New Delhi: The chikungunya and dengue outbreak in the national capital has begun to impact travel and tourism sector ahead of the holiday season, with industry experts cautioning that if the health threat is not contained timely then it could result in losses to the economy.
Facing the twin viral onslaught, many Delhi residents are advising their friends and families in India and abroad to cancel or postpone visits to the city, which is seeing an upsurge of chikungunya after a gap of nearly 10 years.
"Our relatives from the US usually plan a trip to India around this time and they had even booked their tickets. But we asked them to postpone their trip because of the current situation in Delhi," said Rahul Desai, a corporate professional.
October-December is one of the peak travel seasons as festivals like Dussehra, Diwali and Christmas fall during it. This quarter, besides, April-June, is also seen as a major revenue-earning period for the travel sector.
Dengue and chikungunya have claimed at least 35 lives and over 2,800 people are down with mosquito-borne fever in the national capital.
"My friend from Mumbai was planning to visit Delhi with his family during this time. But I asked him to cancel his trip as Delhi is currently reeling under the impact of dengue and chikungunya," said Vijay Singh, a senior police officer.
The national capital registers "about 35 per cent" of India's total foreign tourist influx as it is used as a transit point during their travel.
"Delhi being hit the worst, the number of tourists visiting Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and other locations in the western state is coming down drastically with the state government itself cautioning tourists against the disease," according to an assessment by ASSOCHAM.
The umbrella industry body has cautioned that the health crisis must be dealt with on a "war-footing" by the Centre and the state governments as the disease taking "epidemic proportion" is expected to result in a "loss to the tourism and aviation industries".
"With increasing cases of chikungunya and dengue and the kind of negative reaction on the tourists, the traffic is set to drop drastically, leaving a bruising impact on businesses such as hotels, airlines, taxi operators and restaurants.
"Many tour operators are now gearing up with precautionary steps for foreigners arriving in Delhi during the peak tourist season set to begin from October," says D S Rawat, Secretary General of ASSOCHAM.
"Children are falling sick so families are not travelling. One can perceive the visible fall in footfall. So, it has affected our business," a Delhi-based tour operator said.
In the winter season, roughly 2.5-3 lakh foreign tourists visit the Golden Triangle circuit of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, accounting for about 30 per cent of the total number of the inbound traffic in the country, says ASSOCHAM.
According to official figures, the arrivals at the Delhi airport of foreign tourists with destinations is about 30 per cent of monthly traffic of about 8 lakh and most of them are headed for the Golden Triangle circuit.
"It (outbreak) may have an impact, though mass cancellations have not been witnessed so far. With holiday season about to begin this couldn't have come at a worse time.
"We hope the central and state governments take emergency measures to set matters right. At times perceptions and negative health advisories can create more havoc than actual ground reality," says Amber Dubey, partner and India head of aerospace and defence at global consultancy KPMG.
But it is not just the travel sector getting affected by the outbreak, even the film and entertainment industry is feeling its sting.
"We have been avoiding shooting in farmhouses and areas which aren't clean. We are avoiding shooting in villages and areas where there could be mosquito-breeding. Apart from this, we have made it mandatory for everyone to use mosquito repellents," says Abhinav Chopra, a line producer.
Members of the entertainment industry say despite taking precautions, people have contracted chikungunya while shooting.
A crew member of an upcoming TV show developed symptoms of chikungunya recently despite all the safety mechanisms in place. "We have been shooting in Chandani Chowk area for our show. We are taking all precautions like getting the place sprayed, wearing full-sleeved clothes," says Mumbai-based Sumeet Chaudhry, co-producer of the show.
Javed Khan, another Delhi-based line producer said, "The cast and crew have been mandated to wear full-sleeved shirts and pants. Earlier, during summers, we would wear capris and half-sleeved shirts but now we wear trousers and full-sleeved shirts. We also wear mosquito bands throughout the day."
According to ASSOCHAM, in all, the monthly foreign exchange earnings from the foreign tourists arrivals are between USD 1.5-2 billion a month during the winter season. While the arrivals get disbursed to Maharashtra, south India and Goa coasts, a large concentration is around the Golden triangle.
As per the data, the percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India during July 2016 among the top 15 source countries was highest from Bangladesh (17.30 per cent) followed by the US (16.51) and the UK (11.67).
The percentage share of FTAs in India during July 2016 among the top 15 ports was highest at the Delhi airport (26.22 per cent) followed by Mumbai airport (17.04) and Chennai airport (10.11 per cent), ASSOCHAM says.
India is targeting to attract one per cent of world tourists by 2020 and about 2 per cent by 2025, banking heavily on India's strong tourism potential.