Natural Disasters

Odisha’s tourism sector hit by Cyclone Fani

The cyclone hit Odisha coast at a time when large number of tourists were expected to flock to the state

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Sunday 05 May 2019
Photo: Ashis Senapati

Cyclone Fani has taken a toll on Odisha. And it is likely to weigh on the already struggling tourism industry in the state. Fani, the second most powerful cyclone to have hit Odisha, paralysed the state after it made landfall in Puri on May 3, 2019 with a wind speed of 175 kilometres per hour. 

Over 12 million tourists arrive in Odisha every year, and the sector sees a growth of 9-10 per cent annually, according to media reports. The state government had even announced "investments to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore in the tourism sector by 2021".

"Fani has  severely affected  tourism in PuriChilika Lake, Konark, Gopalpur and other coastal areas. Large number of tourists, particularly foreigners, cancelled their bookings after Fani  hit the state,” said, Benjamin Simon a tour operator and the founder of Travel Link Private Limited. 

Many tourists fled Puri before the cyclone hit the city. Now, the beach strip stands eerily empty. Shops, restaurants and hotels lay vacant in what usually is one of the busiest months of the year. 

"It went from high season just a few days ago to absolutely nothing," siad Prasant Das who owns a beach-side restaurant in Puri.   

"We've lost a lot of bookings and future guests are in wait-and-see mode. I don't think people will choose Puri this summer. I don't foresee any long-term tourism impact, but the short-term impacts are heartbreaking for local communities,” said Balaram Tripathy a hotel owner in Puri. 

A recent report by the state government put the state’s coastal zone as the “most” vulnerable in the country to reoccurrence of storms and severe storms. In every 15 months, the state faces re-occurrence of such storms. 

Recurring natural disasters is already an economic challenge for the state, one of the poorest in the country. Saudamini Das of Institute of Economic Growth in her research paper Economics of Natural Disasters in Odisha states that natural disasters have definitely put pressure on the state economy, and it is going to get worse.    

"There are already signs that people are having doubts about visiting Odisha this summer. Many have seen pictures of some cyclone-affected areas, and are under the impression that the whole state is affected,” added Tripathy. 

"Fani has  also dealt a big blow to the tourism, particularly tribal tourism in Koraput, Malkangiri and  Gajapati  districts as many tourists visit Bonda villages and tribal haat in Malkangiri district,” said Pratap Das, a tour operator of Bhubaneswar.  

The cyclone hit Odisha coast at a time when large number of tourists were expected to flock to the state. The economy of many nearby villages is dependent on tourism, especially the boatmen around Chilika Lake 

The fate of around 200 private boat owners in Chilika Lake hangs in balance. “I renovated my boat, spending Rs 1 lakh last month, to ferry tourists in Chilika Lake during the peak tourist season. But the cyclone has dashed all my hopes to get more money,” said  Sangram Behera, a boat owner of  Satapada village near Chilika Lake. 

“The scale of damage caused by Cyclone Fani is massive and horrifying. Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha known as the temple city, was cut off due to the strong winds. Raghupur village, known as heritage craft village, and Pipli, famous for applique handicrafts, have also been severely battered. 

"Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. We suffered huge losses in the summer tourism season,” said Mahendra Mohapatra an artisan of Pipili. 

“Repairing damaged infrastructure such as houses, roads, power structures and communication network is vital for the government. However, rebuilding the tourism sector and the loss of livelihood will take much longer. Puri is heavily dependent on tourism. We hope to attract tourists once again after the restoration,” said Adiya Prasad Padhi, chief secretary in the Odisha government. 

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