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Single or double engine, govt should improve infra and connectivity in HP: Stakeholders

Irrespective of which party forms the next government, infrastructure development and fixing connectivity issues should be the main focus in Himachal Pradesh, stakeholders of the state’s tourism industry said.

The state and central government should complete projects on proposed airport constructions, improve rail connectivity and build facilities along the highways for tourists, they said.

“We are businessmen and do not wish to face the ire of any political party. Single engine or double engine, the government should work for development,” said Nishant Nag, the owner of a hotel and amusement park in Shimla.

The tourism economy of Himachal Pradesh accounted for seven per cent of state GDP amounting to INR 14,000 crore, and generates 14.2 per cent direct and indirect employment, as per the latest economic survey.

Candidates of both BJP and Congress contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Shimla, Mandi and Kangra seats have mentioned promotion of tourism and better connectivity as their priorities. Candidates in Dharamshala and Lahaul and Spiti assembly seat have also made similar promises.

Voting for the Lok Sabha elections in Himachal Pradesh will be held on June 1.

Manali Hoteliers Association president Mukesh Thakur said there is a dire need to expand the Bhuntar airport or construct an airport that allows the landing of 70-seater planes near tourism hub Manali.

He said flood protection from Beas river and setting up of waste management plants in all tourist destinations of the state was also required.

Thakur, who has appraised both Congress and BJP leaders of the demands of the hoteliers’ body, said a strong government with good financial management is needed to take up tourism projects.

Poor connectivity and paucity of parking spaces affects the tourism industry as tourists face inconvenience, Dharamshala Hotel and Restaurant Association President Ashwani Bamba told PTI.

Lack of projects for recreational activities in the tourism-dependent state also affects tourism, Bamba said.
Jammu and Kashmir scores over Himachal Pradesh in the tourism sector as it has better air connectivity with airports that allow big planes to land, he said.

Federation of Himachal Hotels and Restaurant Associations (FOHHRA) president Gajender Thakur told PTI that roadside facilities should be developed along the highways in line with foreign countries. Services such as petrol stations, motels, restaurants, car repair and other necessary facilities should be provided at one place, he said.

Pritam, a taxi driver from Shimla said that while the current focus is on “widening of roads and construction of National Highways, roadside facilities are also important to increase tourist inflow”.

Advertisements by the government to promote tourism, creation of parking lots and better infrastructure can make a difference, he added.

Tourists have also raised concerns regarding touts who fleece tourists, discouraging them from visiting the state.

Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had announced plans to make Kangra the tourist capital of the state with a target of five crore tourists annually in the coming years but such announcements have remained on papers with no concrete results visible on the ground, said a local hotelier seeking anonymity.

The government was engaged in tackling rain-related disasters and political tussles in last one and a half year, he said.

Despite the flood and rain-related damage to the state, the state recorded six per cent increase in tourist inflow in 2023 as compared to the previous year, with 1.6 crore tourists visiting the state during the year. In 2022, 1,51 crore tourists visited the state, as per the tourism department data.

However, the actual figure is likely to be higher as tourists staying in unregistered accommodations are not accounted for.

Tourists are discouraged from visiting the state by poor air connectivity and road traffic, Shimla Hotel and Tourism Stakeholders Association president M K Seth told PTI and added that there should be more emphasis on improving railway connectivity.

Seth said train connectivity with southern states could be improved by running trains from Chennai and Bengaluru and Vande Bharat trains from Mumbai to Chandigarh could be introduced and linked to other places like Surat and Godhra in Gujarat.

This would not only increase the tourist footfall via trains to Shimla, it would also resolve the problem of traffic congestion, he added.
Seth said the government should keep a tab on unregistered accommodations mushrooming all over the state. There are 296 registered hotels in Shimla but 942 accommodations, including homestays, bed-and-breakfasts, are unregistered accommodations, he said.

Devinder Rana, who runs a travel agency, said there is enormous scope for adventure sports, rural and eco-tourism in the state and the government should tap into this potential as well. PTI

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