During this pandemic, the whole country is facing all kinds of issues and learning how to deal with them, be it Zoom conferences or Google Duo meetings, and much more. COVID-19 has made the world realize that it is not necessary to meet to get the work done. However, it is difficult but not impossible, as our prime minister Narendra Modi said, “We have to learn things in order to become aatmnirbhar.”
Looking at the state’s rising coronavirus cases, the Himachal Pradesh government decided on Monday to extend the lockdown in two state districts, Solan and Hamirpur until June 30. These two places are emerging as the state’s new coronavirus epicenters.
The development comes after 63 cases of the virus were reported by Hamirpur, the highest in the state. So far, 21 people in Solan district have tested positive for the infection. The state has reported 214 cases in all, including five deaths, so far. According to officials’ updates, Hamirpur saw a spurt in COVID-19 cases as people in large number returned from other parts of the country to the state. The district now has 57 of the state’s 142 active cases.
In Himachal Pradesh, entrepreneurs in the tourism sector are trying to line out a roadmap for the state’s post-lockdown period. With hotels shut down for an indeterminate time, most of them are thinking differently when it comes to using their premises.
In an article, Rajeev Khanna states how the hoteliers of Solan are struggling to cope with the situation and thinking about converting their premises into paying guest accommodations and much more.
For the past two decades, Amit Pratap Sachdeva, who has run a resort in Solan, has decided to turn his premises into girls’ paying-guest accommodation for the time being. “To survive, we will have to look for alternatives to keep things going. Because I have 15 rooms available in which, I can accommodate 30 girl students,” he said. “We know that it will take a long time for the hotel industry to open up and run profitability. There are people who are thinking about converting hotels into residential sets that can be rented out for about the next year at least,” added Sachdeva.
“We told Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur that 98% of the work of the hoteliers is based on the principle of first earnings and then expenses. We have no capital corpus whatsoever,” Sanjay Sood, president of Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurant Association said. The hoteliers have requested relief on power, water, and garbage collection bills, citing no current earnings. They have been asking for billing on actual or domestic charges as they will not be able to pay commercial rates, Sood added.
When one of the reporter asked Sood about the relief funds for the hoteliers, who are in large numbers in the state and have returned home, he claimed, “One positive aspect is that the workers own small pieces of land that they can work on back home. We have stood by them and will be giving them all the support we can in the upcoming days.”
According to B. S. Marh who is an expert in geography, “By its very nature tourism is a gatherer of crowds. The industry is not only in shock during the pandemic but will stay in the same state even after that. But that sector must definitely need to be streamlined.”
But apart from screening, post-lockdown, things will change on all fronts, Marh said. Social distancing would become a norm; carriage vehicles would not be packed to the max. Similarly, rooms in hotels that previously accommodated a full family would no longer be the same. All this would mean a cost escalation. Marh noted the prevailing scenario until last year, when people came in very large numbers through all modes of transportation to gag tourist destinations where there was no parking space available, could not be allowed to repeat.
In 2019, Himachal Pradesh saw a footfall of over 17 million visitors, among whom 0.35 million were from other parts of the world. Reportedly the tourism industry is contributing around ₹6,000 crore to the state exchequer. The lockdown came at a time when tourism activities normally pick up for the summer season and thousands of people earn an income for the rest of the year that would sustain them for the remaining year.
This is true that the COVID-19 pandemic has been awful for many industries, but one of the worst affected sectors is the travel and tourism industry. People engaged in taxi and hotel services were adversely affected as tourists cannot visit the state with the country under lockdown to fight the coronavirus. According to them, the tourism sector has been adversely affected by COVID-19 as in April, May and June, an estimated 50-60% of total revenue is generated in a year.
According to data from the State Tourism Department, there are 3,679 hotels with a capacity of 1,03 lakh beds and 2,189 home-stay facilities with a capacity of 12,181 beds. The actual figures are much higher, though. There are more than 8,000 hotels and more than 4,000 residence facilities in Shimla, Kullu-Manali, Dharamshala, Dalhousie, and Kasauli, making this sector dependent on a considerable size of the population and contributing nearly 7% to the state’s GDP. In an article in The Tribune, Sood said, “It is a dark future ahead for the hotel industry and unless the government comes to our rescue, survival will be tough for most of us.”
The state initially had less than 50 cases of COVID-19, but a rise in cases was witnessed when students from different parts of the country came back. Still, compared to other states, Himachal Pradesh is in a better position, as it has only over 300 cases, including 5 deaths.
Whatsoever will be the result, travelling is a necessity for a human being. Today the conditions are not so apt, and the hoteliers and the travel industry of Himachal Pradesh and other states might be suffering, but this industry has to keep going on. It is very important for each and every individual of the country to stand together during these hardships of the pandemic, and it is quite an apt time to remind ourselves the famous quotation, that “We travel not to escape life, but for life not escape us.” And this might not be the right time to travel but it has to come, as traveling makes us content.