Rather than starting with an all flowery accolade to the beauty of Himachal, let’s see why it never reaches the potential it has. While numbers and statistics of tourism in Himachal show a soaring growth trajectory, the ground reality is abysmal.
It is not just the infrastructure or the facilities. It is the overall take of the government towards tourism in Himachal. Most of this has been comprehensively discussed previously in ‘Himachal missed the ‘God’s own country’ bus’.
Let’s facts check few points here back from 2017:
- 153 lakh tourists visited Himachal Pradesh in first nine months of that is between January and September.
- Tourism contributed 6.8 per cent to the Gross State Domestic Product and constant efforts were being made to increase it, the official said. This is expected to rise to GSDP 18% by 2021-2022.
- There are 63 operational helipads, with plans for a few more helipads in the pipeline. New helipads are planned to be developed in Shimla and multiple tourist destinations across the state to boost the tourism activities. However, the proposal for building new helipads at Banredu, near the bye-pass of Sanjauli-Dhali is under construction.
- The state government has taken an initiative to introduce heli-taxi services, which are expected to improve connectivity and open up remote areas for tourists. Presently, these services are being operated in the Mani-Mahesh sector, Chamba district, during the ManiMahesh Yatra. Participation of private players would be encouraged to initiate helicopter services from Chandigarh to Shimla and other tourist destinations, in turn promoting tourism in the state.
- In March 2016, the Gaggal airport of Kangra recorded 150 aircraft movements and passenger traffic of 8,377 people.
- The tourism sector of Himachal Pradesh contributes to 7.2% in the state GDP. In order to boost tourism in the state, Asian Development Bank (ADB) has sanctioned a loan of US$ 95 million. Phase 1 work of US$ 33 million is already under implementation. In the 2016-17 state budget tourism infrastructure projects are proposed under the ADB.
- Along the district of Kangra, projects related to development of tourism infrastructure in Jawalamukhi, DharamshalaMcLeodganj, development of Naldehra, restoration of two churches at Shimla, etc. shall be awarded during 2016-17.
- As per the budget 2016-17, the state government proposed to establish several ropeway projects in the state which include Toba to Shri Naina Devi Ji in Bilaspur District, Dharamkot to Triund in Kangra District, Bashal Kanda in Shimla/Kinnaur
- District, Bhunter to Bijli Mahadev in Kullu District, etc. which are under the public private partnership mode whose bidding process is projected to commence during 2016-17.
- As of May 2015, there were 3,250 registered hotels in the state.
- In the 2016-17 Budget, tourism department has proposed an investment of US$ 15.28 million under Himalayan Circuit project for development of tourist destinations in the state.
- Domestic tourist inflows in the state increased from 11.04 million in 2009 to 17.12 million in 2015.
- To boost tourism, the state plans to set up a golf course and improve connectivity by increasing the number of helipads.
Traffic is a mammoth nightmare
Shimla, the gate to Himachal, needless to say, is heavily choked with traffic jams. During peaks hours on a normal day, it takes an arduous amount of time to get from one place to another. Just imagine what happens to the traffic when tourist season is in its full flow. Though a lot is being done – widening of the roads, following alternative routes etc. but that won’t suffice.
Finding a parking is like winning a war
Parking has been a serious problem in Himachal, especially Shimla. I have literally seen people fighting for a small space. And the local residents have to find faraway nooks to park their car because the designated packing spaces want to earn money by quoting higher prices at peak seasons to tourist.
Poor air connectivity
Among the three airports of the hill state – Jubbarhatti in Shimla, Bhuntar in Kullu and Gaggal in Kangra district, none have regular flights. The airport in Kangra does have a daily connectivity to Delhi, even though it is through smaller ATR-72s.
Shimla has recently resumed flights at the Jubbarhatti Airport but the regularity is still an issue.
The issues behind connectivity root from lack of basic infrastructure problems. There’s no night landing facility, runways are small and airports can’t handle a large influx of people. The three airports here are not adequately stocked with other amenities like restaurants, food kiosk etc. The flights are also frequently cancelled due to bad weather.
