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Kashmir’s gain is Himachal’s loss
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SHIMLA, Nov 27(Agencies): For nearly two decades, Himachal Pradesh has bee the preferred holiday destination for national and international tourists. In the process making tourism industry the main source of income for lakhs of local residents. But for the first time the state has witnessed a steady fall in number of tourist footfalls during the busy season this year. The main reason being tourists have been heading further north to Kashmir valley.

Tourism experts believe Kashmir has posed a stiff challenge to Himachal with return of peace in the valley. Tourism in Himachal had benefited after rise of militancy in Kashmir in early 90s and now it appears the latter is on way to regain its lost glory. In the last three months, Himachal has already witnessed around 20% fall in tourist arrivals and now bookings for Christmas and New Year too are being cancelled at some tourist towns as people are planning to celebrate in Kashmir.

With tourism industry ensuring bread and butter for lakhs of people in the state, even the tourism industry is worried recognizing that the trend can trigger a mass exodus of tourists from the state. To add to this, the state is offering no fresh incentives to woo travelers.

Realizing that opening up of the Kashmir valley after over 20 years of terrorism is going to attract tourists in hordes, Himachal Pradesh tourist department has started an exercise to sensitize hoteliers and travel agents to enhance their service quality. A "to do and not to do" letter has already been mailed by tourism director Arun Sharma to all hoteliers and travel agents.

Sources in the tourism department said, a majority of tourist coming to Himachal never return due to their bitter experience that includes overcharging, misbehave by hotel staff, taxi driver and travel agents, besides problems like accommodation, parking and scarcity of water.

During the turmoil in Kashmir valley, tourists had no other option other than Himachal towns like Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala-McLeodganj and Dalhousie. But since summer season this year, tourists are straightway heading for Kashmir leaving the tourism industry of Himachal in the lurch. Naveen Tanwar, an hotelier from Manali, said this year Kashmir has already attracted tourists rush in a big way as Manali is witnessing a lean season. "Last year we used to turn down hundreds of booking requests much before Christmas and New Year, but this time rooms are lying vacant as tourists have preferred Kashmir," he said. He added that Himachal lacks direct air connectivity with tourist destinations, besides regular problems like water shortage, traffic and parking chaos.

Many hoteliers in Manali confirmed that advance booking for Christmas and New Year have been cancelled as tourist are heading for Kashmir. "People want to enjoy Christmas and New Year amidst snowfall while snow has eluded Himachal on these occasions in past. This year too snowfall chances are bleak," said Ashok Rudingwa, a Manali-based hotelier.

State tourism director Arun Sharma said that opening up of Kashmir valley has definitely posed a challenge but with the improvement in quality of product (tourism services) the situation can be tackled effectively. He said Himachal can counter Kashmir with its rural tourism initiative and festivals like Masroor international festival in Kangra starting from December 21 during winters. Sharma said that efforts are being made to ensure that tourists visiting the state once, come again next time.


News Updated at : Wednesday, November 28, 2012
 
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