As soon as Himachal opened its borders, a few people started coming in to visit. But when the government announced that no RTPCR test or E-Pass was required any longer, so many people just packed their bags and ran towards the hill state. But at Meenabagh, RT-PCR test is mandatory, because this property is around a residential area,” notes Sanjay Austa, Owner, Meenabagh Homes, with a property in Shimla and Ratnari.
As the summers are getting harsher in Delhi, Punjab and other adjoining Northern states, coupled with the newfound freedom from the second wave and resultant lockdowns has led to the trend of ‘revenge travel’. It is why many have been flocking to the hills, and even flouting important Covid- 19 norms. As evident from a recent video that went viral of a beggar kid in Dharamshala asking people to wear their masks. However, this ‘herd mentality’ is ringing in cash registers of homestays and hotels of domestic hotspots.
“May is the ‘season time’, but we were under lockdown then. However, now we will be able to make up for the losses, as people are coming in with their kids, the elderly and even pets. We are fully packed till August 15,” explains Austa.
Apart from home stays, even the hotels in Shimla are fully packed on weekends. Vivek Sharma, Front Office Associate, Sanobar The Grand White Shimla, says, “Our 70-room property is fully packed on weekends, and at least 25-30 rooms are occupied on weekdays. Every week, we host 700- 1,000 guests. The condition here is so bad. Sometimes, guests don’t get rooms and end up sleeping in their cars! We have had to say no to walk-in guests as all the rooms are occupied.” The property started operations on June 15 and RT-PCR is not mandatory for hotel guests. However, online booking is to help hotels and homestays accommodate guests and any of their requirements in advance.
Treehouse Properties gets corporate travellers on weekdays and leisure guests over the weekends. “Most of our hotels, including Chail Villas near Shimla, except Goa, are getting a lot of families for weekend breaks, and many weddings ceremonies at our various properties. It’s a mixed crowd, with honeymooners and leisure travellers in the same properties,” Jayant Singh, Founder & MD, Treehouse Hotels.
The importance of RT-PCR tests
On one hand, the restrictions are equal to nil in Himachal; on the other hand, a negative RTPCR report and E-pass are mandatory to enter the other hill state Uttarakhand.
Prashant Pandey, Manager, Imperial heights, Binsar, Uttarakhand, says, “Our staff and the local police ensure that social distancing measures are in place and people don’t break the laws.” The hotel that started its operations from June gets most of its guests from Bareilly and Delhi. “Out of our 20 rooms, 12-13 rooms mostly get occupied towards the weekends. Business has started picking up now,” says Pandey.
Priya Vajpai, who along with her husband, owns and runs Vaikunth Homestay in Natadol, Uttarakhand, has entertained six families ever since tourist entry was allowed into the state, and prefers to run it in a home- l ike envi ronment . “Guests are a part of the whole process that we follow here to live. I don’t take bookings just like that.
Before the guests book, I tell them this space is for solitude, and I filter requests depending upon what they need,” says Vajpai, adding she makes it a point to get the RTPCR report and vaccination certificates from the guests in advance for their safety. “We get the Covid tests and all the paperwork done in advance, so guests don’t have to wear masks. Even if the government lifts the test requirement, I will continue to ask for it.”
Guests preferring longer stays, head to serviced apartments, like the ones run by The Manor in Naldehra, but have to abide by the Covid protocol. Jatin Bansal, Resident Manager, The Manor, informs, “Ours is a township comprising 75 apartments. Of these, we operate/ rent seven on our own and the rest are owned by people. Most of the tourists coming in are from Gurugram and Delhi. As this is a township, we have a clinic with doctors and nurses available on call.
We have antigen test kits, so doing an RTPCR test beforehand is not necessary. If anyone gets a fever, we immediately test and isolate them. But, you cannot roam without masks and have to follow social distancing norms. We mainly entertain families, so people who wish to stay and work from here need to get a reference letter from their office.”
Guests at Meenabagh are not required to wear masks as the property is already isolated and they don’t have to go anywhere outside. “But in Shimla, you can see people roaming around without masks. I feel the government shouldn’t have relaxed the RTPCR norm. That would have had only responsible tourists enter the state,” says Austa.