By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, March 14 (IANS) Tourism industry in the Taj city is facing an unprecedented crisis due to COVID-19. The steep fall in the number of visitors to Agra has caused a huge concern as more than 3,00,000 people directly make a living from tourism.
Now only a few groups, that had entered India earlier have been visiting the Taj Mahal. A group of 80 Americans by a chartered flight, after thorough screening, visited the Taj Mahal on Thursday.
Even Petha (translucent soft candy famous from Agra) sales have declined by half, say shopkeepers.
The Tourism Guild, Agra hotels and Restaurants Association, Tourist Guides Association have collectively expressed concern. “This season is gone, and there are worrying signals for the next,” said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.
Already, with the suspension of visas for visitors from more than 15 countries, the occupancy in hotels has come down to a trickle. Bookings have fallen below 70 per cent and the number of cancellations on a daily basis is above 40 per cent, according to hoteliers.
The Agra hospitality industry is in a crisis. The worst sufferers are the budget hotels that wear a deserted look.
Guides and photographers are a worried lot. “We do not know when the conditions will improve. It is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, that came abruptly,” said tourist guide Ved Gautam.
The crisis began in the first week of February, at the peak of the tourist season. The annual cultural extravaganza, the 10-day long Taj Mahotsava proved a disaster, as it could not attract locals.
On March 1, the number of foreign visitors at the Taj Mahal slumped to 2,675, against a normal 10,000 average figure, in previous years.
According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the number of foreign visitors on March 2 was 2,243, March 3 it was 2,101. On March 8, the figure was a low of 1,208.
The hospitality industry in Agra is definitely in the dumps. Thousands of craftsmen, inlay workers, handicrafts designers are hoping the crisis would soon blow off, otherwise there could be trouble in store.
State tourism officials, however say, the domestic tourists will continue to visit Agra, after March 31, as examinations would be over and the weather conditions would turn favourable.