Prolonged rains, recession hit Himachal tourism industry

Shimla, Oct 13 (IANS) Prolonged rains, general slowdown and the Uttarakhand tragedy have taken a toll on the tourism sector in Himachal Pradesh, known for delicious apples and picture-perfect destinations.

According to the state's hospitality industry, most of the tourist destinations like Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Kalpa, Dharamsala, Palampur and Manali have seen a downturn since the Uttarakhand disaster in mid-June.

"We don't understand where the tourists have gone," said Harnam Kukreja, president of the Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurants Association.

"It's generally the peak season when the holidaymakers mainly from West Bengal descend on this town with the onset of Durga Puja," he said.

The global recession has also severely hit the arrival of tourists - both domestic and overseas.

"We get a good number of corporate clients during this period. In the name of cutting 'wasteful' expenditure, a number of corporate conferences have been cancelled or postponed," Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.

"The current occupancy rate for Manali and Shimla hotels is 60 percent. In other destinations, it's quite bad. Otherwise it's almost chock-a-block with tourists with the onset of Navratras till Diwali," Behl added.

But trade representatives are expecting good arrival of tourists this week with a number of public holidays lined up, starting with Id-ul-Zuha Wednesday till Maharishi Balmiki Jayanti Saturday.

Manali and nearby destinations, which otherwise get a large chunk of foreigners, saw a decline in business this season, said Manali Travel Agents Association president Anil Sharma.

The foreigners, he said, have either opted for Leh in Jammu and Kashmir or cancelled their bookings owing to irregular flights to and from the state.

Sharma said the tragedy in Uttarakhand has created a fear psychosis among the foreigners.

Hotelier M.C. Thakur, who is based in Manali, said early arrival of monsoon in the plains has affected at least 50 percent of the business of hoteliers and travel agencies.

"Now longest monsoon spell is hitting the business. The fall in mercury due to untimely rain not only in the hills but also in the plains, especially in the north, has discouraged the tourists," he added.

Higher reaches in Kullu-Manali region, including the Pir Panjal, Brighu, Chaderkhani and Hampta, have already been wrapped in a blanket of snow.

The state economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.

Himachal Pradesh last year got 1.61 crore tourists, including 497,850 foreigners, a state tourism department report said.

At present, 2,169 hotels with a total capacity of 55,928 beds are registered with the state, it said.

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