It’s a dry and dismal summer for the tourism industry in Rajasthan, which has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Hotels and restaurants in the state that is popular with both foreign and domestic tourists were allowed to reopen on June 8 with strict safety medical measures. Bars too have been allowed to run till 9 pm, before the night curfew kicks in.
Despite these measures as part of the “Unlock1” move, most hotels wear a deserted as there are few visitors. The bars also remain empty of tipplers.
For an industry that is the second-highest foreign exchange earner for Rajasthan after the trade in gems and jewellery, this is a huge setback.
Jaipur’s iconic Rambagh Palace has opened for visitors with safety protocols in place. An airport pick-up for guests offers a sanitised vehicle with a plastic shield that works as a barrier between the driver and the guests to minimise contact.
On arrival at the hotel, guests are checked, luggage fumigated and rooms assigned after only after complete sanitisation. But despite the strict processes in place, the visitors are few. There appears to be more local visitors than from outside at some restaurants in Rambagh.
The famous polo bar has a few takers because of the 9 pm deadline. Smaller hotels in the city are struggling to pay salaries to their staff and keep up maintenance of their properties.
At the Shahpura Haveli, a 70-room heritage hotel in the heart of the city, the owner Rani Ratna Kumari says there has been not a single guest since March this year and the forecast looks bleak for the next 15 months.
“Our bar has just reopened, but we have no visitors. The industry has suffered a setback and there is little relief for us. We have just paid our bar licence, which is a large amount despite not having any business, so we would request the government that they give us some relief in licence fees,” Ms Kumari said.
Industry figures show every tourist who visits Rajasthan provides direct and indirect employment to 8 people. It’s also nearly 10 per cent of the gross domestic product. But the setback in the tourism industry could mean job cuts and hotel owners struggling to stay afloat.
Trains and flights that bring in tourists are yet to resume. Also, hotels are allowed to operate with only 50 per cent occupancy, and even then they are struggling to fill it.
“People don’t have the confidence to travel. There are no trains and flights, so how will businesses resume when people are afraid to travel?” said Pratap Singh Kanota, owner of Narayan Niwas Hotel.
Summer is not a big draw for tourists in Rajasthan, but even with domestic tourists afraid to travel, Rajasthan’s biggest revenue generators – tourism sector – appears to be the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.