By Aparajita Gupta

New Delhi: Cyclone Phailin and the subsequent flooding that hit Odisha last week have left its tourism sector devastated with large-scale cancellations by domestic and foreign tourists, industry stakeholders said.

The Odisha government earns almost Rs.1,000 crore/ Rs 10 billion annually from the tourism industry, according to Mohanty. Cyclone Phailin hit the state during its peak tourist season that spans from October to March.

“Phailin has caused great devastation. The hotels and resorts on the beaches of Puri and Gopalpur have been damaged quite a bit by the cyclone. Reconstruction has already started,” J.K. Mohanty, chairman of the Odisha Hotel Association, told IANS on phone.

“We have residential conference bookings for entire October. We have seen at least 50 percent of them getting cancelled as people panicked,” added Mohanty, who is also chairman and managing director of Swosti Group, a premium hotel chain in the state.

The cyclone had its landfall Oct 12. Prior to its arrival, the state government had issued a directive to all hoteliers to vacate their beach properties. Mohanty said most of the hotels followed this direction and this saved many lives.

Odisha is well-known among tourists for the Jagannath Temple in Puri, beach tourism, wildlife, eco and cultural tourism.

The most-flocked places in the state include the Golden Triangle of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar. Other attraction are the Chilka Lake, Gopalpur-on-Sea, Chandipur, Dhauli and Sambalpur. Environmentalists say Chilka Lake has suffered considerable damage and its regeneration will take a number of years.

Saroj Kumar Samal, managing director of Tropical Vacations (India) Pvt Ltd, a travel agency, said he had seen at least 30 percent cancellation of bookings for October.

“In November there were many bookings from foreign tourists for eco tourism, but at least 30 percent of them have cancelled, saying the cyclone must have devastated the forests and there is no point going now. We are now trying to convince them otherwise.

“We are suffering a lot due to this cyclone and we have lost many operational files. We are now trying to send out the message that there is nothing to fear now and tourists can come once again so that the industry bounces back,” Samal added.

“At least 70-80 percent of our bookings got cancelled. This cyclone has created panic among tourists,” Harihar Patra, director, marketing, Toshali Resorts, told IANS on phone. Toshali Resort is two km from the Puri beach and many guests got stuck due to the cyclone.

“We asked guests to vacate the top floor. We tried to keep them engaged by recreational activities during those seven days. All the telephones connections got snapped, there was no electricity even. We managed everything with generators,” he said.

However, some of the hoteliers are trying to turn this adversity into advantage and are encouraging visitors to undertake sightseeing tours of the cyclone ravaged state.

Source: IANS