EghtesadOnline: T he coronavirus has closed the doors of 2,200 eco-lodges across the country, making at least 22,000 people redundant without any source of income for the past two months. They are now seeking government aid to weather the storm of unemployment and recession.
Not very long ago, eco-lodge accommodations were the economic dynamo in rural areas, a reason for reverse migration from cities to villages, but now a gloomy future awaits this fledging sector in Iran.
“Jobs created by eco-lodges will soon disappear, if the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare and banks fail to take a swift action. You can’t stop unemployment by talking,” Vali Teymouri, a deputy cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism ministry, was quoted as saying by the Persian-language daily Iran.
Noting that the worst point is that you can’t tell when the virus would go away in order to make a plan, Teymouri said, “The functions of eco-lodges are different from hotels. These differences do not allow the allocation of government aid to eco-lodges. Coronavirus loans are planned to be allocated to businesses that have insurance. Eco-lodges are not covered by insurance.”
The government has approved a 750-trillion-rial ($4.68 billion) package to help low-income households and struggling businesses impacted by the rapidly spreading coronavirus. The loans will be given to small- and medium-sized enterprises hit by the pandemic, according to the website of the Central Bank of Iran.
The lending rate will be 12% to be repaid within two years and only businesses that did not lay off workers during the corona crisis would be eligible for the loans.
Kaveh Mozaffari, the owner of an eco-lodge in Gilan, says, “We have literally earned nothing since Feb. 20 and had to lay off eight of our workers.”
He thinks the government’s 12% interest rate loans will most probably go to hotels rather than eco-lodges.
“Until the new coronavirus was identified, eco-lodges wrestled with many problems: paper work, sluggish bureaucracy and Cultural Heritage Ministry’s lack of access to villages, because of which eco-lodges were not determined in pursuing their demands. Last year, the ministry proposed insurance coverage for eco-lodge personnel and guests to the parliament, which was not approved,” he said.
The Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism has recently allowed hotels to accept guests but other cultural centers, including eco-lodges, have been prohibited from accommodating visitors.
Mozaffari believes that eco-lodges are safer than hotels hosting large number of guests and are a great option for non-resident employees telecommuting.
“Social distancing is better observed in eco-lodges. We have decided to change the time of check-in and checkout of passengers. As such, we’ll give a one-day break between receiving passengers if the government eases the restrictions,” he said.
Jalil Ziyaei, the manager of an eco-lodge and a restaurant in Sistan-Baluchestan Province, says, “I sustained losses to the tune of 950 million rials [$6,000] in the last two months. The coronavirus closures have made people jobless in various fields. For example, a butcher was happy to sell us meat for our guests, during the Norouz [Iranian New Year] holidays [March 20-April 3]. Now he has been left with an oversupply of sheep he bought to sell us.”
Masoud Sasani, the manager of an eco-lodge in Pamenar Village in Dezful, says up to 150 households are out of work due to the virus.
“There are 10 eco-lodges in this village and each have four to five people on their payroll. Their only hope was to make a little money in Norouz, which the coronavirus robbed us of,” he added.
Eco-lodge is a type of tourist accommodation designed to have the minimum possible impact on the surrounding environment. There are many eco-lodges across Iran to serve visitors in line with the traditions of the region, offering tourists a glimpse of the local way of life while helping the native people earn a livelihood.