Eateries and small traders here are feeling the pinch as the famous beating retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border has been suspended due to the coronavirus scare, stemming the flow of tourists to the area. It has also hit the hotel and tourism industry in the holy city. Each day, nearly 50,000 tourists used to visit the border, mainly to catch a glimpse of the beating retreat ceremony, which has been suspended till further orders.
Taxi operator Raman Sharma said before the ceremony was suspended, he used to get hundreds of bookings every day. He used to provide vehicles -- ranging from small cars to sedans and multi-purpose and sports utility vehicles -- to tourists to travel to the international border. "My business has been hit hard after the retreat ceremony was suspended recently," Sharma said on Thursday.
He said he had to pay salary to 20 drivers who worked for him, but things had become difficult for him now. Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Shivdullar Singh Dhillon said, "The retreat ceremony was stopped due to the increasing fear of coronavirus and the decision to suspend the event was taken keeping public health in view. The ban on public entry will continue till further orders."
"Sarhad", a popular hotel-cum-restaurant on the nearly-25-km Amritsar-Attari road leading to the border, wears a deserted look these days. Owner Aman Jaspal said the footfall at his restaurant had dropped sharply after the retreat ceremony was suspended.
"In the current circumstances, the government should exempt the hotel industry from service tax since running expenditure like staff salary, electricity bill and other things cannot be avoided. The government should at least take small steps to save the hotels near the Indo-Pak border," he said.
"We are not the only sufferers. Many people like rehriwallas, dozens of kiosks, small traders have shut down their evening business for the time being and it will be tough for them to get two square meals if the current situation continues for a few more days," Jaspal added.
Amandeep Singh, an autorickshaw driver, said, "More than one hundred autorickshaws used to ply on the Attari road. Most of the drivers have purchased new autorickshaws by taking loans, but with no tourists to ferry now, paying bank installments and earning livelihood have become difficult."
Surinder Singh, president, Amritsar Federation of Hotel and Guest Houses, said there was a 50-per cent fall in bookings due to the coronavirus scare.
"A 50-per cent cancellation in online hotel bookings has been reported. When tourists come to know that they cannot visit the border to watch the retreat ceremony, they cancel their booking," he said.
Amritsar is also a preferred destination for many filmmakers, but the coronavirus scare has not even spared this sector, Ajaydeep Singh Salothra, owner of Bioscope Production House, said.