The recent calamity in Uttarakhand, triggered by apocalyptic floods in India’s northern hilly state, is a disaster with ripples reaching far and wide, hitting hard the tourism industry, the lynchpin of the state’s economy.
Uttarakhand, home to many picturesque, hauntingly beautiful places, depends almost entirely on tourism, and is not done with its misfortunes just yet. It now faces the spectre of a downsized tourist season across the board – even those places that remained largely unaffected are seeing mass tourist cancellations like Mussoorie, Lansdowne, Kausani, Jim Corbett, Dehradun and Nainital. Cancellations extend up to September and even October, as tourists keep away, fearing unexpected bouts of bad weather. The cancellations are touching 50 per cent and the tourism industry is feeling the pinch sorely.
According to a trade body study, the tourism industry will be hit to the tune of Rs 12,000 crores (over $2 billion USD). Uttarakhand ranks eighth among all states on India’s tourism map.
“Uttarakhand was expected to generate Rs. 25,000 crore ($5 billion) from tourism in 2013-14. Although Rs 5,000-6,000 crore have been generated from the first three months alone, the state is expected to realise only Rs 5,000-6,000 (around $1 billion) in the coming months as major tourism destinations have been washed away by recent floods,” SP Sharma, Chief Economist at the PHD Chamber said, quoting the PHDCCI survey. The tourism sector contributes as much as 25 to 30 per cent of the state’s GDP, and therefore the state exchequer is likely to take a major hit, Sharma added.
“GSDP of Uttarakhand at factor cost at current prices stands at about Rs 1,07,548crore as on March 31, 2013. However, 11 per cent of the GSDP has been washed away in terms of prospective tourism earnings due to floods that engulfed the state in mid of this month,” says Saurabh Sanyal, the executive director of PHDCCI.
Prateek Hira of Tornos examines the impact closely. “As of now, we have lost more than 50 per cent bookings in the Kumaon region, a separate pocket. People are scared of going even to typical locations like Nainital and Mussoorie or off-beat destinations like Bageshwar and Pithoragarh,” says Hira. The losses can be verified by other Uttarakhand-based operators.
“What we are facing is like mass exodus. Far from matching up last year’s average, we have not earned even half of it.” Most of domestic travelers to Kumaon destinations are from northern states, particularly Delhi and UP, he says.
Uttarakhand, which is known for its Chardham pilgrimage circuit (four holiest places for Hindus) and hill stations, hardly saw any tourists this year. “Earlier we used to charge 3,500 for a day trip to Mussoourie but now we are ready to go for 20% less,” says Amrit Bhasin, a taxi driver.
Travel operators in Delhi are not sure how long it will take for the state to recover from the terrible devastation. The floods have washed away entire villages and small towns, destroyed entire roads, and cut off large swathes with homes, hotels and businesses. Power lines have been damaged in a big way too.
Major pilgrimage centres have also suffered untold damage. Insiders feel that pilgrimages to Kedarnath and Badrinath, home to among the most revered Hindu shrines, are unlikely for months, if not a few years. Such stories of doom do little good to boost the spirit of tourism!
Sharat Dhall, president of the travel website, Yatra.com, says that Goa, Kerala and Ladakh are favoured substitutes among tourists. “Every year, 23 to 24 lakh pilgrims arrive in the state for the Char DhamYatra — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The disaster has hit tourism badly. “If we consider government figures, thousands of hotels, inns and residential houses have been severely affected by the flood and hundreds among them have been obliterated,” said A. K. Dwivedi, joint director, State Tourism Department.
According to Uttaranchal’s Tourism Minister Amrita Rawat, “the disaster has affected tourism in the state badly and it will take a long time to assess the damage caused thereby.” As an exceptional case, the Union Minister of Tourism Dr K. Chiranjeevi has announced a special package of Rs 100 crore (around 20 billion USD) for restoration and reconstruction of the affected government tourist facilities.
The state government has been advised to assess the destroyed and damaged tourist amenities and conveniences and come back with the requirement of funds for rebuilding infrastructure. The Ministry of Tourism has promised financial assistance.
The funds sanctioned in the relief package will be utilized for restoration and reconstruction of tourist infrastructure across the State with a special focus on tourist facilities along yatra route which will be used for providing shelter to the disaster hit pilgrims and tourists.
It might be a while before tourists return to Uttarakhand – and perhaps, during that time, the gods will feel lonely in their wind-swept mountain shrines. Does that knowledge add weight to the government and social effort to rebuild and repair?
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