The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted tourism in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, with local businessmen claiming losses running into crores and no normal resumption of tourist activities till late next year. Home to Ajanta and Ellora Caves, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among other monuments, Aurangabad sees heavy footfall of tourists throughout the year and many locals depend on the industry for their livelihood.
“There are at least 15,000 people in the entire district who are connected to the tourism industry and the closure of monuments during the coronavirus-induced lockdown has resulted in losses of over Rs 450 crore,” said Jaswant Singh, president of Aurangabad Tourism Development Foundation.
Even if the pandemic gradually abates, the fear in minds of travellers will remain for some time, he said. With no tour bookings coming in for winter holidays this year, the situation is likely to normalise only by September 2021, Singh said. As tourism came to a standstill, the hotel industry has also borne the brunt of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Last year, the turn over at his hotel was Rs 1 crore per month, but it all came to a naught when the lockdown came into force, said Pradeep Maheshwari, a senior employee of a leading hotel in Aurangabad. “The hotel industry may not function normally now, but in 12 to 18 months, the situation may get back on track,” he said. For registered tour guides, who have weathered lean tourist season almost every year, the pandemic has spelled doom as the wait seems endless.
“Things were fine even when monuments were open and we didn’t get assignments on a particular day. But now with complete closure of historic sites, there is absolutely no income,” said Vivek Pathak, whose yearly income ranged from Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 depending on the flow of tourists. Being a tour guide is a full-time job and he never thought of doing anything else, said Pathak, who is using up his savings to tide over the crisis. The last four months have not just been tough for tour operators, guides and the hotel industry, but shops located near the historic sites have also faced heavy losses.
“There are 78 shops near Ajanta Caves and all have remained shut for the last four months, said Syed Razik Hussain, who also has an establishment in the locality. Despite the present crisis, Hussain remains hopeful that monuments will be reopened and the business will pick up in the near future.