Coronavirus updates: How Covid-19 affects Kullu-Manali tourism
Coronavirus tourism Himachal

On this page, we shall keep updating the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) impacts on the Himachal and Kullu Manali Tourism.

2020

October 23: Stakeholders demand to resume Delhi-Manali Volvo bus

Saying that most of the tourists visit Kullu-Manali by tourists buses (Volvo buses) due to poor flight connectivity, tourism stakeholders demanded government to resume the bus service on Delhi-Manali-Delhi route. They said tourism will not come back on track until bus service is resumed. Himachal government had said that the Volvo bus service will resume after the Department of Transport will issue separate SOP for the same. The service was stopped amid Covid-19 pandemic. 
2020

October 1: Hotels open

A large number of hotels, guesthouses and homestay units in Manali have opened. Many hotels are fully occupied ahead of the inauguration of Atal Tunnel, Rohtang. Hotels are prepared to fight Coronavirus (Covid-19) with extra hygeine.
2020

September 25: Hotels occupied fully

Most of the hotels, guesthouses, homestays and camping sites in Jibhi and Tirthan valley are showing over 70 per cent occupancy while many of them are fully occpied. Hotels in Kasol are also doing brisk business as many tourists are heading to remore areas of the state. Many tourists are heading to Kullu Manali to work from the mountains. 
2020

September 21: Volvo buses suspend service

Citing that Himachal government has not allowed inter-state bus service so far, Himachal transport department stopped Volvo buses from entering Himachal at Swarghat in Bilaspur district. Volvo bus operators association said the Delhi-Manali Volvo bus service shall remain suspended until govt issues SOPs for them. Service on other interstate routes shall also remain suspended.
2020

September 17: Himachal opens border for tourists

Himachal government today issued a notification that tourists (or anybody) from other states can enter Himachal without requirement of registration or e-pass. They also need not to bring Covid-19 negative report. However, inter-state bus movement should remain suspended until transport department issues dedicated SOPs.
2020

September 11: First Covid-19 death in Kullu

Kullu district reported the first death due to Covid-19. A 75-yer-old woman had died of hypertensive heart disease has tested positive for coronavirus two das after her death. The total number of positive cases in Kullu-Manali now stands at 375. 
2020

September 10: Meeting of all tourism stakeholders

A meeting of all the stakeholders and representatives of associations and unions including Manali Hoteliers Association, Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, HP Travel Agents Association, Goods Carrier Association, Himachal Volvo Association, Luxury Coach Association, Paragliding Association, Snow Dress Association, Photographer Association and others held in Manali to discuss on the SOPs for the smooth and safe conduct of tourism. All said they are ready to host tourists.
2020

August 29: Many hotels to open from September 1

Many hotels in Manali will resume operation from September 1 while some are planning to open by mid-September. The Manali Hoteliers Association however has asked  its member hotels to open from October 1.
2020

August 25: Hotels in Manali to open from October 1

The hotels in Manali will open from October 1. The tourists from all the states of the country will be able to visit Manali from October onwards as hoteliers today unanimously decided in a meeting that they will make all arrangments including staff re-recruitment, arranging for high standards of sanitisation, and educating staff till September 30 and will open from October 1.
2020

August 19: Jibhi, Tirthan Valley to open from Sept 5

Jibhi and Tirthan valley of Kullu are opening for tourists from September 5 with some strict conditions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. After holding a meeting of the owners of hotels, guesthouses, and homestays of Jibhi and Tirthan valley, it was decided that they will allow booking from September 5 onwards provided that advance booking is made for a minimum of 10 days.
2020

August 10: Meeting held with all tourism units

The department of tourism, on request of Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents Association (HPTAA), organised a meeting with representatives of all the tourism units including HP Travel Agents Association, Hotel Association, Homestays, Taxi Operators, Luxury Coach Association, Volvo Union and also with Manali Municipal Council and panchayat pradhans of surrounding panchayats on the operation of tourism sector as per guidelines issued by Himachal government in view of Covid-19.
2020

July 29: Virtual meeting with hoteliers

Himachal Tourism department organised a virtual training programme for hospitality/hotel sector of Himachal where stakeholders were made aware of Covid-19 and were asked how they can run business during this time of pandemic.
2020

July 24: Interest subvention scheme for travel agencies

Acting on a request by Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents’ Association (HPTAA), the department of Tourism and Civil Aviation included Travel Agencies to the list of “Tourism Units” that can avail the benefit of Interest Subvention scheme on Working Capital Loan.
2020

July 21: Manali's first Covid-19 case

A 22-year-old woman from a village in Manali, who had returned from Kyrgyzstan on July 11, has been tested positive for Covid-19. This is the first case of Manali. However, Kullu’s total tally now stands at 22.
2020

July 16: Just 12 passengers land at Kullu airport

The Alliance Air that resumed its operation on Delhi-Kullu-Delhi route today landed with just 12 passengers, while it returned to Delhi with just two passengers. 
2020

July 09: Delhi-Kullu flight from July 16

The Alliance Air, subsidiary of Air India Ltd, has announced to resume its Delhi-Kullu-Delhi flights three days a week from July 16. The ATR 72, a 70-seater aircraft, will be used by the airline.
2020

July 09: Taxi Union, Paragliding Association to stay shut

Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union and Paragliding Association of Manali also decided to keep services shut and not to accept booking from tourists for few more days.
2020

July 07: Manali hotels to open for tourists in September

Expressing their inability in hosting the tourists from other states during the times of Covid-19 crisis, the hotels, guesthouses and homestay owners in Manali on Tuesday decided to remain shut till September.
2020

July 07: 41 Tourists sent back

After Himachal government opened the state for tourists under certain conditions, a large number of tourists are reaching here without bringing their Covid-19 test report. Kullu police has sent back 41 tourists from its Bajaura check post in two days as none of them had coronavirus negative certificate.
2020

July 06: Hotel bodies say no to tourists

The representatives of hotel bodies from Kullu, Manali, Kasol, Jibhi and Tirthan valley had a meeting with the Kullu deputy commissioner where they expressed their incapability in the opening of the hotels without considering various Covid-19 related issues. Tourists will have to wait for some more time to visit Kullu-Manali.

