As India moves towards easing its lockdown restrictions despite escalating COVID-19 cases, one state in India is looking to restart its tourism.
Jai Ram Thakur, the Chief Minister of the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh,wants to promote the state as a “quarantine tourism” destination. With over three million tourists visiting the state in previous summers, Himachal Pradesh is usually a top destination for tourists.
Thakur’s proposed version of tourism however, has a catch: it prohibits people from going sight-seeing or leaving their hotel at all. The proposal specifies that if the quarantine rule is violated, punitive action would be taken against both the tourist and the hotel.
The hotel industry isn’t convinced. “We do not feel it would be a good step for quarantine tourism in Himachal Pradesh,” Sanjay Sood, President of the Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association, told VICE.
Shimla, the capital of the state that receives a major influx of travellers, was heavily hit by the pandemic with its peak tourist season coinciding with the lockdown. “This (quarantine tourism) could be unsafe for employees, our properties, and most importantly, our citizens in towns and villages. Now that most of our state is safe and our season—which normally spans April, May, and June—seems to have been lost due to the pandemic, we feel we should not open borders for tourism. As we know, cases are going to increase exponentially in June and July.”
Sood also highlighted the rising cases across the country, and suggested that tourism should be put on hold until domestic and international flights are normalised.
“Since cases are on the rise in states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, and Punjab, we should not consider opening hotels until at least the end of August or even September—unless we have a vaccine to cure COVID,” he said.
In Dharamsala, a city in Himachal Pradesh, hoteliers also refuse to accept the proposal of the tourism department to restart operations. According to The Tribune, the members of the hotel association of Dharamsala alleged that the government was trying to shift the entire burden of containing the coronavirus on the distressed hotel industry. Sanjeev Gandhi, state co-convenor of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurants Association (FOHRA), said that some of the conditions proposed by the tourism department were illogical.
For now, the hotels will only be opened for non-tourism purposes, such as to house people visiting the state for official and business purposes. While locals can stay in these hotels, tourists from other states are not allowed. The neighbouring state of Uttarakhand, however, is open to tourism, though with some restrictions. Advanced bookings are required, and those coming from cities with large numbers of positive coronavirus cases are not welcome.
Globally, tourism is considered to be one of the hardest hit industries by the pandemic. With borders closed, airplanes grounded and expected long term changes to travelers' behaviours, the World Tourism Organisation predicts that international tourist arrivals will be down by up to 30% in 2020, compared to 2019 numbers
The tally of coronavirus cases in Himachal Pradesh stands at 400, with five deaths and 194 recoveries. Across the country, coronavirus cases crossed the 250,000 mark. Maharashtra, the most affected state, overtook China’s official count when it reached 85,000-mark on Sunday. With India reporting the third highest number of daily cases in the world, experts warn that it is not the right time for the country to be easing its lockdown.
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