Never in the pink of health, Odisha’s tourism sector is in dire straits as a result of the pandemic. With all places of tourist interest such as the Sun Temple in Konark, Bhitarkanika and Nandankanan remaining shut for months due to the prolonged lockdown and infection rates spiking every day, tourist inflow to the state has been near to zero. And with the Rath Yatra in Puri, the big event that draws lakhs of devotees to the pilgrim town every year, being held only as a token, ritualistic affair with no public participation, tourist footfall is set to fall drastically this year.
Regular air and train services are yet to resume fully, which means, there is no way tourists can visit the state even if they are willing to take the risk. Hotels have been allowed to operate since June 8, but only at 30 per cent capacity. “Most restaurants still remain closed. Only room service is allowed. Who will want to come and stay in a hotel with such restrictions?” asks hotelier Srikant Sahoo. “The tourism industry has collapsed,” says Benjamin Simon, president of the Tours and Travel Operators Association of Odisha. “It has been hit harder by the coronavirus than other sectors and will take a lot longer to revive than others.”
With the government grappling with the growing Covid-positive cases, it has little time to pay attention to this crucial sector that is one of the biggest employers in the state as well as the country. Industry insiders say the government is yet to put in place a safety protocol on the lines of the guidelines framed by the World Tourism Council to inspire confidence among tourists. There is little hope of a revival without active support from the government, they say. Even with government support, any possible revival would be a long-drawn affair, they feel..
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar