Their business dented severely by the Covid-19 pandemic, owners of hotels, restaurants and other tourist-centric establishments operating in central Kolkata's New Market, Sudder Street and Free School Street met West Bengal Tourism Minister Indranil Sen yesterday, seeking his help to persuade the federal Indian government to resume issuing tourist visas to Bangladeshis who make up a sizeable chunk of the customers.
Most shops and hotels in and around New Market, Sudder Street and Free School Street and parts of iconic Park Street is devoid of cheer despite the upcoming Durga Puja and Diwali festivals, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
Around 200 budget hotels and guesthouses are shut, and so are several restaurants whose 50 percent customers come from Bangladesh.
With three months of lockdown and the pandemic keeping visitors from Bangladesh, customers haven't visited for seven months. Travel agencies, foreign exchange counters, hawkers and shops in and around the New Market look half-deserted, according to Calcutta Hotels, Guest Houses and Restaurants Owners Association's General Secretary Rajesh Sethi.
The Association urged the state government take up the issue with the federal government to revive the businesses in the region. The total loss in business in the belt is estimated to be around Rs 1,500 crore, according to one estimate.
The est Bengal Tourism Minister has advised the Association to write to the federal government and assured he would take up the matter after Durga Puja holidays.
The Association of traders in S S Hogg market, near New Market, said only 20-25 percent of the number of customers from the pre-pandemic period have returned for shopping, while Bangladeshis -- who make half of their client base -- are missing.
A major reason why shoppers are avoiding both New Market and S S Hogg Market is that they want to avoid narrow crowded streets there at a time when Kolkata is witnessing a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases. "This year, shops are doing around 10% of the business they did last Puja," said Hogg Market Traders' Association President Ashok Gupta.
With Durga Puja festival taking place under the shadow of the coronavirus, traders of the usually bustling Gariahat market in south Kolkata are also feeling the pinch due to absence of buyers from Bangladesh.