Farmers’ Protests Adds To Himachal’s Tourism Woes

Manali: The farmers’ protest in Delhi causing a blockade of national highways has hit the tourism industry of Himachal Pradesh with hotels here in the past week reporting a 20 to 30% cancellation in bookings.

Hotel owner Sunil Sharma says that the recent cancellations were mostly from North Indian cities as the people have been unable to move out of their homes.

The hospitality sector, a mainstay industry of Himachal, has already been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the industry down on its knees. With a surge in the spread of coronavirus, the government only recently imposed a night curfew along with other stringent measures to tackle the pandemic that has further hurt the sector.

The many ‘Homestays’ that have come up in the valley have also reported many cancelations over the past week. Homestays, an alternate accommodation to the many hotels in the valley, was being promoted by the government to disburse the benefits of tourism countryside.

Those who were looking forward to experiencing snowfall in Manali and had book rooms for the weekend resorted to cancelling them at the last minute saying it was difficult to travel with farmers protest going on around Delhi.

“With so much unrest, how can we take the risk and travel, especially when we have young kids and family along with us,” said Pritiksha Ahuja, a tourist from Delhi who cancelled her booking.

Sharma feels that due to the pandemic, curfew restrictions, and the farmers’ protests, there is not much hope of the state receiving tourists during Christmas and New Year also. “Government’s policies are unreasonable and unhelpful. Most tourists are not sure if they will be able to sight-see in Manali. Many fear that they will be confined to their rooms,” he said.

Many other hoteliers in Manali also have lost hopes of business picking up. After 6 months of lockdown, hotels in the regions reopened on October 1. However, most hotels only ran on 20-25 per cent occupancy, meanwhile, others only managed to receive 10-15 per cent bookings. Many hotels had to shut shop due to lack of tourists.

Anup Ram Thakur, president of the Manali Hoteliers Association is furious at the manner in which the state government has treated the tourism industry. “There is no consistency in the government’s decisions. Hoteliers were never consulted and our needs and requests were never taken into consideration,” he said.

“First, the government imposed a night curfew between 8 pm to 6 am. Then out of the blue, they changed the timings of the curfew from 9 pm to 6 am. Then Sunday markets and restaurants, bars and pubs were closed. Now the farmers’ protests have made the situation even worse for us. The hospitality industry cannot survive under such conditions. We will soon go bankrupt,” said Thakur.

The government-run Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) has also suffered huge losses. The occupancy at the HTPDC’s hotel chain has only been 20 percent.

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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