2020

July 03: Tourists may enter Himachal with conditions

The government said that tourists can enter Himachal without need of any permit/curfew pass. But, tourists need to book hotel for at least 5 nights in advance. Tourists will have to bring Covid-19 negative certificate that should not be older than 72 days. Tourists also need to furnish true information in online Covid-19 portal of the Himachal government and will have to follow all Covid-19 preventive guidelines.
2020

July 02: Himachal may open for tourism in a week

Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur said Himachal is considering opening its doors for tourism in a week for which officials have been asked to make standard operating procedures (SOP).
2020

June 29: Hoteliers say they don't want to endanger villagers

The hoteliers in Manali today said most hotels are in rural areas and opening hotels without checking tourists for Covid-19 at state border will be a threat to the innocent villagers as well. They demanded a foolproof system at borders and said hotels will be opened only after government allows tourists to enter Himachal, but after a proper health check.
2020

June 26: Manali MC waives off garbage fee

Manali municipal council has decided to exempt hotels and guest houses from garbage collection fee from April to July 31.
2020

June 25: Interest subvention on working capital loan

Himachal cabinet on Thursday gave its nod for approval of draft scheme for interest subvention on working capital loan for hospitality industry to revive state’s tourism industry which has been badly hit by Covid-19 pandemic.
2020

June 22: Hotels will get proper business after 2 years

As Covid-19 cases are increasing rapidly in the country, hoteliers are assuming that they will not get any guest for two years and they will have to manage to survive during this time. They demanded interest-free EMI moratorium for at least two years.
2020

June 2: Kullu-Manali not ready to host tourists

The hoteliers and travel agents said they are not ready mentally and strategically to host the tourists in current times. They requested the government to frame hoteliers and tourist-friendly policy where hoteliers get business and tourists enjoy the sightseeing without fear of the spread of the coronavirus.
2020

May 31: Kullu gets second Covid-19 positive case

A day after the only Covid-19 positive case of Kullu was tested negative on May 30, another person from Nirmand area of Kullu district has tested positive for Covid-19. The district has now two positive cases of which one is active. The 65-year-old person had returned from Delhi with his family.
2020

May 30: Kullu's lone Covid-19 positive tested negative

The only Covid-19 positive case of Kullu has tested negative today. The person belonging to Anni region of Kullu was discharged and sent back home.
2020

May 20: Kullu's first Covid-19 positive case

A 27-year-old man from Anni region of Kullu has been tested positive for Covid-19 today. The person had returned from Mumbai in a special train to Una from where he reached Kullu in HRTC bus on May 18.
2020

May 18: Disconnect our electricity connections: Hoteliers

Even as Himachal government waived off electricity demand charges of the hotels for six months, the hoteliers in Manali, who were expecting relief package from the Centre, said they are planning not to pay electricity bills for the next one year. Manali Hoteliers’  Association president Anup Ram Thakur said hoteliers do not have money to pay bills, so they won’t oppose electricity board employees if they disconnect their power connections.
2020

May 18: Hoteliers, travel agents say nothing for them in stimulus package

The hoteliers, travel agents and thousands of others dependent on tourism trade in Himachal are disappointed over not getting anything from the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan economic relief package. Hoteliers said: “Finance Minister’s relief package has left us hopeless. If not any direct benefits, hoteliers should have been given EMI moratorium for at least one year. Tourism trade in Himachal is different from other parts. We have work in just May and June. We earn in two months to repay our loan instalments for the whole year. Everything is coming on track one by one but it is tourism that will come to normalcy in the very end. How will we survive till then?”
2020

April 15: Travel Agents seek financial help

Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents’ Association (HPTAA) requested government to announce special stimulus package for the tourism industry of Himachal. The association officials said travel agencies in Himachal have generated employment to thousands of youth of the state but most agencies are now on verge of closure due to Covid-19 pandemic.
2020

April 1: Hoteliers seek financial help from govt

The whole year’s tourism of Himachal is set to demolish due to Covid-19, with thousands losing their jobs, peak summer tourism season from April to June sacrificed to deadly disease and even three month EMI moratorium incapable of saving many hoteliers from bankruptcy in next few months. Hoteliers demanded financial help from the government to cope with the present crisis.
2020

March 31: Travel Agents asked to work from home

Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents’ Association (HPTAA) president Budhi Parkash urged all the travel agencies to ask their employees to work from home as maintaining social distancing from offices was impossible. HPTAA urged all agents to convince tourists to postpone their trips and if its not possible then try not to deduct any cancellation charges if tourists are bound to cancel the pre-booked trip. 
2020

March 20: Himachal seals border for tourists

As Himachal sealed its borders for tourists for few days as a preventive measure against Covid-19, over 75 per cent of the tourists left the state on Friday and those who had just entered the state had to face nakas. Implementing the order to stop tourist movement, the police had laid nakas everywhere in the state. Tourists were asked to take a U-turn back home. While most tourists obeyed the instructions in the national interest, there were reports of tourists arguing with police. In many places, only one or two cops were handling the situation. With this, Himachal bid adieu to tourists for indefinite time.
2020

