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Reopening Hotels

Government cannot afford to please all in hour of crisis

The Goa Hotels and Restaurants Association has sought full reopening of the hotel and tourism related businesses from July 1. Over 230 hotel owners have sought nod from the government to restart their business, saying  they have been anxiously waiting for approval.  The bars and restaurants have been closed in the state ever since the Janata curfew was imposed on March 22 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It was followed by a statewide lockdown and thereafter by the national lockdown. The government first relaxed the ban on restaurants by initially allowing them to start takeaway service; after some weeks it allowed them to serve customers on their premises with 50 percent capacity. However, the ban on sale of liquor continues to be in force. While demanding reopening of the hotel industry and the tourism sector, the restaurant owners have also demanded that restaurants attached with bars should be allowed to sell liquor on their premises. Their grievance is that restaurant business was unprofitable without liquor sale and would not survive without it. They also want a revival of other activities under the tourism sector, including casinos, river cruises, hotels and bars for the restaurant business to revive and become profitable.

However, a decision on this must be taken with due caution. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has said his government was thinking positively on the resumption of tourism activity in the state and might take a decision within the next eight days. There are several factors to be taken into account. The national scenario for the hospitality industry suggests that the hotel occupancy post-COVID has been under 15 per cent and it is not going to rise beyond 35 per cent in the financial year 2020-21. The hotels and restaurants of Goa have to work their way forward keeping the national scenario in mind. Both corporate and individual travel is heavily down owing to the fear of the virus. Besides, the hotels and restaurants of Goa have to do many things before they can expect to get even 35 percent of the pre-COVID business. They would have to sanitize their rooms and spaces after  departure of guests, as part of a new standard operating procedure for the hotel sector. They would have to take other measures such as social distancing. The Chief Minister has said that the existing mandatory testing of those visiting Goa would continue and tourists would not be exempted when tourism resumes.

As the state witnessed a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases after the movement of people was allowed following relaxation of lockdown, the government must think deeply before opening the doors to tourists. The government has limited manpower and resources for checking, testing and maintaining surveillance. The government officials have been finding it difficult to scan the limited number of people arriving in the state. Opening tourism would be opening a floodgate which could lead to some carriers escaping as had happened in the case of a person from Delhi, who turned out to be COVID-19 positive but has not been located so far. People of Goa expect the state government to set up a foolproof mechanism in place before giving approval to full-scale resumption of the tourism sector. Prevalence of the virus for longer duration could mar the image of the state as a tourist destination.

While it is necessary to revive all businesses in the state, care has to be taken to contain the spread of the virus. The preventive measures adopted by the state have been found to be ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus. Lack of civic sense and failure of authorities to enforce strictly the preventive measures have also been attributed to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the state. Opening bars could aggravate the situation as some people tend to lose control after some drinks and may not observe social distancing and become vulnerable to be afflicted by the virus. Besides, there is the possibility of hotel managements not adhering to SOPs strictly, thereby compromising the health of the clients. The government would have to take a holistic view and a reasoned decision, because in the dangerous hour we are all in, it could invite dangers by trying to please all.

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