PERTH - An unexpected email dropped into my inbox this week. It came from Narottam Sharma, who two years ago drove my wife and myself across Rajasthan, India, for a week.
Every morning Narottam would turn up at our hotel wearing a freshly pressed shirt, ready to safely navigate the horn-tooting madness of Indian traffic.
Narottam always arrived on time and was unfailingly patient whenever we wanted to stop for a photo. He had great knowledge of the back roads of Rajasthan, and never pressed us to visit particular shops or restaurants.
Narottam emailed this week to enquire about my family’s health during the coronavirus pandemic. “I am waiting to hear that you and your family are doing well and using all safety precautions,” he wrote.
Since our visit to Rajasthan, Narottam – with a little encouragement from me – had left the employ of a tour company, where he was paid very little, to set up his own operation - Royal India Vacation Tours, based in Jaipur.
On Trip Advisor his tour company has a five-star rating and comments from those who have taken his tours are resoundingly positive.
In a follow up email , Narottam revealed that all his tours booked for March and April had been cancelled and he had no new bookings until July.
This is a devastating outcome for Narottam and his family who live frugally on the proceeds of tours run by Royal India Vacations.
Yet his story is one that echoes across the globe where the livelihoods of tens of thousands of small-time tourism operators are being destroyed by the impact of COVID-19.
The global hotel chains and airlines are being hammered by coronavirus, but most have deep resources and have access to loans and government support to keep them in business.
Narottam and other small independent operators like him who keep the wheels of tourism turning are mostly on their own and facing a grim future.
Let’s not forget them.