March 19: Manali calls for complete lockdown

All the hotels, restaurants, shops, travel agencies, taxi service, tourist bus service and almost all the services in Manali shall remain shut from Monday till March 31 as the residents on Thursday decided to brace for “lockdown”. The tourists have been given time till Sunday to leave the town. In the fight against Covid-19, all the residents of Manali were demanding to isolate the region for outsiders for a long time. Finally, representatives of all the unions, associations, beopar mandal and panchayats had an emergency meeting with the sub-divisional magistrate and all decided to voluntarily close services from Monday till March 31. A three days’ window has been given to the tourists to leave Manali. Earlier Manali had decided to stay open and fight Covid-19 but given the seriousness of the matter and importance of social distancing, all decided to lockdown. 
2020

March 17: Manali decides to stay open, fight Covid-19

While tourist destinations of Himachal are imposing ban on entry of tourists one after another and Himachal government has advised to avoid congregation of public in large number, the hoteliers and tourism entrepreneurs in Manali on Tuesday decided to stay open and welcome tourists as usual. Hoteliers decided that rather than closing down, Manali will strengthen itself to prevent the spread of the coronavirus with help of health department and administration. They said face masks would be distributed to tourists, hand wash facilities will be made available everywhere in town and hoteliers will take extra preventive measures.
2020

March 7: Tourists asked to submit travel history

With Covid-19 all set to destroy the tourism season, officials are preparing to set a guideline for all the hotels, guesthouses and homestay units. The foreigner tourists staying anywhere in Kullu Manali will have to fill a form to declare his health and past travel history. The tourists entering Kullu will undergo medical check-up. Similar arrangements are being made in other tourist destinations of the state. The hoteliers are worried that a single positive case in the state may destroy tourism.
2020

February 2 & 3: Two more cases detected

Two more cases were confirmed in Kerala. Both were students who had returned from Wuhan.
2020

January 30: First Covid-19 found in India

The first case was confirmed in Kerala’s Thrissur district in a student who had returned home for a vacation from Wuhan University in China. 
2019

December X: Early Coronavirus Cases detected in China

The first-ever cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) detected in Wuhan, China.

 

Update on Sept 21, 2020

Tourist buses stopped from entering Himachal

All the tourist buses that were plying on Delhi-Manali route were prevented from entering the Himachal at Swarghat in Bilaspur district on Monday as they were engaged in inter-state movement without government permission, transport department officials said.

A large number of tourists were asked to leave the buses and they had to continue their journey in the taxis. Citing Himachal government’s decision not to start interstate bus service amid Covid-19 pandemic, the regional transport officers stopped the buses and challaned them. Most of the Volvo buses were ferrying tourists for a long time. The officials had laid naka at Swarghat where buses were stopped in the wee hours and tourists were told that buses cannot drop them at the destination.

An official said that the action was taken as interstate bus movement is not allowed in the state. “The buses that had left for Himachal on Sunday evening were stopped at the state entry point. Taxis were arranged for the tourists from the taxi union,” he said.

Volvo buses are the main transport option to travel to Kullu-Manali from Delhi and Chandigarh. As Himachal has limited flight services, most of tourists visit Himachal in Volvo buses. Tourists avoid travelling in small taxis due to long and hectic journey and poor road condition. A few Volvo buses were providing their services to ferry stranded people and to bring labourers to the state.

After state government decided to open Himachal for tourists in July first week, some of the tourists started travelling in these buses. Now that state borders have been thrown open for all from September 16, number of tourists has increased and many of them were travelling in the Volvo buses.

However, after the action taken by transport department, Volvo operators have decided to stay off the road for indefinite time period. The tourists will have to spend extra money on hiring private taxis or they will have to drive in their private cars.

Himachal Super Luxury Volvo Owner Association president Varun Malhotra said, “Our buses were stopped at different locations. The association has nearly 150 buses. We shall remain off the road until government issues SOPs for us. Hopefully, we shall be allowed to operate. The owners are in financial crisis due to Covid-19 pandemic. And we shall follow all required norms to stop spread of the coronavirus.”

He added that the expensive luxury buses are gathering rust for six months. He said operators are not able to pay the EMIs. “Only a few owners were operating buses. Others are still waiting for a nod from the government. Volvo buses are the only reason that such a large number of tourists manage to reach Kullu-Manali. This is because of the Volvo buses that anybody can visit Kullu-Manali with a small budget,” he added.

Himachal government in its notification dated September 17 had ordered to allow free inter-state and intra-state movement of all the person and goods without requirement of registration or e-pass. However, it had cleared that inter-state movement of public transport buses shall be operated only after issuance of SOPs by department of transport. The department so far has not issued any SOP.

 

Update on July 7, 2020

Manali hotels to remain closed for tourists till September amid Covid-19 crisis

Expressing their inability in hosting the tourists from other states during the times of Covid-19 crisis, the hotels, guesthouses and homestay owners in Manali on Tuesday decided to remain shut till September.

The hotel owners took this decision unanimously. They said they will demand from the government to conduct special training camps for staff of the hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, taxi drivers and all the tourism units and local stakeholders regarding safe operation during Covid-19 crisis. The hoteliers expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) and said both tourism units and the public of Manali are not ready for the tourism.

“We are not ready mentally, physically and practically. The government issued SOP and order to open Himachal in hurriedness without checking if hoteliers are ready enough to resume operations safely. We are thankful to the government that it thought about revival of the tourism industry of the state. But we first need special training on sanitisation, proper disposal of the medial waste, how to treat the tourists etc. The local residents who are opposing opening of tourism activities also need to be taken in confidence to avoid scuffles,” the hoteliers said.

The hotel owners decided that monsoon season in July and August is the time when the state receives the lowest number of tourists, so they will have two full months for preparations. They will have another meeting in September and decide on future strategy. If required, depending on Covid-19 cases in the state and the country, we can further extend the opening time of the hotels, the hoteliers said.

