Reports of Himachal Pradesh extending the lockdown till June 30 has sent shivers down the spine of the state’s already crumbling tourism sector. Even as tourism industry across the country may be badly hit, things become worse for hill states like Himachal who are solely dependent on summer tourism.
“Extending the lockdown will be the last nail in the coffin of the state’s tourism sector. Even if things open up for travelling and hotels by August-September, we have lost practically an entire year since we have few arrivals between July and March owing to adverse weather,” says Anil Walia, who runs three hotels in Shimla and the neighbouring Mashobra.
He adds, “For a tourism-intensive state like Himachal, where not just hotels, restaurants and taxi services, but even the chaat wala on The Mall and photographer at the ridge is dependent on tourist arrivals, lockdown has led to a complete washout of the entire year.”
Modest estimates say the loss of tourism-related turnover for Himachal goes up to the tune of Rs 800-1,000 crore. Sanjay Sood, President of Shimla Hotels and Restaurant Association (SHRA), says, “Unlike states like Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan that have winter tourism and can expect to make up a little bit for the losses by the end of this year, there’s no such silver lining for Himachal. Adding to our woes is the fact that Delhi, Gujarat and Maharashtra remain our key market, besides Punjab and Haryana, and since most of these places are reeling under the pandemic, it spells doom for us.”
The authorities also understand the industry’s peculiar predicament but express helplessness in the face of circumstances. While talking to The Indian Express, RD Dhiman, Additional Chief Secretary, admits that 60% of the tourism activity in the state happens between March and August, which is almost zero this year. “Not only hotel occupancy, but all the allied activity like adventure tourism, cultural events — it has all been cancelled. This sector has got the biggest hit, and ironically, will be the last to open up,” he says.
He adds that owing to a lack of any kind of receivables and income, while paying all the fixed costs associated with running an enterprise, this sector will face the biggest challenge in the state. According to the state’s estimates, he says, the manpower employed in the sector goes up to more than a lakh, and all of them are suffering.
Various tourism bodies have sent representations to the state and Centre, seeking bailout packages and respite, but none has come so far. Last week, in a letter to Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, they sought a financial package to hotels to cover all losses by way of interest-free loans, waiver in electricity and water charges, also urging the state to pay minimum wages to their employees. But they haven’t heard back, says Sood. “All they have done is waived electricity demand charges, which doesn’t mean much, even as we continue to pay fixed charges, water bills, corporation taxes and cess,” he says, adding, “For an average hotel with 20 rooms, we are incurring upto Rs 30,000 a month without earning anything. This will force many operators to shut shop and relieve the staff.”
Even as the authorities understand their particular predicament, they express inability to help them. “A lot of things have been discussed within the government but the state’s revenue has got a huge hit owing to lockdown. Sale of petroleum products and liquor — biggest contributors to the state’s exchequer — were completely stopped. Even if industry begins to open up, it will be a while before they start contributing to the revenue, enabling us to help the crumbling sectors like tourism.”