As a particularly troubled year for hospitality, retail and entertainment industries draws to a close, more than lamenting about its losses in the year gone by, the industry is worried about the upcoming year. They fear 2022 will be a repeat of the previous two years. If so, it would make it the third straight year of heavy losses.
“The Omicron scare and restrictions imposed for the New Year’s Eve has a spine-chilling sense of deja vu in the industry,” said Chandrashekhar Hebbar, President, Karnataka Regional Hotels and Restaurants Federation.
The hospitality industry is one of the worst hit. “Of the over five lakh eateries we have in the State, at least 5% have permanently shut shop since the beginning of the pandemic. With work from home still being the norm, many hotels that had opened around workspaces have become unviable,” Mr. Hebbar said.
Malls hit hard
The situation in retail and entertainment industries seem no different. Many malls in the city that used to be bustling with shoppers today wear a deserted look, with neither shoppers nor business establishments.
“We have remained completely shut for almost six months in 2021. Today, there is a vacancy of nearly 40% in almost every mall in the State. Even those who are still operating are not paying rent on a regular basis. All retail business has taken a big hit. But the only sector that seems to be growing is online, at our cost,” said Uday Garudachar, BJP MLA and owner of Garuda Malls, a chain of eight malls in the State.
The entertainment industry also has a similar tale of woe to tell; the growth of online streaming platforms at the cost of theatres. However, as theatres remained shut, the number of films released was down to a trickle compared to pre-pandemic times.
“Ever since the pandemic hit us, we have remained close for 15 months. Even for the few months that we have opened, we had 50% occupancy restrictions and double dose vaccine as a precondition for entry. Some rules do not make sense. For instance, why should we send back those without two doses of vaccine? A vaccine camp at theatres would help the government augment vaccine coverage,” said K. V. Chandrashekhar, President, Karnataka Film Exhibitors Association. He also said that at least 150 single screen theatres have permanently shut down in the state.
The industry, after repeated appeals, found some reprieve in terms of rebates in property tax and waiver of standard deposit charges in power bills this year. However, establishments also complained that there has been no rebate in renewal of trade and excise licenses.
“If there is a lockdown or severe occupancy restrictions imposed in the coming year, the Government should extend these rebates and also give other benefits if we have to survive, if not, we shudder to think what will be our situation,” said a veteran from the pub industry in the city, who did not wish to be named.
Others argue that it was high time we learnt to live with the virus and extreme restrictions and lockdowns were not the answer anymore.