Not just Manali, but hotel, guesthouse and homestay owners in Kasol, Jibhi, Tirthan valley and Kullu also decided not to host tourists for few more days.

 

Update on July 7, 2020

Tourists reaching Kullu without Covid-19 test report sent back

After Himachal government opened the state for tourists under certain conditions amid public opposition, large number of tourists are reaching here without bringing their Covid-19 test report.

Kullu police has sent back 41 tourists from its Bajaura check post in two days. The tourists had managed to cross many other check posts and were finally stopped at Kullu’s boundary at Bajaura. When cops asked tourists to show their Covid-19 negative certificate, they failed to produce any such document. The police then stopped them from entering Kullu-Manali and asked them to return back. Most of the tourists were from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

Kullu superintendent of police Gaurav Singh said all 41 tourists couldn’t produce the required certificate having tested negative for Covid-19. “They were sent back. We are strictly checking all the tourists for the required certificate that has been made compulsory by the government. Kullu district has 11 Covid-19 check posts where vehicles are being checked,” he said.

Himachal government has made it compulsory for tourists to bring a Covid-19 negative report which should not be older than 72 hours and five days advance hotel booking voucher. The travellers, especially from neighbouring states, have rushed to the hill state without the test report and hotel booking voucher.

Before reaching Kullu, tourists need to undergo checking at Swarghat check-post at border between Punjab and Himachal and at Mandi district. The tourists told cops that they entered state via Swarghat in Bilaspur.

After over 80 per cent of the cases of coronavirus in Himachal were found to be having travel history from other states, the state government had tightened security at all its entry points.

 

Update on July 6, 2020

Kullu-Manali’s hoteliers say no to tourists

Tourists may have to wait for some more time to visit Kullu-Manali as the hoteliers of Kullu, Manali, Kasol, Jibhi and Tirthan valley on Monday denied Himachal government’s proposal to open the state for tourists.

The representatives of hotel bodies had a meeting with the Kullu deputy commissioner where they expressed their incapability in opening of the hotels without considering various Covid-19 related issues. Hoteliers decided not to take any action in hurriedness. While tourists have already started to enter the state, the hotel bodies said government should first think on all aspects and possibilities in detail, otherwise Himachal may have to suffer losses in place of benefits.

Kullu DC Dr Richa Verma discussed about standard operating procedures (SOPs) framed by the government for resuming tourism business. “The hoteliers can start operation but they need to follow the SOP strictly. However, they are at liberty about resuming the business as many hoteliers are still in dilemma,” she said.

The hoteliers discussed about the problems that they may face and requested government to make required changes in the SOPs. Some hoteliers said Kullu-Manali has managed to protect itself from Covid-19 with only seven cases so far, but if tourists bring the disease to the valley, it can prove disastrous to the whole tourism trade in next year’s tourism season as well.

“I told the DC that nearly a dozen panchayats have asked our hotel association not to open any hotel in their jurisdiction as villagers are already in panic. “The panchayats have asked not to allow tourism movement in their area. They have warned that if any villager is infected by tourists, the responsible hotel will have to pay for this. The executive members of association will hold a meeting on Thursday to chalk out future plan,” Manali Hoteliers Association president Anup Thakur said.

According to Thakur, government should have taken panchayats and residents in confidence before issuing SOPs. “We are thankful to government for resuming tourism movement. But proper training to hoteliers, panchayats and all the stakeholders should be ensured. We have nearly two per cent hotels that are eager to open but we shall have a meeting first.”

A hotelier Ritesh Sood suggested that government should properly plan, study and allow tourists in phase-wise manner. “A few hotels, especially located away from dense population, can be opened on trial basis. If everything goes right, we can proceed further. We have to learn living with coronavirus but proper planning is required,” he said.

Federation of Hoteliers and Restaurant Association representatives also stressed on changes in SOPs and implementation of three-tier SOPs for tourists, stakeholders and government. Association’s convener Budhi Parkash said, “This is a hasty decision. There are many points which are unclear. The government’s SOP lacks some practical aspects, non-readiness and safeguarding the risk to the public. Hoteliers will have to think multiple times before recruiting the staff and resuming all the services.”

 

Update on July 2, 2020

Himachal govt to open doors for domestic tourists in a week

Himachal is considering opening its doors for tourism in a week for which officials have been asked to make standard operating procedures (SOP), chief minister Jai Ram Thakur said on Thursday.

The CM said hoteliers in Himachal were divided over resuming tourism trade. As some hoteliers wanted to resume operations but others wanted to wait for some more time, CM said officials have been directed to conduct an in-depth study as government was concerned for both business and health. The government will now study the SOPs of other states like Goa where some hotels have been reopened to domestic tourists.

“We are considering re-opening tourism trade in a week. Officials of tourism department have been asked to prepare SOP. We shall take care of all the aspects. Government is doing all possible to push economic activities in the state. We have given many kinds of relaxation to hotels and industries,” the CM said.

Covid-19 has broken the backbone of thousands of hoteliers and others in tourism industry who have shut their operations for over three months now. Unlike other states, the peak tourist inflow in Himachal remains from April to June. As tourist season has already gone, the industry people have run out of funds.

The CM’s announcement of expected opening of tourism industry in a week has again divided the hoteliers into two. In such critical times, most of the hoteliers want to reopen but are looking at the state government for strict mechanism to filter patients and healthy tourists at the state entry points, but meanwhile they want simple SOP for operations. There are few hoteliers who are desperately waiting for cash flow and are ready to adhere to the government guidelines without question, but other fraction is not in favour of opening hotels for some more time.

