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Cherrapunjee’s tourism sector hit hard by COVID-19; locals ‘helpless’

SHILLONG: Tourism revenue in Cherrapunjee of Meghalaya — which is known as wettest place on earth — has ironically dried up owing to COVID-19 restrictions for over a year. This is in stark contrast to other tourism hotspots like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in North India where tourism is still steady.

As cases of COVID-19 declined in India, many hill states have been easing the travelling restrictions, but there is no respite yet for Meghalaya.

Meghalaya has banned the entry of tourists from April 23 of this year after opening in December 2020. Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma arrived at this decision after reviewing the deterioration in the situation.

Stevenson, a local hotel owner has lamented the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused him massive losses. Stevenson who has two homestays and one lodging hotel said that the people of Cherrapunjee are completely dependent on tourism to earn their livelihood even since coal and limestone extraction has been banned by the National Green tribunal many years ago.

There is no help from Government to the hotel owners who have taken loans from banking institutions to earn their living, he said.

Although the peak season in Cherrapunjee is from March to October, this year the local people are facing an economic crisis due to a dearth of tourists.

Meghalaya’s biggest tourist draws are its capital Shillong (known as Scotland of East), Cherrapunji, Dawki, among others. It is also home to the cleanest village in Asia, Mawlynnong.

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A hotel employee named Arun Burman has also expressed his woes. “We are into the second month of 2021, but it seems that the specter of 2020 continues to loom large. Considering the tourism sector in Meghalaya, this is a peak time and all hotels, homestays usually remain full. But this pandemic has caused us immense troubles.”

It was not until the end of December last year that Meghalaya started welcoming tourists and visitors again, with extreme caution and extensive protocols.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that COVID-19 and its impact on tourism hit Meghalaya the most among all northeast states. Hence, it is also understandable why the state, which depends on tourism as a source of employment generation and revenue, was keen to open its gates for tourists again. But, as is becoming common in a post-COVID-19 world, it was not going to welcome outsiders without Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Local tea shop owner Sumarlin Diengdoh also expressed her pain and said that she used to fend for her six children with earnings from the shop but the pandemic has left her bankrupt with no money, and no work.

She said that the overnment did not give any help to the small vendors like her. Asked about her vaccine status, she informed that she is yet to receive the first dose.

Before the pandemic, Meghalaya would receive tourists from the neighbouring state, Assam, especially during the weekends. People from Guwahati would drive down to Shillong with their family and friends in the morning, spend their day visiting local sights and markets, and return in the evening. Now, with the new rule, one has to stay for at least two nights before leaving the state.

Talking about the new rule, Tourist Officer of Umling R. Wahlang said, “This is the new system by the government and has been implemented by the chief minister himself, who is also the minister of tourism. Even after the pandemic, it will be there.”

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