And now, meltdown takes a toll on pilgrimages

December 16th, 2008 - 12:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Dec 16 (IANS) Even the gods have been impacted by the global financial crisis and its effect on the Indian economy.Government and private buses from Bangalore to the Tirupati shrine in Andhra Pradesh and the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala in Kerala do not have many takers these days, forcing operators to reduce the number of trips.

The story was entirely different a few months ago, particularly in the case of a visit to the hill temple of Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati: one had to reserve seats at least one week prior to the journey date.

The rush of devotees to Tirupati, around 260 km from Bangalore, was such that many private taxi operators in India’s IT hub did roaring business, deploying up to eight vehicles a day.

Right now, it is the main pilgrim season in Sabarimala (November to January), about 750 km from Bangalore. But both government and private operators say business is dull on this sector too.

The decline is not restricted to only devotees. It is across the board, say tour operators.

For a large number of both foreign and domestic tourists, Bangalore serves as a hub to visit not only Tirupati but hill resort Ooty (Udhagamandalam) in Tamil Nadu as well. Ooty is 290 km from Bangalore and 535 km from Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

The situation has come to such a pass that the central government-run India Tourism Development Corp (ITDC) has cancelled several of its daily schedules and merged a few, after witnessing a steady decrease of tourists.

“Business has fallen drastically. We have made huge revenue losses in recent months. Most of our coaches, which can carry 45 passengers each, are running half empty,” said an ITDC official.

ITDC usually runs four coaches a day to Tirupati, two to Mysore-Udhagamandalam and one to Mysore.

“Now we have been forced to reduce the number of coaches to Tirupati by two and only one coach is operating on the Bangalore-Mysore-Udhagamandalam route,” said the official.

State government-run operators relate a similar tale.

“We have experienced a 40 percent decrease in revenue in the last four months. The number of passengers traveling in our buses from Bangalore to Andhra Pradesh has fallen drastically,” an Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corp official in Bangalore told IANS.

The corporation runs eight buses from Bangalore to various places in Andhra Pradesh, including Tirupati.

An official of the Kerala Tourism Corp, stationed in Bangalore, said on condition of anonymity that never before had the corporation experienced such a heavy loss of revenue.

“Due to the economic slowdown, the number of tourists from Bangalore to Kerala has reduced heavily. Most of our clients are IT professionals. As the IT industry itself is reeling under the pressure of global financial crisis, we have suffered,” said the official.

Taxi operators are worse off.

“Our business has fallen almost 50 percent in the last few months,” said S. Mohandas, manager of Metro City Taxi, a tourist taxi operator in the Banashankari area here.

“Generally, we arrange tour for domestic and foreign tourists across Karnataka. However, most Indian tourists from places like Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad prefer to go to pilgrimage sites like Tirupati and Sabarimala. But of late the number of tourists making pilgrimages has dwindled drastically,” he said.

“We used to engage 10 taxis a day for tourists visiting various places of Karnataka. Now, the number has come down to four to five a day,” he said, adding, “If the situation continues, we might have to close our shop.”

Echoing Mohandas, Sridhar Raman, manager of Annaporna Car Links, at Wilson Gardens in the central business district here, said business was almost nil in the last three months.

“There is almost no business for us. Earlier we used to send around eight taxis to Tirupati, Mysore and Hampi (a Unesco world heritage site in north Karnataka). Now, only one or two of our taxis get hired a day,” said Raman.

Although there is no official figure, the city has around 60 tourist taxi operators. In fact, the entire tourism industry in Karnataka is in doldrums.

According to figures available with the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corp (KSTDC), the number of tourists visiting Karnataka fell by 70 percent in the first eight months of the year, compared to the same period last year — around 6.5 million as against 21 million.

The number of foreign tourists visiting the state between January and August 2008 was about 75,000. In the same period in 2007, the number was around 245,000, the KSTDC figures show.

“Global economic recession is the primary reason behind tourists, both domestic and foreign, shying away from travelling,” tourism director K. Vishwanatha Reddy told IANS.

Now security concern has become another factor following the Mumbai terror attacks, he said.

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