Himachal has over a dozen hoteliers’ bodies while some have come up during Covid-19 crisis. The hoteliers have written a large number of emails to the state government and tourism department with suggestions and seeking financial help for the industry. The tourism department held some webinars with the stakeholders to discuss on some points and take their suggestions. There are some hoteliers who are not in hurry to open state for tourists as they believe tourist inflow in Himachal remains lowest during monsoon season in July and August.

 

Update on June 29, 2020

Can’t endanger villagers by opening hotels: Hoteliers

Alleging that majority of hotels in Kullu-Manali are located in villages, the hoteliers on Monday said they are not in favour of opening of the properties until Himachal government makes adequate arrangements to ensure safe and healthy tourism.

“We do not want innocent villagers suffer due to unpreparedness by hotels and government. Most hotels here are in gram panchayat areas and some are inside the densely populated villages. The residents are already in panic due to present critical situation and are proactive regarding every movement. If any tourist is found to be positive for Covid-19, not only our hotels will be sealed, the villagers will ransack the hotels,” Manali Hoteliers Association president Anup Ram Thakur said.

After a few hoteliers were in favour of opening of the properties, hoteliers’ association members following a long discussion on Monday reached the conclusion that hotels will open when Himachal government will open its boundaries for tourists to enter the state. They also decided that they will request the government to find out solution to some of the major issues that can become big problem in smooth operations of the hotels. The hoteliers said no hotel in Manali will open until trustworthy arrangements are made to filter healthy and infected tourists.

“Some hoteliers are expressing their anxiety in opening of the properties in hurriedness. We are of the opinion that situation should become conducive to start our business without harm to anybody. Local residents in vicinity of the hotels are already feeling insecure. We are waiting for government to set up a foolproof mechanism at the entry points of the state so that only healthy tourists enter Himachal,” Thakur added.

According to hoteliers, their hotels are booked only by tourists. So, opening hotel without allowing tourists to enter the state was impractical for them. There were many hotels who do not want to take risk only for one or two guests. Maintaining extra hygiene, regular sanitisation, changes in the way of cooking and serving meal, room service and concentration on using disposable articles was expected to increase the running cost of the properties.

Hoteliers are also eager to know how government will deal with tourists, hotel and the staff if anybody in the property is found to be positive for Covid-19. The hoteliers said they will wait until tourists are allowed to visit Himachal and government takes responsibility of thorough checkup of all the visitors.

 

Update on June 26, 2020

Manali MC exempts hoteliers from garbage charges amid Covid-19 crisis

Providing some relief to hundreds of hoteliers and guesthouse owners, the Manali municipal council has waived off garbage fee from April 1 to July 31.

Manali MC executive officer Narain Verma said it was decided in the meeting of MC that hotels should be exempted from the fee for four months. “There is no tourist movement in the town and hotels which are closed are not producing garbage. So, given the present crisis, fee has been waived off,” he said.

Earlier MC had given this relief only to the hotels inside its jurisdiction. But over 75 per cent hotels are outside MC area but their garbage is brought to MC’s treatment facility and MC had decided to charge one third of the fee from them. However, after request from these hotels, MC has waived off fee from all the hotels and guesthouses.

 

Update on June 25, 2020

Cabinet approves interest subvention on working capital loans to fight Covid-19

Himachal cabinet on Thursday gave its nod for approval of a draft scheme for interest subvention on working capital loan for hospitality industry to revive state’s tourism industry which has been badly hit by Covid-19 pandemic.

Under this scheme, tourism units paying GST upto Rs one crore will be entitled for maximum loan of Rs 50 lakh while tourism units paying GST of Rs one crore to Rs three crore for at least one year ending March 31 will be entitled for loan up to Rs 75 lakh. For GST payment of above Rs three crore, the units will be eligible for loan of Rs one crore.

Small registered tourism units will also be eligible for maximum loan of Rs 15 lakh. The loan will be for term of four years with interest subvention of 50 per cent each for first two years. Cabinet also decided that transport department will draft an interest subvention scheme for working capital on the analogy of tourism department.

 

Update on June 22, 2020

Woes continue as hoteliers fail to obtain Covid-19 relief loans

The tourism businesses that have come to complete halt due to Covid-19 pandemic have continued to suffer as majority of the establishments have failed to avail the emergency loan facilities due to very difficult formalities.

The EMI moratorium till August has provided some relief to the businesses, especially hoteliers, but interest on the EMI, even during moratorium period, is giving them sleepless nights. Most of the hoteliers are looking for immediate loan to survive for some time until business comes back on track, but government’s Covid-19 relief loan under Atma Nirbhar Bharat relief package has proved to be useless for them. Nothing is working fine for tourism industry, which according to experts will continue to suffer for minimum of two years.

“I visited my bank to discuss the Centre’s scheme on emergency relief package but I had to return back empty-handed as their terms and conditions are difficult to complete. They told me that borrower should have an old terms loan and not the new loan as was in my case. Other conditions also made me cry. Moreover, they will not give a single rupee in my hand but offered to pay my unpaid bills,” a hotelier Pritam Singh said.

Many hoteliers in tourist resorts of Himachal are planning to sell their properties. Unfortunately, nobody is showing interest in buying new property in such critical times. Over 50 per cent of the hotels in state and over 75 per cent hotels in Manali are running on contract basis. Most of the contractors, who live in Himachal and other states, have left for homes in March and many of them have no contact with the owners. Many contractors have left with unpaid bills and salaries. The hoteliers are worried about how they will pay their EMIs after moratorium period will end in August.

The Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association (FOHRA) state convener Budhi Parkash said the federation had earlier written to RBI for financial aid to hoteliers and other tourism-based businesses and now that Centre’s relief package is not working fine for them, they have written to officials of tourism department in Himachal to intervene.

