Tourism, in Himachal Pradesh, one of the state’s key industries, has virtually come to a standstill over the past week amid the COVID-19 scare. Hotels, guesthouses and homestays at tourist hotspots like Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala and Dalhousie have witnessed a sharp decline in occupancy due to cancellation of bookings and negligible footfall of tourists. The scare, which has also impacted eateries, is threatening the livelihood of many including cafe owners, retailers, tour and trek guides, hawkers, taxi drivers, artisans and photographers.
“Tourists from adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana too have disappeared, which is unprecedented. Only local residents come here these days. Normally, I earn around Rs 500 per day, which is barely enough to meet my work and other expenses. These days, it’s gone below Rs 200 a day,” said Ghulam Din, who offers horse rides to visitors at the Ridge Maidan in Shimla, a tourist hotspot which is usually teeming with visitors round the year.
Dinesh Thakur, who provides baby strollers for hire at the Mall Road, said his situation is equivalent to being thrown out of work while Parvesh Kumar, a photographer, said he is awaiting his first sale of the day.
According to Sanjay Sood, president of the Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association, hotel occupancy in the town has fallen by 40 to 50 per cent within a week. “It’s a deep fall, but will pick up hopefully. All hospitality units here are being disinfected regularly and the staff have been provided masks and sanitisers,” he said.
Aryan Chaudhary, a guesthouse manager in Dharamshala, said all existing bookings at his guesthouse have been cancelled. A few kilometres uphill at Dharamkot village, a destination favored by foreign nationals for long periods of stay, district authorities have tightened regulations leading to an exodus of travelers.
“Foreigners are required to fill a self-declaration form and produce a ‘health card’ declaring that they’re free from COVID-19 symptoms. The police are conducting inspections here, so most tourists have left,” said Mohit Sharma, who runs a hostel in the area.
Hukum, who runs a homestay in Manali, said several groups of youngsters from other states who had booked his unit cancelled their tour.
Outsiders’ entry restricted in tribal districts
In Spiti valley, residents have unanimously resolved to close all hotels and homestays, while checkpoints have been set up at entry points to the valley for screening visitors, said local MLA Ram Lal Markanda. The valley adjoins Ladakh, where six positive cases have been reported so far. “Rohtang Pass is still closed. At Sumdo and other entry points, outsiders are being screened for symptoms. Besides tourists, a large number of migrant labourers from Nepal come here these days,” he said. In Kinnaur, the district hotel association has resolved to deny occupancy to all foreign nationals.
Tourism in numbers
According to the state economic survey 2019-20, tourism accounts for around seven per cent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). There are nearly 3,700 hotels and 2,200 homestay units registered with the department of tourism, having a total bed capacity of more than 1.15 lakh. The state has witnessed a decline in the total tourist inflow from 1.96 crore in 2017 to 1.72 crore in 2019. According to a ‘groundbreaking ceremony’ held for investors by the state government in December, 81 tourism projects with a proposed investment of Rs 3,322 crore are set to take off in the state
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