Hotel managements must allow no room for spread of the virus
The reopening of hotel and tourism businesses proved to be a non-starter, at least on day one. The government allowed hotels to open on July 1 after three months of closure in the wake of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many hoteliers preferred not to be in a hurry and wait for the guidelines to be clearly laid down before starting normal business activities. The standard operating procedures were issued late on July 2. The government decision to allow hotels to open would bring relief to their owners and employees who were among the hardest hit. Having already suffered losses for three months, the hotel owners do not want to compound them by risking staff and material costs and not getting the desired return in the absence of adequate number of guests and customers. It is better to be safe than sorry, they say.
Though the state has 3,835 hotels only 250 of them sought permission to restart their business and they were given the approval by the government on July 1. These 250 hoteliers knew they were not going to restart their business as they did in normal times, but in the difficult environment of the coronavirus pandemic. The hotel industry feels it could take two weeks to adapt to the SOPs and prepare their staff to work within the restrictions during the period. It is unlikely that the hotels would start receiving guests overnight. They might have to wait for weeks, if not months, for the flow of visitors to pick up. As there has been a spurt in the number of fresh coronavirus cases all over the country, the hotel industry has to be cautious in handling guests to ensure they adhere to norms, including place and hand sanitizing, mask wearing and social distancing. While most people might prefer not to risk travelling during the pandemic, corporate travellers who must travel for developing their business and individual travellers with an appetite for adventure might come to Goa. A slight lapse could prove to be costly as the hotels would have to be shut once again in case any person is found to be coronavirus positive on their premises.
The government decision to allow reopening of hotels, however, has not gone down well with some of the politicians and stakeholders in the business, who have questioned haste in according approval at a time when the state and the country were witnessing huge surge in COVID-19 cases. They fear tourists could bring in the virus leading to closure of hotels where they put up, as was the case when people were allowed to move into the state after relaxation of the lockdown in May, which led to a big increase in coronavirus positive cases in Goa. The stakeholders in the hotel business feel that any spike in the number of cases during the off season could have far-reaching consequences on the business during the actual tourist season, by which time the threat posed by the coronavirus was expected to recede.
While allowing reopening of hotels the government has made pre-booking of rooms by visitors compulsory to enter the state. As per the SOP, the tourists would have to produce a COVID-19 negative certificate issued within 48 hours of their arrival or else undergo a test at their own cost on their arrival, which could be risky in case they are found positive. Besides, where would the tourists be housed till their results, which could take between 6 to 12 hours, are out? Now that the hotels have been allowed to reopen, the government has to put in place a strict enforcement mechanism in order to protect hotel staff, guests and Goans with whom they come in contact with from infection. Officials of the tourism and health departments, as well as of the local police and administration, have a joint responsibility to guarantee that unlock-2 does not prove to be costly in terms of human health. While moving ahead the hotel managements have a special responsibility to enforce the SOPs in order to make sure that economic revival does not lead to compromising on the guidelines for fighting the spread of the coronavirus.