Tourism -- a crucial engine of Himachal Pradesh's economic growth and important source of earning for tens of thousands in the hill state -- has ground to a halt as the pandemic nose dives summer holiday plans.
Members of the hospitality industry say in recent times they have never seen such a disaster as the arrival of tourists has almost stopped, and hotel bookings vanished as states closed their borders and imposed lockdown.
"Tourism is one of the industries that has been worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the hotel industry is on the edge to collapse," Mohinder Seth, state convener for the All Himachal Associations of Hospitality and Tourism Forum, told IANS.
He said the tourism could take at least 12 to 18 months to get back on track in the state and such a long period is a matter of concern for the tourism entrepreneurs without earning.
"Revenue of around 60 per cent of tourism units in the state is earned from April to June only. This eases out the entrepreneurs to meet the fixed expenses for the whole year," said Shimla-based hotelier Seth.
Tourism stakeholders were expecting a special package from the Central government to keep the tourism industry alive.
"In the recent announcement of the relief packages, nothing has been given to tourism due to which the stakeholders have been disappointed," he said.
Himachal Pradesh is a major tourism destination. The contribution of the tourism sector to the state GDP is about seven per cent, a significant one.
A delegation of the hotel and tourism industry led by Legislator Vikramaditya Singh met Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur here last week and apprised him that in the past three months the tourism units have not been able to generate any revenue.
Now they are no more capable of paying their fixed costs like salaries, electricity and water charges and taxes.
They sought a special financial package from the state for their survival as they have already lost its peak season unlike other tourist states like Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala where it is low summer season.
The package for all categories of hotels comprises interest-free loans from the state cooperative and state-owned banks, waiver of interest on existing term loans, etc.
Officials of the state-run Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) said the occupancy in most of their hotels in all tourist destinations is almost negligible.
"A few of our properties, mostly in Shimla, Manali and Dharamsala, have been turned into private quarantined centres for those with travel history either from abroad or within states," state-run Hotel Holiday Home Deputy General Manager Nand Lal told IANS.
He said a 50 per cent discount is given on room tariff for those who want to quarantine in the hotel.
"Our hotels are totally dependent on the tourists mainly from the north Indian states of Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana and Delhi," he said.
"At this point in time, the occupancy, other than those availing quarantine facility, is almost nil compared to almost packed to capacity in the previous year. This lockdown has pushed the entire hospitality industry to the brink," Nand Lal said.
He said Hotel Holiday Home, a prominent hotel in the state capital, is going to start food delivery at the doorsteps for the first time from June 1 to boost its revenue.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said the focus of the state now is to fight the coronavirus.
"We are concerned that the state's tourism industry is passing through a bad phase owing to the pandemic. We will try to revive it once the virus is under control," Thakur told IANS.
Contrary, Seth of the All Himachal Associations of Hospitality and Tourism Forum said till the tourism industry did not stand on its feet, its employees should be provided employment under some schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
"The monthly salary bill in the state's hospitality industry stands at nearly Rs 50 crore. It is almost impossible for the tourism units to bear this huge amount of salary. If there is no relief from the government, we may be forced to opt for staff retrenchment," he added.
Corporate executive Shweta Ahuja from Chandigarh said she had cancelled her bookings in Manali owing to coronavirus epidemic. Now she is planning her visit not before the next summers.
Himachal Pradesh's economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power generation and horticulture.
State's tourist footfall last year increased to 172.12 lakh, which included 3.83 lakh foreigners, from 164.50 lakh in 2018.
The highest arrival in 14 years was at 196.02 lakh in 2017.