It is an irony that Himachal Pradesh’s travel and hospitality industry, which contributes to 7% of the state’s GDP every year, is seeking an interim relief that too when the tourist season should have peaked. The lockdown has left Himachal’s hotel, restaurant and other business owners worried as 15 days of the tourist season, which begins from April 15 and lasts till July 15, have already been wasted as there are no guests.
Hotel owners have been left high and dry, including some who took loans to build new hotels or add new facilities in their properties. Rohit Kumar, a Manali-based hotelier, who originally hails from New Delhi has been left in the lurch by the coronavirus-induced lockdown. This 38-year-old hotelier, besides investing his hard-earned money, had also raised nearly Rs 2 crore loan to construct a 25-room hotel in the picturesque Manali valley.
“I was about to complete the construction of my hotel when the lockdown was imposed. There was a plan to open the hotel from April 15 but I was compelled to halt the construction. The season has already begun but there is lockdown. The government has deferred payment of loans for three months but one will have to deposit all the instalments after three months. The lockdown has pushed me under a debt trap,” said Rohit Kumar.
HUNDREDS LAID OFF
The lockdown has resulted in hundreds of layoffs in Himachal Pradesh as the entire tourism industry is shut. The industry, which contributes to nearly Rs 6000 revenue to the state’s kitty every year has been forced to shut at a time when locals earned enough to sustain the entire year. Pawan Kumar (28) a Kullu-based river rafting business owner has asked his team members to leave as there is no business.
“I have decided to wind up the business and have asked my team members to go home as there is no money. I will have to bear losses this year,” said Pawan Kumar who used to earn good money between April-July and August-October when the state government allows river rafting in the state.
Chanderkant Bhagubhai Patel (50) originally hails from Gujarat but has been living in Shimla for 27 years alongwith four family members. He worked as a driver with a leading Shimla hotel. He has lost all the income and is now surviving on food which is being given by the hotel management.
“The tourist season has already begun. I used to earn tips which was more than my salary. Now there is no guarantee that I will get the salary even. I am grateful to the employers who are giving me food twice a day. The lockdown has disturbed the normal life here,” said Chanderkant Bhagubhai Patel.
TRAVEL INDUSTRY SEEKS RELIEF
As the first 15 days of the tourist season have already been wasted, Himachal’s hotel and restaurant owners have now been compelled to knock at the doors of the state authorities to seek interim relief. The Hotel and Restaurants Owners Association office bearers met the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and sought immediate relief.
“We had come forward to shut the hotels and restaurants as Covid-19 gripped the nation. It was really tough to sustain as business is down. We have sought interim relief in the form of GST waiver besides deferred power and water bills,” said Sanjay Sood, president, Hotel and Restaurants Association, Shimla.
Additional Chief Secretary Tourism and Health, RD Dhiman said the state government has set up a special task force (STF) to address the demands made by the business owners. The state government has already decided to defer the payments of water and power bills. However, the demand to waive GST is pending.
“A cabinet meeting has been called to address the demands being made by the travel and hospitality industry. We have already collected important information about the losses caused by the lockdown. The government will render all types of help to the affected people. As far as the GST waiver is concerned, it is to be allowed by the Union government and this issue is being raised with the central government authorities,” RD Dhiman said.
There are 5,868 hotels and guest houses in the state besides the restaurants and other business establishments. Over 1.72 crore tourists visited the state in 2019 out of which 3.56 lakhs were foreigners.