The world famous Khajuraho temples of Madhya Pradesh, which used to see a stream of visitors before COVID-19 outbreak, now wear a deserted look since the lockdown, which has also crippled the once-thriving local hospitality and tourism industries.
The occupancy in hotels located in the town is nil and the nearly 25,000 residents of the Khajuraho town in Chhatarpur district, most of whom relied heavily on earnings from the tourism activities, have been on the edge. The Khajuraho temples, which are a UNESCO world heritage site and famous for their erotic carvings, are located in the backward Bundelkhand region of the state.
Visitors from across the world used to flock the town to catch a glimpse of the temples, but since the lockdown, he hotel and tourism industries in the area have been badly hit.
"Most of the population of Khajuraho is associated with tourism activities, which are at a standstill since the past three months. Almost every household in the town is reeling under stress. Nearly 90 per cent of the hotel sector employees here are now without jobs," Arun Talwar, vice- president of the Clarks Group of Hotels, told PTI.
The Khajuraho airport, located about 370 km from the state capital Bhopal, used to have two regular flights before
the COVID-19 outbreak, bringing in international and domestic tourists, all of which has now stopped. "Hotels in big cities can have events and conferences, but for us it was only tourism and destination weddings, which too have stopped. Tourists used to come by trains from Delhi and Agra via Jhansi, which is 170 km from here.
Everybody is clueless about when flights will resume, how things will pan out," Talwar said. As per officials from the sector, some 2,500 rooms in 50-odd hotels in the town, including three five-star facilities, are lying empty.
Ashok Gautam, owner of Khajuraho's Hotel Ramada and Golden Tulip, which has around 150 rooms, feels business would
continue to be down for next two to three years. "The period between October and March is the peak season. But business was badly hit in fiscal 2019-20 as tourist arrivals thinned due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If all goes well, it may take two to three years to get back to normal, as economies of almost all nations have been hit," Gautam said. He said the average annual occupancy across hotels in Khajuraho is around 35 to 40 per cent.
Avinash Tiwari, a budget hotel owner and president of the Khajuraho Hotel Association, said the government should extend assistance to the sector.
"Most of the 50-odd hotels are unable to pay salaries to their staff. They are jobless. The future seems worse. The
government should help the hotel industry," Tiwari said. Sectors linked to the hotel industry in Khajuraho are
also badly affected. Ajay Kashyap, owner of a travel agency in the town, said taxis, shops and guides have all run out of business due to the absence of tourists. With chances of international tourists returning anytime soon looking bleak, the focus has shifted to domestic travellers, he said.
"My agency has been marketing Khajuraho in some big cities of the country to attract domestic tourists. There seems to be a fear among locals about international tourists due to the coronavirus outbreak," he claimed. Hotel Chandela's General Manager G M Pillai said this is the "worst season that the Khajuraho tourism industry has ever seen".
"We are now looking at hotel bookings for weddings as the government has eased norms and allowed marriage functions
to be held with 50 guests," he said. Local hotel industry sources said only 10 to 20 per cent of the total workforce is currently employed, that too with about 50 per cent pay cuts.
As per the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation's data, nearly 2.76 lakh domestic tourists and 51,302 foreigners visited Khajuraho between January 1 and December 31 last year.