While Himachal government has opened its border to tourists without need of e-pass or any formality, the residents of Spiti valley, including tourism stakeholders, have decided not to host tourists this year as they believe handling of Covid-19 patients during harsh winters of valley will be near to impossible.
The decision to remain shut was taken by Spiti Tourism Society after meeting of hoteliers, homestay owners, tourist guides, taxi drivers, panchayat representatives, beopar mandal, mahila mandal, yuvak mandal and Commitee for Preventive Measures and Sustainable Development (CPMSD), a committee which is formed by the residents to fight Covid-19. It was decided in the meeting that all tourism activities including jeep safari, trekking, camping and package tours shall remain closed in 2020.
However, it was also decided that no tourist will be allowed to enter the Spiti valley till October 31 and they will decide on future course after holding another meeting. For now, the tourism stakeholders were asked not to accept booking until next year.
Sonam Targe, member of Spiti Tourism Society said, this tough decision was taken considering the consequences of the pandemic that it can have on high altitude region of Spiti which has limited medical facilities, underdeveloped infrastructure and extreme geographical conditions with harsh winters.
“Winter season is setting in and Spiti will be more vulnerable as people in medical need will need to be taken outside the Spiti for treatment amid limited connectivity. We have managed to keep the disease out of the valley. Residents here are dependent on tourism for livelihood but they are sacrificing everything to protect themselves. We have requested tourists to postpone their travel plans to next season when the Spiti valley will be safest destination to travel,” he said.
Spiti residents have been in controversy for taking strict decisions to keep Covid-19 out of the valley and they have even succeeded in the purpose so far. The residents had even denied entry to the minister. Spiti was the first tourist destination of Himachal to shut for tourists in March. A large number of tourists visit Spiti to enjoy its landscapes, ancient monasteries, culture, snow leopard sighting, photography and trekking.
Empty hotels wait for tourists
A large number of hotels, who have resumed operation in August or early September, are still waiting for the first booking as tourists are not showing much interest in visiting the hill state amid the pandemic.
Many hotel owners, who had expected good tourist footfall but failed to get booking even for a single room, were planning to shut the hotels one more time. Despite the fact that operation charges of the hotels have increased due to need of frequent sanitisation, the hotels are forced to offer heavy discounts. Many attractive offers including discounts on tariff has failed to attract tourists.
“I’m open since September 1 and received a booking for one room for just one night last week. Now I think was my decision to open hotel right or wrong. A large number of enquiries are pouring in but very few are visiting actually,” a hotelier Arun Kumar said. He added that maximum hoteliers are disheartened to see the tourist trend.
Now that Himachal government has opened its borders for other states without the need of e-pass, hoteliers expect little increase in tourist inflow in the next few days. However, they know that there is strong possibility that the tourist inflow will not be sufficient to meet their all the expenses.
Another hotelier Ludar Thakur said, “A very few people are planning their visit with friends. Nobody wants to take chance to visit along with the family, especially with elderly and children. Now we know that we should not expect much from tourism this year. We do not pray for more but it will be sufficient if even 20 to 30 per cent of the rooms will be occupied in this crucial time. We have recruited the staff after a break of over five months. We have various standing unpaid bills and many liabilities which are needed to be paid.”
On average, only 400 t0 500 tourists were trying to enter different districts of the state before government’s new notification but almost half of them were being denied entry due to lack of required documents. Most of the tourists were heading to Kullu-Manali but over 50 per cent were being denied entry. With government allowing entry to state without e-pass from Wednesday, hoteliers believe they will get to see some increase in the inflow.
Manali Hoteliers’ Association president Anup Thakur said most of the hotels in Manali will open from October 1. “We had fixed this date in advance so that hoteliers get adequate time for preparations. Hopefully, tourist footfall will increase by manifolds from October onwards. Hoteliers have spent lakhs of rupees on purchase of sanitisation materials. We have already attended workshops for smooth operation amid Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.