Tourists have been thronging Himachal Pradesh as the heatwave has hit the plains and the second wave of COVID-19 seeing a significant decline in the country. People from the plains are visiting tourist hotspots like Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Dalhousie, Manali, Lahaul and other places in the hill state in large numbers to get rid of the scorching heat.
The occupancy in the hotels has increased in the past few days but it has yet to reach its peak, said Mohinder Seth, president of Tourism Industry Stakeholder Association. “The occupancy in the hotels remains between 60 and 90 percent during weekends, while on other days it remains around 40-45 percent,” Seth told PTI.
Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association president Sanjay Sood said the withdrawal of the condition of negative RTPCR report and e-covid pass to enter Himachal Pradesh recently has given a boost to the tourism industry of the state.
However, the increase in the number of tourists has posed a challenge to the state government to ensure adhering of Covid protocol by the visitors amid fears of an impending third wave of coronavirus infections.
Asserting that the hoteliers have been following Covid protocol in their premises for over a year, Sood hoped that the number of tourists would further increase in the coming days. A tourist, Nikita Kukreja, said the majority of the visitors were seen following Covid protocol. She along with her family members has come from Gurgaon to visit various tourist places in and around Shimla.
“Police personnel are also seen at various places on Mall road. As and when they see any tourist not wearing a mask, they warn that tourist to properly follow Covid protocol,” she said.
Another tourist from Delhi Sanjana said the oppressive heatwave in the national capital forced her to visit the state. Mohinder Seth said the state government has not provided any relief in the shape of financial aid or waiver of taxes to the tourism industry hit hard by the COVID-10 pandemic.
While the Gujarat government has provided a hundred percent relief to hoteliers by waiving of property tax and garbage collection fees, Maharashtra and Odisha governments have given fifty percent relief, he claimed seeking relief on the same pattern in Himachal Pradesh.
In Kullu district, Atal Tunnel Rohtang (ATR) has become a major attraction for visitors.
A record number of 6,400 vehicles had crossed the tunnel last Sunday. “This was the highest single-day and highest till date arrivals,” said Manav Verma, Superintendent of Police Lahaul-Spiti, adding 2,001 vehicles crossed the tunnel on Friday.
However, Budhi Prakash Thakur, state convener, Forum of Hotel and Restaurant Association, told PTI, "The occupancy in hotels is dismal and figures hang around less than 25 percent.”
As the tourism industry is yet to pick up the pace, the Manali town is not witnessing the usual summer season traffic jams. In Chamba district, the tourist inflow to Dalhousie, Khajjiar and Chamba is picking up gradually. The hoteliers are upbeat as there was an acute slump in the tourism business for the last over one year due to the pandemic.
Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association Dalhousie chief patron Manoj Chadha believes that since this is the peak tourist season due to summer, the tourist influx would further increase if the conditions continue to be the same.
The charming hill station Dalhousie has the potential to attract tourists from home and abroad, he added.