Uttarakhand disaster deals body blow to tourism

New Delhi, June 28 (IANS) The devastating floods in Uttarakhand have strangled the booming tourist industry too in the picturesque mountainous state, and experts say recovery will take a long time.

Mass cancellations by tourists and pilgrim groups have taken place in Uttarakhand, affecting even places that did not experience what has turned out to be one of the worst ever natural disasters in the state.

The cancellations extend to the months of July, August and September.

"The impact of the floods is being felt by hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital, Jim Corbett, Dehradun, Lansdowne and Kasauni," Richa Goyal Sikri, director of STIC Travel Group, told IANS.

"Travellers are reconsidering their plans due to exaggerated reports of the bad weather and road conditions," she said.

Hundreds have been killed -- some fear the toll could be much more -- and thousands have lost everything since floods caused by torrential rains led to death and destruction nearly a fortnight ago.

The cancellation rates are touching an alarming 50 percent, giving a huge blow to a region where large numbers live on tourism.

According to industry experts, tourists who were booked for Uttarakhand are now looking at southern India and even Southeast Asian countries.

"Travellers are changing their itinerary. There has been an increase in demand for destinations such as Srinagar, Goa and Kerala and Rajasthan," said Sharat Dhall, president of yatra.com

"Interestingly, travellers are also working out the options of going abroad, particularly to Southeast Asian destinations," he added.

Travel operators in Delhi are not sure how long it would take for the state to recover from the terrible devastation.

According to one business study, the loss to the tourism industry on account of the floods is estimated at Rs.12,000 crores. Uttarakhand ranks eighth among all states on the tourism map.

The floods have washed away entire villages and small towns and destroyed entire roads, cutting off large areas, as well as homes, hotels and businesses. They have majorly damaged power lines.

Major pilgrimage centres have also suffered terrible damage. Pilgrimages to places like Kedarnath and Badrinath, home to among the most revered Hindu shrines, are unlikely for months, if not a few years.

In the immediate aftermath of the June 14-15 disaster, travel agencies in the capital got busy helping rescue clients who got stranded in the hills.

Industry insiders say the state will be able to bounce back by the next tourism season only if all government departments and bodies in the state work in coordination.

"The government says it will take three years for the state to get back to normalcy but the duration will be longer seeing the loss of infrastructure," warned George Kutty of the Travel Agents Association of India.

(Shradha Chettri can be contacted at shradha.c@ians.in)

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