Photo used for indicative purpose only. Source: Internet

Vandana Bhagra

Shimla, June 16

The Covid 19 pandemic has seeped deeply into our lives, and finally we need to accept this reality that we have to live with it. Extreme measures to control the pandemic and long periods of complete lockdown along with curfew measures has severely affected the financial capabilities of many. The year 20- 2021, has hit the Tourism Sector hard, especially Himachal as the States’ economy is mostly governed by two factors: Tourism and Orchardists. Both carry the burden of providing a livelihood to nearly 75 percent of the population of the State such as direct work opportunities and subsidiary services such as travel, taxis, laundry services among others.

Recently in a candid representation by the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India (HRANI), to Himachal’s CM, Jai Ram Thakur, Secretary General Renu Thapliyal stated, “The hospitality industry has been in total pandemonium and chaos with establishments closing and staff retrenchments. Among all the core sectors of the economy, hospitality was the first one to fall and is going to be the last to recover, hence becoming the biggest causality of the pandemic. The industry had lost all its business after the lockdown came into effect and the zero-business scenario remained for seven to ten months during last year.”

She further added that, “The second wave of COVID infection resulting into more severe restrictions imposed by various state governments and local authorities on the hospitality sector, which made it impossible for the hospitality sector to stay afloat. Today, hospitality has become the most unviable and unsustainable business in the country and is heading towards closure of thousands of establishments in many parts of the country and massive job losses.”

An appeal was made for strong support from the government by way of extending relief for the survival and revival of Hospitality Units. Among these were:
• Refund / Adjustment of Excise Fees as due to lock down measures and non-operations of bars from since March 22, 2020 to September 4, 2020, the excise fee paid by licensee Bars, Hotels and Restaurants for the non-operations period should be either refunded or adjusted. The second wave of Covid-19 and rapid spread of infection including loss of life has brought more severe restrictions imposed by the local authorities on the hospitality sector. Due to curfew / lock down measures, none of the Excise Licensees (Hotels and Restaurant) in the state have been permitted to operate since the beginning of this financial year till date which has brought the hospitality sector to its knees.
• The contracted capacity of power consumption was not used by the hotels. But the fixed charges at the applicable rate have been billed to them based on the contracted billing demand which included non-operations period. The hospitality establishments need some kind of waiver of fixed charges to meet the escalating costs since revenue sources have been curbed.
• Waiver on water bills and sewerage charges by the Jal Board for the next six months due to lockdown and non-operations of hospitality units. Since last year there was hardly any occupancy / guests due to travel restrictions and quarantine guidelines.

• Relief in Property / House Tax in terms of a waiver for hotels and hospitality establishments for a suitable period during the current financial year.
• Increase of limit of 25 guests for social functions for spacious premises as hospitality establishments largely depend upon banqueting as it majorly contributes to meet operational expenses. It is a key source of revenue and is also taken in account while calculating the operating cost of hospitality units. Therefore, following the protocol of social distancing, the limit of 25 guests for social functions should be increased in accordance with the capacity of hall and open space to cater guests. The banquets, premises and halls having larger space should be allowed to host social functions and gatherings with 50% capacity without any further local permission, provided the protocol of social distancing is maintained.
• Automatic extensions / onetime special renewals of certificates for one year from all departments such as fire NOC, Municipal license renewals certificate of weight and measurement from Legal Metrology Department; certificate for lift operations; shops and establishment certificate and consent to operate by Pollution Control Committee. In view of restrictions and the challenges of this worst hit industry, these permits and renewals should be valid till March 31, 2022.
• Relief from penal provisions for delays in late payments or any dues owed to the State government or local Government or other State bodies for a suitable period of time.
• Relief from regulatory compliances under State or Central Laws being implemented by the States including Bylaws, Rules and Regulations by extending the validity of various licenses and approvals without levy of any fees till March 31, 2022.

Sanjay Sood, past President and presently Managing Committee Member HRANI said, “It is pertinent to mention here that to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and reduce financial burden, the Government of Gujarat has granted complete waiver of Property Tax for FY 2021 – 22 and also waived off fixed charges levied on electricity bills for hotels, restaurant, resorts and water parks. The consumers only have to pay power bills for the actual usage. We expect that our State Government should too take positive measures for reviving the hospitality sector in the state.”

Backed up with a strong think tank and administrative officers, the State Chief Minister has done little to support the Hospitality Sector. A moratorium on a loan or easy instalments is not a solution the hotel establishments are looking for. Despite repeated representations, concrete measures and strong suggestions from various doyens of the Industry, the CM choose to turn a blind eye to all the problems. The burden of salaries, fixed costs, utility bills is creeping in strong to make a huge dent in the income and revenue generation capacity of the Tourism Sector as a whole. Any State Chief Minister wants to see growth and increase in its coffers, but without any immediate relief the Hospitality sector is bound to collapse

One year of lockdown survival was hard, but the second year would literary kill the Industry!


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