Maharashtra tourism is a casualty of coronavirus

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Mumbai: In what is attributed as the direct fallout of Covid-19 concerns, top tourist destinations and UNESCO World Heritage sites in Maharashtra have witnessed a sharp decline in tourism, especially foreigners, industry players said here on Wednesday.

Most foreign tourists are deserting the top sites such as Ajanta & Ellora in Aurangabad, the Elephanta Isles in Raigad district off Mumbai in the Arabian Sea and the one of the most photographed monuments in the country, the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Trek-Or-Trail Co-Founder Tushar Asher admitted that his company has seen “practically 100 per cent cancellations or indefinite postponing of various domestic and international tours since December.”

“The tourism and hospitality industry is in doldrums� Smaller tour operators are worst hit, as also the big ones. The situation does not appear rosy with more Covid-19 cases being detected around the country. We are forced to cancel the entire tour packages with flights, hotels and sightseeing,” a worried Asher told IANS.

Ditto are the sentiments of Heena Tours & Travels owner Jitendra Shah who specializes in international group tours who feels “people are unnecessarily panicky”.

“While my bookings to Jammu & Kashmir & Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh are largely unaffected, the scenario on international tours is gloomy. Due to ‘postponements’, my estimate is more than 75 per cent hit is taken by the industry,” Shah informed IANS.

Aurangabad, considered the ‘tourism capital’ of Maharashtra, has witnessed a sharp drop, as high as 95 per cent in the past few three-four months of foreign tourist arrivals, with hoteliers, taxis, buses, private vehicles and other stakeholders virtually idling their time.

Travel Agents Association of Aurangabad (TAAA) chief M. Kapote said even domestic arrivals have declined sharply owing to the global health scare which has now started hitting India.

“The Ajanta & Ellora Caves are popular among Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in India, but the domestic inflow has taken a plunge. The Buddhist tourists from China, Japan, Thailand and other Far Eastern countries for whom this circuit holds significance, the inflow has trickled to virtually zero now,” said a glum Kapote.

Maharashtra Tour Operators Association (MTOA) general secretary Chetan Dunakhe admits that the arrivals of foreigners to Mumbai, from where they go to rest of the state and elsewhere in the country, has been severely affected.

“February-March is our peak booking season for the summer tourist rush owing to the school-colleges holidays from mid-April to mid-June. Everyone keeps their plans ‘on hold’ till the situation crystallises,” Dunakhe said.

However, MTOA officials said tours to Jammu & Kashmir & Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal are being planned though the response is tepid, but the South-East Asia destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and now even the Middle-East sectors are virtually getting erased from tourist itineraries this year.

Vasai-Virar Tours, Palghar, founder Kiran Bhoir is disappointed as he expected a good business year 2020, but Covid-19 has given an unexpected ‘jolt’, resulting in massive cancellations from domestic and global tourists.

The picturesque Gateway of India — usually thronging with tourists from world over — has witnessed thin crowds, mostly domestic travelers, as also destinations such as Juhu Beach, Gorai Beach and other hotspots in Mumbai.

Elsewhere in the state, tourism is in a crisis at the famed round-the-year popular beach resorts of Ganpatipule Beach of Ratnagiri, Alibaug, Murud-Janjira (Raigad), Palghar, Thane, hill stations such as Matheran (Raigad), Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani (Satara) and others with barely 10-15 per cent peak season bookings.

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