Tourists throng Himachal as Kashmir sees protests

June 16th, 2009 - 11:17 am ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, June 16 (IANS) One hill state’s loss has been another’s gain. With Jammu and Kashmir witnessing unrest over the alleged rape and murder of two women, neighbouring Himachal Pradesh has seen a sudden surge in tourist footfalls.

Tourism industry representatives are expecting an increase of 25 to 30 percent in the arrival of tourists this month, particularly in hill stations like Manali, Shimla and Dharamsala.

According to the state tourism department, information centres and hotels across the state are getting 20 to 25 enquiries daily from those who cancelled their bookings in Jammu and Kashmir after protests there since the beginning of this month over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian.

Thomas Philip, a tourist from Kerala, said: “The protests in Srinagar had spoilt our plans to visit there. Due to the fear of getting stuck there, we cancelled our bookings and decided to enjoy the cool climes of Manali.”

Travel operators too attribute the sudden surge in tourists, mainly to the protests in Kashmir Valley.

“The tourism sector in the hill state has got a major fillip after escalation of protests in the Kashmir Valley in the last few days,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.

“Since Himachal is a peaceful state, a sudden escalation of unrest or militant activities in trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir helps our hospitality industry. Most tourists, especially from Rajasthan and Maharashtra, have cancelled their bookings there and are now looking for popular spots in the Himachal hills,” he added.

The HPTDC’s hotels in Shimla, Manali and Dalhousie, apart from a host of other locations, are almost jampacked.

Manali-based tour and travel operator Anil Sharma said: “We are experiencing about a 25-30 percent increase in tourists this month as compared to previous years due to unrest in the neighbouring state.”

According to Sharma, any escalation of tension in the Valley leads to a spontaneous increase of tourists in Himachal Pradesh.

“Most of the tourists are bound for Vaishno Devi in Jammu. In case of volatile situations in the Valley, tourists prefer Dharamsala, Chamba, Dalhousie and Manali as these are located close to Jammu,” he added.

Himachal tourism secretary Manisha Nanda is optimistic about a good tourist season this time.

“We are expecting a good season as the arrival of tourists is increasing each day. In monetary terms, the state is hoping to bag an additional revenue of approximately Rs.2.5-3 million due to cancellation of bookings in Kashmir,” she said.

According to the state tourism department, this month every weekend Shimla and Manali are getting 40,000 to 50,000 tourists on an average.

The number of tourist arrivals Himachal Pradesh last year was well above the state’s population of about 6.5 million. The state attracted 9.37 million domestic and 367,000 foreign tourists. Kullu and Manali are the hotspots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.

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