“The formalities and the condition of this loan scheme is almost impossible for hoteliers. Most of our members are reporting that they lost their dignity after visiting the banks. Since tourism is one of the major industries of Himachal, we have requested government to help us with similar schemes that suit us better. State government should carry forward our message to the Centre,” he added.

“It will take two years for hotels to get guests”

As Covid-19 cases are increasing rapidly in the country, hoteliers are assuming that they will not get any guest for two years and they will have to manage to survive during this time.

“Unlike metro cities and most of the other places where business travellers book the hotels, all the hotels in tourist places of Himachal are booked only by tourists. The situation seems not to be coming under control very soon. This means tourist inflow will take at least two years to come to normal flow. Spending two years without business is going to be impossible for most of the hoteliers if government does not make any practical and fruitful policy,” Manali Hoteliers Association president Anup Ram Thakur said.

He added that majority of the hotels owe huge loans to the banks and hotels which are already feeling helpless in payment of electricity and other bills will not be able to pay the EMIs. He said all hoteliers are looking towards both Centre and Himachal government with expectations that they will get long term relief.

Thakur adds, “We need at least two year’s interest-free moratorium on EMIs for our survival. We also suggest that banks should not grant new loans for new hotel constructions. And we need help with electricity bills. Government already knows that all hotels in Himachal are closed down and are doing no commercial business. Then why hotels should pay electricity bills on commercial rates. We are not asking for free electricity but on domestic rates.

Hoteliers said government has condoned demand charges on electricity for six months for which they are thankful. But they are unhappy that this relief is only for registered hotels. They said if government is collecting taxes and other charges from non-registered hotels as well, why such hotels are not getting this relief.

 

Update on June 3, 2020

Himachal Hoteliers not in rush to resume operations amid Covid-19 crisis

As government announced to open hotels and restaurants from June 8, the hoteliers of Himachal have split into two groups with majority preferring staying closed until government comes out with a full-proof safety plan and make a uniform tourism protocol.

After participating in video-conferencing meeting with officials of the tourism department, the hoteliers associations of the state have suggested staying closed for some more time. Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association (FOHRA) has requested government to ensure uniformity in tourism-related rules in all the states after government-level discussions, which may take a couple of months, only then hotels and restaurants may feel safe in resuming operations. Hoteliers also want to know what will be the government action on hotel if a tourist is found to be positive for coronavirus and how government will ensure multi-level senitisation of tourists and their vehicles.

State convener of FOHRA Budhi Parkash said a lot of things need to be discussed and sorted out before resuming operations of the tourism and hospitality sector. “Himachal gets tourists from all the states of the country. A better coordination among states along with uniform tourism rules are required to avoid making tourism disastrous. We have urged government to think on it and we are open to discussion on this and many more topics. When a set of rules are in place across the nation, we can proceed without hesitation. At this critical time, we are handicapped without government help,” he said.

The hoteliers also wanted government to set up a mechanism to sanitise incoming tourists and vehicles multiple times at the borders of each district. They also want government to ensure medical check-up of tourists in presence of government body and take responsibility of the tourists who develop symptoms of Covid-19 or if any of them tests positive for the disease.

FOHRA, after video conferencing, has sent a tourism revival plan with suggestions and requests to Himachal Tourism and Civil Aviation secretary, director and deputy directors where it described about tenderness and limitation of Himachal’s tourism, high hotel operation costs but low viability due to current situation and steps to be taken for survival of the industry.

“There are many questions that are still unresolved. Himachal’s tourism infrastructure is already weak. We need to take each step smartly. We have urged government to make arrangement of multi-level sanitisation of tourists, their vehicles, roads, streets and tourist places and to develop a mobile app to keep track of record of each tourist. We also need facilities for symptomatic or Covid-19 positive tourists. The main thing is government should make long-term protocols related to tourist movement, health and hygiene, Dos and Don’ts etc which should be widely publicized across the country,” FOHRA state co-convener Sanjeev Gandhi said.

Hoteliers are concerned for safety of the employees and their properties as well. The hoteliers want government to make regulations on how it will deal with the hotel and its staff if any tourist staying with them is tested positive for Covid-19. They want to know if the hotel will be asked to close down. Hoteliers say masks, sanitisers, gloves, PPE kits will contribute to major hotel waste and how government will help them in its proper disposal. Hoteliers say over 95 per cent of tourists come by road and arrangement for accommodation of tourist drivers will be another challenge.

Budhi Parkash added that insurance of staff working in tourism units, adequate supply of sanitisation items, separate set of rules for hotels in rural areas, Covid-19 training programmes, advertisement of the state tourism on national and international level to revive the industry, including hoteliers’ bodies in task force to combat Covid-19 and increasing state tax collection by registering all unregistered tourism units to fight Covid-19 and various financial helps to the hotels to help them recover from this crisis are some of the other issues that the government has been apprised of.

 

Update on May 22, 20202

Hoteliers hope for tourist movement in festive season

Although tourism is the worst hit sector due to coronavirus pandemic and hotels across the world are closed for two months now, many hotels in Himachal, equipped with complete staff, are still hoping for good days ahead.

Thousands of hotels and travel agencies have laid off the employees. Many of the hotels that have been locked don’t have even a watchman. Amid all this, there are many hotels that are hopeful of tourist movement soon in the future and are not laying off the staff. Despite financial crisis, hotels are paying salaries to the staff. Such hoteliers say tourism will be the last sector coming back on the track but domestic tourism will definitely start very soon. After summer tourist season failed to bring them business, the hoteliers believe the festive season after monsoon will draw a tourist crowd to the hill stations.

