Gujjar agitation, rains hits Himachal tourism industry

June 12th, 2008 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, June 12 (IANS) Untimely rain in the northern plains and the prolonged Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan have affected the tourism industry of Himachal Pradesh, with many tourists having cancelled their bookings. In May and June, the hill state usually gets a lot of tourists from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana, wanting to escape the summer heat. However, there are few tourists this year and over 20 percent of the hotels and travel agencies here are reeling under losses, Ashwani Sood, general secretary of the Shimla Hotel Association, told IANS.

“Most of our bookings have been cancelled because of the disruption of road and train services by Gujjar protestors in Rajasthan. The fall in mercury due to untimely rain in the plains has also discouraged tourists from coming here,” he said.

At least 39 people have been killed in the past fortnight in violence associated with protests by Gujjars in Rajasthan, who are demanding tribal status for better job and educational opportunities.

The protestors have blocked highways and rail tracks, disrupting traffic across the country. This has dissuaded many people from travelling. The state government-run hotels in Himachal are also bearing the brunt of this and occupancy is low.

“Most of our hotels in Kasauli, Chail, Manali and Dharamsala towns are facing cancellations due to the Gujjar agitation and cool weather in the plains,” said Ram Subhag Singh, managing director of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation.

“Overall, the arrival of domestic tourists has declined this year,” president of the Manali Hoteliers Association Tek Chand Thakur said.

However, the arrival of foreign tourists is yet to begin. They start coming by June-end and depart with the onset of winter.

“If the agitation continues, it might hit the arrival of foreign tourists as well. The scenes of agitation on news channels might discourage them from visiting India,” said M.C. Thakur, a Manali-based hotelier.

Surprisingly, many government guest houses in Shimla and Manali have full occupancy.

“Most of our guests are from within the state itself and have come for official work,” said Bhim Singh, a caretaker of the Himachal Housing Board guest house in Shimla.

Last year, more than 8.8 million tourists, including 339,000 foreigners, travelled to the state.

Shimla emerged as the favourite destination of domestic tourists, with over two million visiting the town. Foreign tourists mostly flocked to Kullu and Manali.

Interestingly, the number of tourists visiting Himachal last year was higher than the state’s population of about 6.5 million.

But things don’t look rosy for the tourism industry this time and the state government is planning to organise an apple festival in Kullu district, which will include paragliding, mountain biking and river rafting competitions as well as a Himalayan marathon to attract visitors.

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