Budget hotels struggle, upscale ones enjoy business boom

Express News Service

SRINAGAR/CHANDIGARH/GUWAHATI: The hospitality industry in hill stations is witnessing a change in pattern in the aftermath of the pandemic. High-end hotels in Kashmir, Shimla and Shillong are having heavy occupancy, while budget hotels are hardly getting visitors. With many foreign destinations closed, wealthy tourists are going to these places and staying in upscale facilities. But budget tourists are still to start holidaying, leaving the hotels dependent on them struggling.

In Kashmir, all five and four-star hotels are booked, said Abdul Wahid, president of Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant Owners Federation. He added that this rush was noticed as soon as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Deluxe houseboats in Dal Lake, too, are sold out. In July and August, over 98,500 tourists visited Kashmir. Only 275 were foreigners.

An official of the 5-star Khyber Resorts in Gulmarg said all 85 rooms of their hotel are booked and they are continuously getting enquiries. “Due to suspension of international flights, high-end Indian tourists are visiting Kashmir, which is a cheaper tourist destination for such kind of travellers,” he said.

Wahid said budget tourists are still hesitant to travel because of the situation. “There were people who cancelled their scheduled visits.” The hotels and houseboats this class of tourists prefer are recording just 20% to 30% occupancy. Abdul Rashid, general secretary of Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association, said 80-85 deluxe houseboats are witnessing high occupancy, but the rest of the 800-odd houseboats are clocking just 10% to 20%.

A tour and travel operator blamed hoteliers for budget tourists not coming to the Valley in large numbers. “With the income of middle and lower middle class families hit by Covid, rise in hotel rents is deterring prospective tourists,” he said.

In Himachal Pradesh, many budget hotels are on the verge of closure. Only upscale hotels and home stays are doing business. “Five-star properties are having occupancy of around 40% to 50%, which has come down from 80%. Budget hotels those used to have 70%-80% occupancy are getting around 30%,” said Sanjay Sood, president of Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association. “We demand that the hotel industry be given relief by the government. Electricity and water should be charged in domestic category and not commercial. We are in dire straits,” pleaded Sood.

A number of hotels in Shimla, Dharamsala and Manali that charge between `2,000 and `7,000 for a room per day are on sale. “Most of the hoteliers have taken loans from banks. For two years, there have hardly been any business. Many hotels have been declared non-performing assets due to non-payment of loans. About two dozens hotels in Dharamsala area have been issued takeover notices by banks. We urge Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to stop the banks from taking such measures,’’ said Ashwani Bamba, who is the president of Upper Dharamsala Hotel Association.

It’s not different in Meghalaya. Tourists mostly go to Shillong and adjoining areas such as Cherrapunjee and Dawki on the Bangladesh border. Parambir Singh Sehdave, president of the Federation of Shillong Hotels, said hotels and guesthouses rely much on budget tourists who are yet to arrive. “High-end hotels are getting more customers. Tourists mostly from rich and upper middle class families are coming. Very few budget tourists have arrived so far. Hope the situation changes,” Sehdave said.

Kashmir

 Five-star hotels: Fully booked
 Budget hotels: 20-30% occupancy
 Deluxe houseboats: High occupancy
 Ordinary houseboats: 10-20% occupancy
Himachal Pradesh

 Five-star hotels: 40-50% occupancy (down from 80%)
 Budget hotels: 30% occupancy (down from 80%)
Meghalaya

 Hotels charging less than Rs 2,000 a day: Under 10% occupancy
 Hotels charging between Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 a day: 15% occupancy
 Hotels charging more than Rs 3,000 a day: 25% occupancy