Himachal’s tourism industry wants Covid curbs eased to revive economy
It’s been over a month since the Himachal Pradesh government opened its doors to tourists amid the Covid-19 pandemic but the stringent restrictions to enter the state have kept visitors at bay. Tourism industry stakeholders now want the government to relax the rules to give a fillip to the hospitality sector that is struggling for survival.
In a letter to state urban development minister Suresh Bhardwaj, Tourism Sector Stakeholders’ Association president MK Seth said, “Most hotels in Himachal Pradesh remain closed and the ones that are open are seeing poor occupancy. Other tourist states such as Rajasthan, Kerala and Goa don’t have such strict restrictions and that’s helping tourism pick up pace there.”
He said that tourists with valid documents are being turned back from Shoghi at the Shimla district border even after being allowed entry into the state from the Parwanoo barrier.
“It is unfair that after hours of journey, tourists are kept waiting at district borders for re-checking. In several cases, they are even sent back,” he said.
Tourists with Covid-negative reports, who apply for e-registration, have not got approval within 72 hours, he said, adding visitors are hesitant to visit Himachal Pradesh because of the mandatory Covid-negative report for the entire family.
He said that restrictions in Himachal are the most stringent in the country and this was not only causing revenue loss to the government but also resulting in job losses and near collapse of the hospitality industry.
‘SIMPLIFY ENTRY RULES’
The association suggested that checking of tourists’ documents should be done at inter-state barriers only and those coming to the state for less than 72 hours should be exempted from the Covid-negative report requirement.
The e-registration system should be simplified and approval from the district magistrate should be done away with, it said.
The tourists should be asked to fill the information needed online and the booking of hotel units should also be done virtually.
The rider of minimum five-day stay should be removed and the Covid-negative certificate requirement should be only for those who intend to visit Himachal Pradesh for more than 72 hours.
The validity of the Covid-negative test should be extended to 96 hours and the report should not be mandatory for children below 12 years, Seth said.
The association also wants food outlets, bars, and restaurants to be allowed to remain open after 8pm as night curfew has been lifted.
Hoteliers want clarity in the standard operating procedure (SOP) if a guest tests positive. Association secretary Divij Sood said that the government must clarify if the entire unit or floor or only the room where the patient stays will be sealed and for what duration. “It is not practical to seal the entire unit as the hotel may be fully occupied and vacating the premises may cause harassment to guests. Instead, only the particular room should be sealed for 48 hours and sanitised,” Sood said.
EASE INTEREST SUBVENTION SCHEME
The association said that the interest subvention scheme launched by the state government was welcome but it had failed to provide relief to hoteliers as banks were not entertaining their proposals.
Sood said that if hoteliers approach cooperative banks to avail benefit of the scheme, they are told to get an no-objection certificate (NOC) from banks from where the unit is financed. “The financing bank refuses to issue the NOC, saying there’s no provision to create a second charge on a property,” he said.
Sood said that the association suggests implementing the scheme through state-owned banks and the condition of NOC be removed.
“The working capital loans up to ₹15 lakh should be given collateral free on the basis of an affidavit submitted by the borrower to repay the loan in time. Small registered tourism units should be given loan without the requirement of details of GST deposited. Loan to small units should only be provided on the basis of the number of rooms registered with the tourism department,” he added.