,000. Out of these, 469 are in Agra alone.
He said that the tourism season lasted only six months in a year and that licensed guides could not take up any other livelihood in the remaining period as they were bound by the terms and conditions set by the licensing authorities.
Sharma said that the guides nowadays were a depressed lot due to lost livelihood. He said that guides neither had any pension plans nor any exigency funds for such crisis.
He said that letters had been written to the Prime Minister, Union Finance Minister, NITI Aayog and the Tourism Ministry on the plight of guides, but there was no response.
Amir, a member of the Approved Guides Association here, said that tourism guides operated as freelancers and did not get fixed salaries or perks or even pensions. "The Taj Mahal is closed to tourists. If we don't get tourists, we won't be cooking food in our houses," he remarked.
Amir said that the association funds were used in case of any medical emergency of a member or to deal with a court case etc.
On the other hand, tour operators were advising tourists who had booked their visits in advance not to cancel the same but postpone.