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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

In temple town Puri, cyclone hits tourism

The killer cyclone that cut a swathe through the Puri coast before heading towards Bhubaneswar has left almost all the 500-odd hotels in Puri devastated.

india Updated: May 12, 2019 22:04 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Puri
Many of the hotels that bore the brunt of the cyclone dot the 10km-long beach beginning from Puri beach police station.
Many of the hotels that bore the brunt of the cyclone dot the 10km-long beach beginning from Puri beach police station.(REUTERS)
         

With its stunning white facade and English-style architecture, the sea-facing BNR hotel in Puri has, down the years, hosted the likes of former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and former West Bengal chief minister Siddharth Shankar Ray.

Named after the colonial-era Bengal Nagpur Railway company, all that was left of the magnificent 180-year-old edifice after Cyclone Fani barrelled down on Puri on May 3 were the main structure and a few doors.

Within hours, the heritage building lay in ruins. Srikanta Moitra, resident manager of the hotel that has now been renamed Chanakya BNR, said, “Many of my louvered wooden windows were blown away while a few wooden doors simply flew. I was trying hard to close a door and would have been killed had I been hit by the flying windows. Please don’t ask how my staff and I survived. I don’t think we can re-open for another 2 months and are cancelling all bookings.”

Cyclone Fani, the strongest cyclone to hit the Odisha coast in the last 20 years packing wind speeds over 200 kmph, has not only destroyed the telecom and power infrastructure of the temple town, it has also brought the tourism industry -- the mainstay of Puri’s economy -- to its knees. The killer cyclone that cut a swathe through the Puri coast before heading towards Bhubaneswar has left almost all the 500-odd hotels in Puri devastated.

Many of the hotels that bore the brunt of the cyclone dot the 10km-long beach beginning from Puri beach police station. They do brisk business during summer, when tourists from Kolkata and other parts of India throng the town. Over 1.2 million tourists arrive in Odisha every year, and more than half visit Puri, according to tourism industry data. Before the cyclone struck, many tourists left Puri on an advisory from the Odisha government. A week on, travel and tour operators are advising tourists not to visit Odisha.

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head – leisure, SOTC Travels, said, “With the recent disruption caused by the cyclone, customers who are planning on visiting Odisha, especially Puri, are being advised to opt for other destinations.”

In Hotel Kapoor Plaza on the beach, manager Sushanta Mishra has no clue how to pick up the pieces. All the hotel’s window panes are broken, a dank smell of sea-salt hangs in the rooms. The LED TV sets have been damaged by the rain. A mobile tower on the hotel roof stands half broken. “We would have been doing good business. But right now I don’t know where to start,” said Mishra, adding he and his staff would have died had they not taken cover in one of the toilets.

Hotel owners say the biggest impediment to reopening the hotels is the lack of electricity and water. “Many of the hotels also don’t have enough resources and manpower to clean the rooms...We need a helping hand,” said Ramakrushna Dasmohapatra, president of the Hotel Owners’ Association of Puri.

Noted hotelier Debu Patnaik, who owns and run Hotel Crown in Bhubaneswar, said hotels in Puri may have suffered damages to the tune of ₹2000 crore. “I really doubt if they can be ready before the Rath Yatra in July,” he said.

However, Rajeev Kale, president and country head – Holiday, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd said Puri and Bhubaneswar may be facing certain utility issues and road blocks as an aftermath of cyclone Fani, but the overall situation seems to be stabilising. “Our teams and on-ground partners are in constant touch with all our customers who are all safe and accounted for; and are assisting them with best possible alternatives under the current situation. We are continuing to closely monitor and asses the situation to advise our customers accordingly.”

On Thursday, union minister for petroleum and natural gas, Dharmendra Pradhan wrote to union finance minister Arun Jaitley, seeking a special scheme with beneficial interest rates to rebuild the tourism industry.

First Published: May 12, 2019 02:07 IST

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