Amid the ongoing economic slowdown and deteriorating economy, the COVID-19 epidemic has now shaken Uttar Pradesh's tourism industry as well.
Because of school vacations and pleasant weather, this time of the year is supposed to be the peak season for domestic tourism. However, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent travel restrictions, the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra and other tourist spots in Uttar Pradesh are seeing an all-time decline in footfall.
According to Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber (ATWC), the city which is also known for its footwear, handicraft, silver, etc. has recorded a decline of more than 60% in tourist traffic.
According to the data provided by the ATWC, there was a drastic drop in sale of tickets to the Taj Mahal on Sunday when the number of foreign tourists fell down to a mere 1,274. On any normal day, there are more than 20,000-25,000 visitors at Taj Mahal including both domestic and foreign tourists.
Speaking to NewsClick, Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber (ATWC) President Prahalad Agrawal said, “It started when all flights from Iran to India were cancelled due to the coronavirus threat. This is the peak season as they celebrate Navroz (new year) in March and during this month, a large number of Iranian tourists visit Taj Mahal and other places. Other countries too have issued advisory and asked their citizens to travel to other countries only if it's very urgent."
Explaining the slack in the number of domestic tourists, Agrawal said that as the Indian government on March 10 also issued an advisory to its people to avoid travelling via flights, train, and metro, fear mounted among the common people.
"The fall in numbers will decline further in the coming weeks. Foreigners as well as domestic tourists are cancelling their booking and we are obviously not expecting new bookings," he said.
With the challenges that have come up with the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of workers who migrated from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal have lost their jobs. The small shop owners are cutting costs as they continue to face an acute economic crisis.
Shamsuddin Khan, a tourist guide based in Agra who has been in this profession for more than 35 years, said that Agra has never witnessed such a rapid fall in recent history. "From October to March, almost six months, it is tourists’ season. Every guide gets 3-4 assignments on a daily basis. But due to the novel coronavirus, that has stopped. Small shopkeepers, labourers, salesmen and freelance guides have been forced to go to their hometowns."
More than 4.5 lakh people are associated with the tourism industry in Agra and they have been badly affected due to the ongoing crisis. "Many of them have started leaving Agra to return to Bihar, Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal. For them, this industry is on the verge of collapse,” said Khan.
He added that this deterioration of the tourism industry began soon after economic slowdown and the situation kept worsening with abrogation of Article 370, Babri Masjid judgment, violence during Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, and now, the coronavirus.
“Even during the festivals and holidays, Taj Mahal saw fewer number of tourists.. This is an alarming situation for the people of Agra, as there is no other industry except for tourism here. Where will we go for jobs?" asked Sumit, a petha (translucent soft candy famous from Agra) seller. "There is no help for tourists or us from the government," he added.
Meanwhile, In Varanasi as well, tourist traffic has slowed down considerably. Devotees at the Kashi Vishwanath temple are being asked to wash their hands, wear masks and use sanitisers before they enter the temple. Similarly, at Kushinagar where Lord Buddha is believed to have attained ‘Nirvana’, the tourist footfall was not even 10%.
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