A hotelier Luder Thakur said, “Tourism can never stop. Once the lockdown is removed, tourists will make a beeline. We have to stay prepared for future. Domestic tourism is expected to kick start after monsoon season. Once staff members are laid off, it will be difficult to get them back in the future. A few employees who wanted to go home have left already. The remaining employees also don’t want to leave.”

Nothing can be the best example of the hope that construction of a large number of new hotels has restarted. Hundreds of hotels in Himachal, especially those that were being run by outsiders, have been abandoned. Some hotels have laid off half of the staff and some have cut the salaries. Some have sent staff home for indefinite period. And there are some hotels that have locked the front doors but maintenance works are still continuing inside.

“We have lost the peak summer season to coronavirus. Now everybody is looking at summer season of 2021. I think a huge tourist crowd can visit the state in monsoon season and winters as well. People are fed up of staying home. If situation improves, they need a refreshing vacation,” another hotelier Rakesh Thakur said.

Most travel agents have also laid off the employees, leaving thousands jobless. A few travel agencies are still designing itineraries for their clients who are in their regular contacts. The online marketing is also continuing. The agents are convincing the tourists to visit the state in winter season.

A travel agent Anil Sharma said clients who wanted to visit Himachal in May or June are in regular contact and want to visit the state once lockdown is lifted. “They keep asking about the current situation. As coronavirus crisis may continue for few more months, we are trying to convince tourists to visit the state in winter season when it looks more beautiful.”

Manali Hoteliers’ Association president Anup Thakur said all those associated with tourism industry are hopeful of good days ahead. “Tourism is the lifeblood of economy of Himachal. We know it will take a longer time than we had thought earlier. But tourism activities will restart in a few months. Many hoteliers have lost hopes and others are still adoptive positive approach. Even if tourism activities restart, everything will change. From social distancing to extra hygiene, both tourists and hoteliers will have to be extra alert,” he said.

 

Update on May 18, 2020

Disconnect our electricity connections: hoteliers

Even as Himachal government waived off electricity demand charges of the hotels for six months, the hoteliers in Manali, who were expecting relief package from the Centre, said they are planning not to pay electricity bills for the next one year.

“The government has not taken any step to help us overcome this crucial time when we have no money in pocket and banks. We shall welcome electricity department to disconnect our connections. It will not hurt us as we are already hit worst by the Covid-19,” the hoteliers said.

Manali Hoteliers’ Association president Anup Ram Thakur said hoteliers had requested the government and the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd to charge them on domestic rates, not the commercial rates, as there is no commercial activity in the hotels since mid-March. “Hotels have received huge bill amounts. How will we pay the bills? As suggested by many hoteliers, we were planning that we shall express our inability in payment of the bills and will not oppose disconnections,” he said.

Thakur added that a few staff members are staying in hotels and there is no tourist since mid-March. He said hoteliers had requested government to calculate their bills on domestic rates until Covid-19 prevents tourists from visiting their hotels. “If there is no government intervention to help hoteliers, mass electricity disconnections is our fate. Hoteliers have no money to pay to staff, the EMIs, electricity bills, water, sewer and other bills,” he added.

The hoteliers were also demanding financial assistance from the government in payment of the staff salaries. “We desperately need interest free loans for at least one year to survive and payment of various bills. The moratorium on loans, interest payments, and working capital for at least one year is need of the hour.”

 

Update on May 18, 2020

FM’s Atmanirbhar Bharat package leaves Himachal’s tourism operators disappointed

The hoteliers, travel agents and thousands of others dependent on tourism trade in Himachal are disappointed over not getting anything from the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan economic relief package.

The finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not announce any special relief to the badly hit tourism industry from her stimulus package. Contrary to the other states of the country that are hoping for good tourism business after a few months, the limited seasonal tourism of Himachal that ends in June has been destroyed for over a year. The EMI moratorium period ending on May 31 is scaring thousands of people who are expressing inability in repayment of the loan.

“We have been neglected by the Centre,” said a hotelier Rajesh Sood, adding that either hoteliers will have to surrender before the banks or will have to sell the hotels. “I have asked the bank manager not to harass me for EMI, otherwise I will commit the suicide. I will honestly pay the installments when business is back on the track.”

With over 10 thousand hotels, guesthouses, homestays and even more travel agencies, tourism is the main employer in Himachal that contributes to the state’s GDP by nearly 7 per cent. Nearly half of the state’s hotels are being run on the contract basis. Travel agencies have also emerged as one of the major employers. Closure of hotels and travel agencies has left thousands of employees jobless and the owners are struggling for their survival. Hoteliers say they do not oppose benefits being given go other sectors but they seek special relief to this industry. The many tourism based associations are also sending memorandums to the PM and FM for relief package.

Manali Hoteliers’ Association president Anup Ram Thakur said, “Finance minister’s relief package has left us hopeless. If not any direct benefits, hoteliers should have been given EMI moratorium for at least one year. Tourism trade in Himachal is different from other parts. We have work in just May and June. We earn in two months to repay our loan instalments for the whole year. Everything is coming on track one by one but it is tourism that will come to normalcy in the very end. How will we survive till then?”

Majority of hotels are leased out to others and most of the lessees have disappeared since the lockdown came into force. Thakur said both leaser and lessee cannot be blamed in such circumstances and there is possibility that many lessees will return only if business flourishes again.

Similarly, thousands of youth of Himachal work in thousands of travel agencies which are currently closed and owners have no money to pay wages and salaries.

Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents’ Association president Budhi Parkash said, “The Atmanirbhar Bharat package is not sufficient to make tourism-dependent people of Himachal completely self-reliant. Majority of population of the state is directly or indirectly dependent on tourism for livelihood. Government should have come up with a special relief package. Both hoteliers and travel agents are on verge of becoming bankrupt. How shall we pay our EMIs from June onwards?”

