KOLKATA: Foreign exchange trade in Kolkata has come to a grinding halt with the coronavirus outbreak prompting widespread travel bans and cancellation of international flights. There is little or almost no demand for the US dollar, euro, Thai baht and UK pound and units registering minor transactions have made use of sanitizers mandatory for those handling currency and are demanding to see the self-reporting forms issued to arriving flyers by the health ministry.
The drop in sale of foreign currency is more than 90%, says Anil Punjabi, chairman of Travel Agents Federation (east) and director of Ares Travels that has been in the money-changing business for the past 15 years.
“It has been 20 days since we have had any buyers. Indians and NRIs are also getting rid of foreign currency. Earlier, they would hold on to foreign currency but now, they don’t want to since they are unsure of the future,” said Punjabi.
Debasish Dutt, director of the 133-year-old RN Dutt & Sons, says there has been very little trade in the past month. “In my career of 22 years, I have never seen such a slump in business. I will put the dip to 70%. We are registering insignificant number of queries from travellers and very little currency exchange is happening. Some are approaching us for encashment. Our front office people are using sanitizers to deal with such clients,” he said. Biswajit Dutta, vice president of Edix Cash, earlier known as Centrum Direct Limited, claimed there was “at least a 50% dip in business” at his outlet while Subir Kumar De, general manager of Vicky Tourism Private limited, said the drop was 70%
“The number of people returning to Kolkata from abroad has gone down drastically. In the past 15 days, we have had no foreigners coming over to exchange currency. For regular customers with no known symptoms, we are exchanging currency only after they have shown us their self-reporting forms issued by the ministry of health and family welfare,” said De.
Biswajit Das, zonal head east of Zenith Leisure Holidays Limited, said there are hardly any enquires for foreign exchange and his unit it only encashing currency from travellers who have returned to India before the outbreak. “Even in their cases, we have their departure tickets and are well aware of when they returned. Now, we are also advising people to use travel cards instead of currency,” said Das. To be on the safe side, the procured currency is also being stored kept in separate plastic packets. “Those who work at the counter have been told to maintain a minimum distance from the person who comes to exchange the currency,” Das added.
Instead of procuring dollars, pounds and euros from travellers, most units are now relying on banks to get their stock of international currency. “We understand that the situation is tricky there as well. We are also hoping that the banks are providing us with old stock of currency,” said Vicky Tourism’s Subir Kumar De.