With states grappling to counter the second wave of deadly coronavirus, Himachal Pradesh‘s tourism sector – primarily the hotel industry – seems to have met a dead end this summer.
Locks are out on the hotels, tourists villas, hill resorts and homestays at most favoured destinations in Kullu-Manali and places around Shimla, Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. The occupancy in the hotels has reduced to nil forcing the promoters to shut down their operations, sending the staff back home.
A drive on Kullu-Manali highway along river Beas – one of the busy and high-traffic routes, is met with deserted roads. A long row of idle river rafts, taxis and deserted market places – the Mall Road, Manali, are grim reminders of last year’s lockdown.
The Rohtang Tunnel is no longer a visited place by the tourists ,who have stopped coming to Himachal Pradesh with Covid making lives miserable in Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat , Maharashtra, Haryana ,West Bengal and Karnataka.
“These were the states with the biggest chunk of our customers who visit us in the peak of summer. With the state reeling under this second corona wave, we don’t have any chance of tourism picking up,” admitted Anil Kant Sharma, a hotelier at Manali.
Sharma said the flip-flop on the part of Himachal Pradesh government on Covid restrictions created a lot of confusion and panic among those who wanted to escape Covid-hit towns and choose Himachal destinations and hotels for a quiet (work from home). All such clients have shifted to Kashmir.
Another leading Kullu hotelier said a group of 25 tourists which had made bookings for 15 days cancelled in mid-April after the state government issued RT-PCR negative test reports mandatory for people coming to Himachal Pradesh from April 16.The group later headed for Kashmir. Most hotels in Kashmir are doing their usual business unlike Himachal Pradesh.
Also, from Tuesday midnight, the Himachal Pradesh government has made e-registration mandatory for all those coming from other states, apart from a RT-PCR negative test report of 72 hours.
Entry to Kangra – the worst-affected district, which is reporting 10 to 12 deaths every day, will be difficult for outsiders without e-registration or RT-PCR negative reports.
Ashwani Bamba, president, Hotels and Restaurants Association, Dharamshala, said, “The tourism sector has hit a dead end in Himachal Pradesh. The hotels with 25 to 30 rooms have no business, thus shutting shop. The staff have also been told to return home. It’s the worst situation we have faced.”
But it’s not alone about the hotels. The tourism sector, which had been the main-stay of hundreds of families – taxi operators, tourist guides, para-gliders ,vendors (selling snacks) at Manali ,Marhi, Kothi, Solang Nullah and Rohtang have lost their livelihood too.
Mohinder Sath of the Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association has asked for immediate financial help from the state government in view of the immense losses for the second consecutive year.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur admitted that the tourism sector is the worst hit due to Covid in Himachal Pradesh.
“We want tourists to come but at the same time there are worries about spread of infection. We have not stopped any one from coming but they will be required to follow mandatory regulations, that is, RT-PCR negative reports and e-registrations,” he said.