Kolkata: The partial lockdown announced by the Mamata Banerjee government to curb the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in West Bengal has severely impacted the state’s tourism industry. The state, which attracts hordes of tourists every year due to the famous Himalayas, Sundarbans and Santiniketan, was recovering after the previous complete lockdowns.
With the number of fresh cases at 15,421 on Thursday and Kolkata alone accounting for more than 40% of the infections and the positivity rate rising to 24.71%, the state plans to tighten the restrictions on travel, public movements and gatherings.
Subir Ghosh, owner of Darjeeling Continental Hotel, is already fretting at the massive loss he will incur during the lockdown, which has been imposed till January 15. “We will lose Rs 4.5 lakh,” he tells Newsclick. Reservations at his other hotel, located besides Murti River, in Dooars region, are also being daily cancelled.
Questioning the state government’s logic in allowing the Gangasagar Mela and the civic polls, Ghosh said, “The Gangasagar Mela will be a superspreader of COVID-19. The government should have imposed the lockdown in a more scientific way. If the situation is so bad, why Christmas and New Year’s gatherings were allowed in the state?”
Though actual loss to the sector is still unknown, more than 90% of bookings have been cancelled. Samrat Sanyal, general secretary, Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network, believes that “with proper guidelines, our industry should be allowed to function like malls and bars”. “It’s a question of our survival. The lockdown will eat up our next three months’ business for sure.”
Flights and connectivity need to be restored, Sanyal said, “if the industry has to survive”. “Who will pay for the staff and the tuition fees of the children of small hoteliers. We need an answer to these questions.”
North Bengal, which attracts the largest number of tourists in the state, has also got a civic poll on January 22. Tour operators have questioned the state government’s reason for holding the polls while imposing restrictions on the tourism sector.
In West Bengal, the Bolpur Sriniketan belt, where Santiniketan is located and which attracts the maximum number of tourists apart from Kolkata, more that 90 % of the 315 guesthouses, resorts and homestays have stopped operating. Tour operators contend that the tourism industry can also function, like cinema halls, by adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
The boat safari to Sundarbans from Kolkata has closed down as well dashing the hopes of tour operators, who were expecting to profitable season. “We immediately need government help to survive. The government could have allowed motorboats with 50% capacity,” Ashim Kumar Dhali of Canning, who operates a tourist motorboat,” told Newsclick. “Shutting everything again will hit the economy.”
Tour operators and hotel owners in the seaside town of Digha, famous for its beaches, are also struggling. The beaches wear a deserted look with the state government ordering the hotels to vacate.