Growing competition from Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand
Tourists are also flocking to Jammu & Kashmir which is slowly opening up; with Uttarakhand too winning the spot among travellers. Needless to say, they have better connectivity and with time they will win the tourism bandwagon.
Even the branding and marketing of Himachal isn’t up to the mark. In fact, there’s no marketing, the Incredible Himachal promotion still lags behind. In a time where social media, internet and other ways to promote are being used by other states, Himachal is way-way behind. I am yet to see a full-fledged, contemporary and swanky ad campaign thoroughly dedicated to Himachal tourism.
Even railway connectivity isn’t a huge hit in Himachal
Yes, Shimla–Kalka railway is a World Heritage, declared by UNESCO, but the railway connectivity hasn’t improved or evolved an inch in the state for many many years. It is still cashing on the infrastructure that was set by the British.
No new routes have been explored, no modernization, no new technology implemented. Believe me, if a tourist is given a better connectivity option, they would choose to travel to Himachal via flights or fast-moving trains. The altitude sickness coupled with motion sickness through meandering roads isn’t something everyone loves. Hence, an immense scope for improvement lies in improving the overall transportation sphere of Himachal Pradesh
Not much done to promote eco-tourism
Himachal Pradesh is gifted with topographic diversity, historical monuments and religious shrines. But along with this, the state is also balanced on the fulcrum of fragile environment. Nothing has been done to promote eco-tourism in this state at the scale it needs to be done. This has both an opportunity for the tourism industry to gain more momentum, while also save the ecosystem of the state.
The State’s Forest Department alone manages more than 400 forest bungalows that are located at various peak points across the length and breadth of the State. But there is no promotion done on behalf of the department or any advert related targeted at eco-tourism.
The department is also directly in charge of about 5,000 kilometers long network of bridle paths and inspection trails criss-crossing through the most beautiful forests of the State. This gives visitors myriad opportunities to trek across mountain passes, to remote temples, crystal clear lakes and traditional villages. These facilities beckon the young and the old alike to come and enjoy the best of Himachal Pradesh in its entire splendor.
Lack of promoting local handicraft and art
Himachal Pradesh has a rich heritage of handicrafts. These include woolen and pashmina shawls, carpets, silver and metal ware, embroidered chappals, grass shoes, Kangra and Gompa style paintings, wood work, horse-hair bangles, wooden and metal utensils and various other houses hold items.
There is such a huge treasure of local handcraft in Himachal that if promoted it will be a hit both in national and international markets. But the there has been no attempt by the Government to either support or promoted local handicraft. If nothing is done then with time these timeless legacy might just vanish in oblivion forget about attracting tourists.
Tourism has been repeatedly tagged as one of the most important sectors for the state economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings and creation of employment opportunities. If it is attached with local handicraft and specialties, just imagine the scope of employment it can unearth.
Safety threats to tourism in Himachal Pradesh
A tragic incident at Thalout took place where 24 engineering students along with their co-tour guide were washed away in the Beas River. Then two French nationals went missing from Triund while trekking Dhauladhar.
A tourist from Hyderabad was killed and his wife injured when they collided with a tree while riding a ropeway at Kufri near Shimla. Such incidents have brought a bad name to Himachal Tourism and projected it in a bad light.
The safety of tourists has always been the concern with law and order seldom being an issue in the state. But other safety aspects do matter such as with adventure sports which are a prominent highlight of the state.
There are many illegal operators in the ropeway business with either inadequate knowledge on safety norms or foolproof safety equipment. The foolproof safety steps taken by Goa, Bangkok, Switzerland and Malaysia need to be studied in detailed and need to be emulated which presently stay amiss.
With such positive numbers that show how tourism in Himachal is growing and can grow, the tourists in Himachal face quite a lot of woes. And the inadequacy of the facilities, lack of infrastructure and proper planning and management, in turn, crumples down at peak tourist seasons with the huge influx. This creates troubles for both the tourists and the residents.
The tourism industry is the source of livelihood to many across the state and it also contributes to state’s overall economy. Hence it makes sense to invest time, management and monetary support into it. Nature has truly blessed Himachal with a unique beauty and awe-inspiring splendour. But if it is not projected the way it should be the government then tourism in Himachal will suffer.