Last month, travel influencer Shenaz Treasury reached Goa as the western Indian state, popular for its coastline, reopened to tourists after four months.
Treasury started posting content to inform her 690,000 Instagram followers about the restaurants, bars and beaches open for business in Goa. However, she received massive backlash from locals who were concerned that she was promoting tourism in the state with more 18,000 COVID-19 cases.
“Their [locals’] reaction made me realise that I was wrong to promote tourism at such a time,” Treasury told VICE News. Since then, she has made it a point not to reveal her location or talk about tourism. Treasury still feels that it's important to support local businesses in states like Goa which rely heavily on tourism while following precautions.
On March 23, India imposed one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns. People were prohibited from venturing out; air, rail and road travel was banned; only essential services including hospitals, police and media were exempted.
Even as the country is now emerging as the global virus epicenter, it has started easing restrictions in a phased manner.
On Saturday, August 29, the Indian government lifted restrictions on inter-state travel across the country. Under current guidelines, travelers no longer need a pre-approved permit or a COVID-19 negative certificate to travel long distances. Additionally, mandatory 14-day quarantines outside containment zones, specific geographic areas where coronavirus cases are found in large clusters, has been dropped.
People in tourist states across the country are worried about the relaxation of border movements contributing to an influx of travellers who could rapidly spread the infection.
“Me and my family are confined to our house. We’re not sure if the incoming tourists will respect social distancing norms,” Simran Bandekar, 24, a financial analyst in Goa told VICE News. “Allowing inter-state travel without border vigilance or mandatory quarantine has put at risk Goans living with ageing parents.”
Goa was one of the first Indian states where all COVID-19 patients made a full recovery at one stage, but cases began to spike once again after the government reopened the state for tourism on July 2.
More than nine percent of Goa’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the tourism industry.
Ankita Kumar, a travel blogger based in the southern Indian state of Bengaluru told VICE News, “I think the government only opened the borders because the economy went to shit, but this will send a wrong message to people,” she said. “People frustrated after months of lockdown may think it is okay to travel.”
Sahil Adwalpalkar runs 13 bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Goa under the Sinq Hospitality banner. “While tourists coming in is a scary prospect, the government has to start somewhere to revive the economy,” he told VICE News.
For Adwalpalkar, lockdown restrictions translate into loss of revenue for his business and others who make the supply chain like the liquor vendors, vegetable traders and taxi drivers. “Even though borders are opening, we will get only about 30 percent of the tourists we normally get,” he said.
The situation is worrisome in Uttarakhand, a hill state in north India, with more than 20,398 COVID-19 cases. “Despite many COVID-19 positive cases, Uttarakhand is filled with tourists” Abhinav Chandel, a travel blogger told VICE News.
Chandel said that he is impressed by Himachal Pradesh, another north Indian state known for its hilly terrain.
“Though the Indian government has lifted restrictions in the state, the village bodies continue to impose quarantines and mandatory COVID-19 negative certificates,” he said.
According to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), “Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.” The global health authority says that chances of getting COVID-19 while traveling also depend on whether you and those around you take steps to protect yourself and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people outside your household. Some experts have concluded that the chances of catching the novel coronavirus in a flight are relatively slim.
Mayank Chadha runs a handicrafts store in the north Indian city state of Udaipur, popular for its artificial lakes and royal residences. For him, the easing of restrictions is a big relief. “Financially and psychologically, the lockdown put a heavy strain on us,” Chadha told VICE News. “Now that they’re opening up borders, I hope my business picks up again.”
Roughly 400 kms east from Chadha is Jaipur, famous among global tourists as the “Pink City”.
Yash Soni, a 23-year-old videographer whose family runs a travel agency in Jaipur, told VICE News, “Normally around this time of the year, we see our bookings surge, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
India currently has more than 3.77 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and more than 66,333 deaths.
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