In Dire Straits, Manali Hotel Industry Seeks Relief

Manali: Travel industry having come to a standstill in the country, Manali Hotels Association (MHA) has sought relief in taxes, licenses fees and waiving of water and electricity bills for the losses being incurred by them because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“To contain the spread of the pandemic,” a worried Anup Ram, president MHA says, “the countrywide lockdown has had a disastrous impact on the hospitality sector, especially for the hotels – a capital intensive business with high fixed costs.”

Finding the going tough and the prospects bleak, Manoj, who operates a popular restaurant in the tourist township laments, “working capital is draining out fast for all types of hotels and restaurants here. Paying taxes, which includes advance tax, GST and others is draining out all liquidity and making it extremely difficult to manage day to day operations.”

Unable to decide whether to shut shop or operate in a limited way, Babu Ali, a hotel owner says, “going ahead, occupancy in India is going to be very low. Many hotels will have to close shop this season. The government has advised against laying off staff or reducing salaries. Without any revenue, how do you do it. Under this situation, the industry is going to go sick very soon.”

An empty public square at the popular tourist township of Manali (Photo: Sanjay Dutta)

Seeking aid from the government, the association in a letter to chief minister Jai Ram Thakur has asked for a 6 months GST holiday, deferment for fiscal statutory compliance deadlines such as payment of direct and indirect taxes, deferment for repayment of loans, bank EMIs, etc. for a period of six months and relief in electricity bills either as waiver or subsidy of FAC charges, and electricity duty.

The government’s timely intervention can cushion the blow to the industry, said Anup Ram. “Our members are reporting booking cancellations of over 90%, many hotels are closed and unable to pay even water and electricity charges,” he adds.

The association has also demanded that registration fees, bar license renewal fees and pollution fee collections be withheld for a year. “With no tourists in Manali, the government condition of picking up a minimum quota of liquor by a bar license holder should be abolished, said Ram.

After a freezing winter when the hotel industry in the resort township sustains on deep discounts, it is the summer months from April to June that tourists throng Manali to turn it into India’s most popular summer tourist destination.

Spread of the deadly virus has brought this multi-million rupees industry of Kullu-Manali to a standstill. The government has extended the total lockdown till May 3 and has issued an advisory for the people to stay safe in their homes and not travel to any place.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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