Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur feels that despite wanting to do much more for the severely hit tourism sector, the poor financial health of the state restrains his regime. He is optimistic though that the tourism sector, which accounts for 7 per cent of the state GDP, will be back on track soon enough. Excerpts from an interview with Pratibha Chauhan:
- How is the government planning to help revive the tourism and hospitality sector in view of the huge losses?
There is no second thought that Covid-19 has dealt a severe blow to the tourism sector in the past few months. We have tried to provide relief to the hoteliers within our limited resources and despite wanting to do much more for them, our hands are tied. Yet, we are eagerly awaiting the award of the 15th Finance Commission and if our financial position permits, we will definitely provide more relief to the tourism industry.
- How hopeful are you of revival of the tourism industry with a surge in coronavirus-positive cases?
During my recent visit to Manali and in my frequent interactions with hoteliers, I have got the feedback that the revival has begun, even though slow, with the opening up of state borders. The fact that Himachal is still far safer in terms of the virus spread and number of cases, as compared to other parts of the country, makes it a preferred destination. The hoteliers have got a lot of queries about the safety norms and facilities in the changed scenario.
Manali hospitality units had about 7 per cent occupancy in the first week after opening of borders, which is very welcome, considering how far Kullu-Manali areas are as compared to Kasauli or Shimla. The revival has already begun though the road ahead will be bumpy and difficult.
- Have the losses suffered by the hospitality sector been quantified? Is the govt-run Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) planning to offer discounts?
Initial surveys have pegged the losses suffered by the hospitality sector at almost Rs4,000 crore. The government does realise that a lot will have to be done to attract tourists and provide them a very safe and re-assuring atmosphere. Since the government will have to take the lead, we have asked the HPTDC to come up with attractive packages for tourists.
- What is your message to hoteliers and tourists in the present scenario?
The hoteliers will have to ensure a very safe and comfortable stay for their guests as that is the only way to reassure people that Himachal is safe. An extra amount of effort will have to go into this, but there is no other way to get the tourism industry back on track.
As far as the tourists are concerned, they will have to abide by the social distancing norms as till now it has been seen that they are being very casual and are not wearing masks, which is not acceptable. The police have been told to be very firm with such people as we cannot risk the health of people of our state.