Hoteliers in Himachal Pradesh are divided over the opening of borders for tourists with many hotels in Shimla, Manali and Dharamshala having decided to keep their businesses closed amidst COVID-19 pandemic.

The Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurant Association of India (SHRAI), Manali Hoteliers Association (MHA) and Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association (FOHRA) based at Dharamshala had decided to keep their businesses closed.

And only the Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association (TISHA), based in Shimla had welcomed the government’s decision and its members (150 hotels) would open their businesses.

SHRAI president Sanjay Sood said there was no need for opening borders for tourists at a time when cases across the country and state were on the rise.

“The Standard Operative Procedure (SOPs) for hotels that have been issued by the state government seemed to have been aimed at big hotels and it would be tough for small hotels to follow these,” he told The Statesman.

Sood added that the state government was adopting double standards on the issue as our relatives when they are coming to the state are being kept in isolation for 14 days while the tourists are being allowed to roam freely on the basis of a lab certificate.

What is the guarantee that they won’t put the local population and businesses at COVID-19 risk, he questioned?

He added the SOPs issued by the state government mention that hoteliers had been provided training on tackling the tourists’ rush while only 100 hotel owners were trained about these.

MHA President Anup Thakur said there were no adequate health and safety arrangements in place in Manali and surrounding areas of Kullu district and even locals were against the decision of opening of the hotel industry.

“The state government’s decision seems to be aimed at benefiting few big hotels and there would be short term gains and long term losses if a tourist doesn’t find the arrangements suitable as per requirements,” Thakur told The Statesman.

He said the state government should have provided training to all hotel staff and owners through the Tourism department before taking such a decision which was not advisable since COVID-19 pandemic was on peak in the country.

“We have already lost the peak season to Coronavirus and there won’t be much tourists rush and the decision would only jeopardize the safety of our staff and local population as well.

We want the tourists to take sweet memories with them when they return from Himachal but this decision without proper arrangements or training can prove detrimental to the tourism sector in the state,” he added.

FOHRA president Ramswaroop Sharma even raised questions on the validity of COVID-19 reports and said, “We have seen in Punjab and UP as to how such test reports can be bought or tampered with. What is the guarantee that tourists who are submitting the report to the state government are genuine,” he told The Statesman.

TISHA president Mohinder Seth, however, welcomed the decision and thanked Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur as it would provide much-needed relief to the tourism sector which was worst hit in lockdown.

“Tourist places in other parts of the country as Uttarakhand, Goa, Rajasthan, Kerala have been opened for visitors and it would have badly affected Himachal if the state government hadn’t opened the border for them,” he said.

Seth said the hotels would lose winter season too if hotels weren’t opened in the state now and in addition, the hotels would get prepared as per SOPs for coming tourist seasons as it was already off-season for the tourism sector in Himachal Pradesh.