Gujjar protests, rains hit Himachal tourism(Lead)

June 12th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, June 12 (IANS) Untimely rains in northern India and the prolonged Gujjar protests in Rajasthan have hit hard the tourism industry in Himachal Pradesh, with many tourists cancelling their bookings. In May and June, the hill state usually gets a lot of tourists from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi wanting to escape the summer heat.

But there are few tourists this year. 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 Gujjars in Rajasthan. The fall in mercury due to untimely rain in the plains has also discouraged tourists from coming here,” he said.

The violent protests by by Gujjars in Rajasthan demanding tribal status for better job and educational opportunities has led to blockades of rail tracks and highways. This has dissuaded many people from travelling.

Even government-run hotels in Himachal are reporting low occupancy.

“Most hotels in Kasauli, Chail, Manali and Dharamsala are facing cancellations,” said Ram Subhag Singh, managing director of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp.

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

The foreign tourists are yet to start arriving. They usually start coming by the end of June and depart with the onset of winter.

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

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

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

Last year, more than 8.8 million tourists, including 339,000 foreigners, travelled to Himachal Pradesh. This is more than the population of the state - 6.5 million.

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

A desperate state government is planning to organise an apple festival in Kullu. It will include paragliding, mountain biking and river rafting competitions as well as a Himalayan marathon. It is aimed at attracting visitors.

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