Bilolaksha Das, 53, has for many years been running his travel agency, Citi Travels, in Gariahat and a second office on the IIT Kharagpur campus.
But the lockdown and uncertain future of the travel and tourism business has made him look for other opportunities. Das, along with his wife, is now cooking lunch and dinner and delivering it to 50-odd homes in and around Gariahat.
The 12-odd employees he had hired to run his travel agency, most of whom were based in the Gariahat office, are now working as food delivery boys.
Das has been running the travel agency for 26 years. “The business was good at both Calcutta and Kharagpur offices. Many IIT professors are my clients. But I am not sure whether I would be able to run the Kharagpur office,” Das told Metro.
“We had faced hiccups during the global economic recession in 2008, too. We recovered from that but business again took a hit after the demonetisation. And with this novel coronavirus, we are in deep trouble,” Das said.
A number of airlines owe him about Rs 30 lakh for tickets, which he had bought for his clients, that were left unused following cancellation of flights because of the lockdown.
Airlines have told him that it would take them at least six months to repay the dues.
“I don’t know how many airlines will survive this crisis. If they collapse, I have to repay clients from my pocket,” he said.
Das had also made a number of advanced bookings with hotels and transport agencies on behalf of his clients for the summer vacation. “That has added to the mountain of dues,” he said.
Das leaves home on Bondel Road at 7am and heads for the Gariahat market, where he supervises purchase of vegetables, fish, meat and other stuff required for cooking.
He and his wife then cook for their food-delivery customers at a property they own in Gariahat.
“It’s so different from the cosy life I lived. I used to turn up at the office at 9.30am, speak to clients and sales representatives of airlines and meet friends in the evening,” he recounted.
But he feels it necessary to explore other avenues of earning. So, he has turned his attention to the small venture his wife had started — delivering cooked food at homes and offices.
“I have a passion for cooking. So, I am enjoying my new job,” he said.
Most of his clients in his new venture are elderly people, whose children stay in other cities of India or abroad.
“I think this novel coronavirus will change our lives. Food delivery at doorstep can be a big business,” he said.
Das is keen to diversify because of the present gloom in the travel industry. “I am not sure when people will start leisure travel again. Not in the near future, I think,” he said.
Even corporate travel will take a big blow, he feels.
“People are becoming used to online meetings and conferences. This will become the new normal. Many private firms won’t be able to afford air travel by its employees,” he said.
Social distancing could also mean a steep hike in air fares, which would prompt many to avoid flights.
“After the lockdown is lifted, I plan to run my travel agency on a much smaller scale and look for an alternative,” said Das.
Source: The Telegraph