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Nineteen months no tourism. What does it really look like?

Paul is my co-host and plays a huge role behind the scenes of Bhavana Experiences. Those who have been on my tours have already experienced his caring and friendly nature and his sense of humour. On his behalf, I would like to share how the last year and a half have been for him and his family.

🧡 An update on Paul's family 🧡

Think about this for a moment. You have a successful career in tourism and enjoy the fruits of your labour and live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Suddenly, an unexpected world crisis hits that brought the world to a complete stop. Close borders. Work from home. Don’t go outside. No travelling.

What does that mean for those in the tourism industry?

For Paul, this meant closing his homestay, cancelling and refunding clients with existing bookings, and having a grand total of zero clients booking tours in the twenty months.

After a rewarding career and a pleasant work-life balance for 25 years, Paul suddenly found himself with no guests and no clients.

And obviously, no clients means no income.

It was all fun and games at the beginning of the lockdowns in 2020. Paul enjoyed taking a break from work, spending time with his family, playing Ludo, taking up a new hobby, and discovering that he is a very talented artist!

As the months went by, Kerala continued having strict restrictions despite some respite elsewhere in India. Domestic tourists did not return to Kochi, and Paul continued to have an empty homestay and no clients booking tours.

Unfortunately, with no end to the restrictions in sight, Paul started to worry about his finances. Except for a three-month mortgage holiday, the government provided no aid to tourism workers - no living allowance, no grant, no alternative job offer, nothing.

Let’s be honest, with a mortgage, loans, and bills to pay Paul had to figure a way to get by.

First off, Paul and some of his friends and fellow tour attempted to set up a grocery delivery service. Sounds easy enough. But unfortunately, this business venture resulted in financial losses and Paul being held overnight in the police station, having been cautioned for entering a containment zone where he was delivering groceries.

Amid his financial crisis, Paul now had a huge supply of food supplies that would go off within a few months, so he and his family donated the produce to poorer families around Fort Cochin.

Out of one idea and into the next, Paul had to find another way to make money.

Next, Paul started working for a dairy farm distributing milk packets around Fort Kochi. Paul was making 1-1.5₹ (less than 2p) per milk packet. Paul told me that carrying 300 packs of milk on the back of a scooter is “so risky” so he drives very slowly with caution!

Nineteen months since lockdowns began, Paul and his family have settled into a new rhythm in which they are managing to get by. I say to get by because Paul has spoken to me about the misery of life now as he reminisces on the days that he worked less and earned more.

Paul’s job as a milk distributor led them to run a dairy shop close to their home. From 6 am – 9 pm. Paul, Sophie, and their eldest son split the hours between them.

So, what do their days look like now? It is organised chaos if you ask me!

Where do I begin? Well, Sophie starts her day at 4.30 am to make breakfast for the family, and by 6 am she and Paul are at the shop. Sophie mans the shop whilst Paul rides around for a few hours distributing milk to shops and hotels. For the rest of the day, the three of them share the hours at the shop alongside their other commitments.

For Sophie, this is her first time working in addition to being a full-time housewife. Paul spoke sadly of the relaxed life Sophie used to have when she would wake up leisurely at eight and prepare breakfast for her family and their guests.

For Paul, he is also working for Zomato (like Uber Eats) so when he's not at the shop he’s riding around Kochi and Ernakulam delivering food to hungry tummies.

Their eldest son helps at the shop whilst simultaneously working an American-based IT job online. Being the son of a travel agent, he has inherited the wanderlust dream. Pre-lockdowns he was working in a travel company; so whilst this is not his dream job he is making it work for now.

Lastly, Paul’s youngest son is working in a restaurant. I have almost not seen him during my week in Fort Kochi because he works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week!

The simple truth is, it's been a big transition for them in the last year and a half. From a comfortable position to living hand to mouth. From working a few hours a day to working from early morning to night. From being self-employed and being his own boss to answering to the dairy farmer.

And yet, they’re still smiling, still hosting me lovingly, and still optimistic about the relief they will experience financially, physically, and emotionally when tourism picks up again. After catching up with Paul and hearing about the hardships he’s faced, I’m feeling even more inspired to put my heart into Bhavana Experiences and create tours that showcase the magic of India!

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