 

Update on April 01, 2020

Hoteliers demand govt help as Himachal’s tourism set to demolish amid Covid-19 pandemic

The whole year’s tourism of Himachal is set to demolish due to Covid-19, with thousands losing their jobs, peak summer tourism season from April to June sacrificed to deadly disease and even three month EMI moratorium incapable of saving many hoteliers from bankruptcy in next few months.

Tourism is the largest employer in Himachal. The whole tourism industry of the state largely depends on three months – April, May and June – when lakhs of tourists make beeline to hill stations to get respite from the scorching heat. Rest of the nine months are considered lean season when very few tourists visit Himachal. Early April is the time when hoteliers used to start maintenance and repair works of the hotels to welcome tourist crowd. The beginning of April has brought tension among hoteliers who have no reason to decorate their hotels for the first time in decades as tourist movement across the world has come to a complete standstill.

The limited and seasonal tourism season of Himachal almost being crashed, thousands of hoteliers, travel agents, taxi operators and tourism activities operators have lost all hopes till next summer season in 2021. Thousands of people who have got job in hotels, travel agencies and other places are also worried for their future.

The three month moratorium on loans offered by banks is inadequate to heal the wounds of tourism industry of Himachal. Hundreds of hotels in Himachal have been recently built. Large numbers of hotels in state are still under construction. Over 50 per cent of the hotels owe thousands of crore to the banks. Large numbers of travel agencies, taxi operators and others also under the burden of huge loans. The hoteliers, who have nothing to do these days, are busy writing letters and emails to union and state government to seek help.

Manali Hoteliers’ Association (MHA), the largest association of the state, has written to the chief minister Jai Ram Thakur to help hoteliers in overcoming this situation. “We thank government of India and Himachal to take timely strict action to contain spread of Covid-19 by imposing nationwide lockdown. But we want to share that tourism is the main contributor to economy of the state. This industry, especially hospitality sector, is badly impacted by the Covid-19. Hotel industry is facing slowdown since last year. Now this virus has deteriorated the situation,” MHA president Anup Thakur said.

The association has requested government to help contribute to the salary of the staff by adding 50 per cent share from schemes like MGNREGA till hotels are closed. They also requested to charge electricity bill on domestic rates, not on commercial basis.

“Water charge, house tax, garbage charges, sewage charges and pollution charges should be exempted until hotels open. To attract tourists after this problem is over, we should be allowed tax holidays for at least six months. Advance tax deduction, income tax upto Rs 10 lakh should be waived off, renewal fees for bar license, pollution etc should be deferred for one year and new working capital loans should be available without collateral from banks at 0 per cent interest for hospitality sector and minimum credit limit should be Rs 15 lakh,” Thakur said, after having group discussion with the hoteliers over whatsapp.

All the advance bookings in hotels have cancelled till May. The hoteliers are hoping for good tourist inflow after May but the possibility is very bleak. Almost all the foreigners have cancelled their booking for the year and given the current global crisis, others are likely to cancel in next few weeks. The travel agencies have been shut and hoteliers have asked the staff to go back home after government gives relaxation in curfew. Still, most of the staff is in the hotels.

 

Update on March 20, 2020

Himachal bids adieu to tourists till March 31 amid nakas, arguments

As Himachal sealed its borders for tourists for few days as preventive measure against Covid-19, over 75 per cent of the tourists left the state on Friday and those who had just entered the state had to face nakas.

Implementing the order to stop tourist movement, the police had laid nakas everywhere in the state. Tourists were asked to take a U-turn back home. While most tourists obeyed the instructions in national interest, there were reports of tourists arguing with police. As many places, only one or two cops were handling the situation.

Many tourists, who were concerned for their advance booking amount, were not ready to move back. Similar situation was seen at the border of Mandi and Kullu district were a long queue of vehicles was witnessed all the night. Not just tourists spent night with hope that they would be allowed to enter Kullu, many local residents also had to suffer.

Some tourists stopped at various places were allowed to reach their hotels for one or two days after request from hoteliers association.

There were reports that many hoteliers refused to refund the booking amount while some deducted cancellation charges. Even as some hoteliers, travel agents and taxi operators refunded the full booking amount, many of them had to face the wrath of the disappointed tourists who have no fear of the coronavirus.

“Some tourists are leaving with threat that they will write a poor review for the property. This includes highly educated tourists. They know what the nation is going through, despite this they want us to serve. Those who had booked for later days this month received phone calls and emails from us regarding their booking cancellation are also arguing with us. Ignoring all this, we are standing with the nation,” a hotelier Rakesh Kumar said.

The travel agents have decided to help the tourists with all available resources and most agents did not charge any cancellation fees.

Himachal Pradesh Travel Agents’ Association president Budhi Parkash said all the travel agents have stood together in the time of need. “Tourism industry worldwide is already facing brunt of the Covid-19. Still we have decided to help tourists, tourism department and the government. We shall not deduct any cancellation charges unnecessarily. Future bookings will be made conditional where tourists will be given many options so that in case restrictions are extended by government, they get their booking amount refunded,” he added.

Amid all this, the labourers have continued to enter the state. A large number of Nepalese national reached Kullu on Friday without much effort. Some local residents travelling with them blamed that nobody checked them for the coronavirus.

A local resident of Manali Shamsher Thakur said, “I asked a small group of foreigner tourists roaming freely in the market whether they got checked for the virus, they refused outright. I think we are still taking this lightly,” he said.

Meanwhile, as tourists are leaving Manali, the main tourist destination of Himachal, the municipal council has started spraying chemicals to disinfect the roads, streets and all the public areas. Special cleanliness campaigns have been run to take maximum precation.

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The Himalayan

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