Dry spell hits HP’s tourism, hospitality industry

On a sunny day at Dharamsala, the mighty Dhauladhar mountain range overlooking the popular tourist destination paints a grim picture with no snow cover this winter as a prolonged dry spell continues in Himachal.

In Shimla and Kullu-Manali, the hotel occupancy is around 20%, a stark dip from 40 to 60% in December last year (HT File)

To the locals, the barren look of the majestic mountain range, normally draped in white at this time of the year, is unprecedented and has become a cause of concern to those affiliated with the tourism and hospitality industry, which is grappling with low tourist footfall.

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Because of the dry weather and lack of snowfall, the hotel occupancy in Dharamsala has dipped to around 10%. The case is no different at other stations. The hoteliers in Dharamsala say the occupancy used to be around 40% – 50% at this time of the year as people would come to enjoy the views of the Dhauladhar range.

In Shimla and Kullu-Manali, the hotel occupancy is around 20%, a stark dip from 40 to 60% in December last year. The tourism sector of Himachal contributes 7% to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Hotel Association of Dharamshala president Ashwani Bamba that the hotels in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj bear a grim look, not much different from the Dhauladhar range.

“No snowfall has been recorded in Mcleodganj, Naddi and Bhagsunag, among other areas. The usually snow-clad Dhauladhar range used to be the main attraction for tourists to visit these areas,” he said, and added that the hoteliers were worried as the occupancy was just around 10% at present.

“The hotels are witnessing a significant drop in occupancy. During January, hotel occupancy used to be around 50% on weekends and around 30% on weekdays,” said Bamba.

The dry spell is also leading to the cancellation of hotel bookings in areas like Mcloeodganj which otherwise was thronged by tourists during the winter season. Even the staff at the hotels and resorts may face the heat, if the weather continues to remain dry.

Dixit Bhardwaj, a hotel owner in Mcleodganj, likened the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic. “My hotel is situated at the main entrance of Mcleodganj and everyone passes through here. Still, our occupancy has dropped to less than 10%, as compared to a usual of 50% around this time. The hotels situated in other areas must be worse hit,” he said.

“The low occupancy is impacting the staff working in the hotels as well. Hoteliers have started to fire staff members. It is like the situation which we witnessed during the pandemic,” said Dixit.

The tourism department officials confirmed the adverse impact of the tourism sector. Dharamsala tourism deputy director Vinay Dhiman said that the impact on the tourism sector was very visible.

“There is no hustle and bustle of tourists at Dharamsala and the hotel occupancy is low. The footfall of the tourists in the last week of December was higher, but it has gone down significantly in January. The situation is quite similar at places like Manali as there are no snowfall-related activities,” he said.

20% occupancy in Kullu-Manali

Kullu-Manali Paryatan Vikas Mandal president Anup Thakur said that they receive calls from people asking them about snowfall every day.

“We get calls from different places, but we have to say no to them. We are at loss as the occupancy has gone down to around 20% in hotels in Kullu-Manali. The tourist footfall during this time of the year is entirely based on the snowfall and snow-related activities and sports,” he said, adding that the occupancy in last January was around 70%, but there are no snowfall-related activities happening in the area this winter.

Thakur said that snowfall occurs between January and March in Kullu-Manali usually and they were not too hopeful of any snowfall this January.

Travel businesses also hit

Travel and tour businesses have also been badly impacted during this winter. The travel agents said that due to lack of snowfall, they were not getting enquiries from tourists and that they were focusing on selling tour packages for the next season, starting March.

Prem Sagar, who runs a travel business at Mcleodganj, said, “We were just reviving from the impacts of disaster that happened during Monsoon season, but the dry spell has made it very difficult. The tourist arrival on New Year’s Eve was the lowest as compared to many years. The tourist footfall has declined in January, as compared to December,” he said.

Dry weather to persist for now

As per the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the weather is expected to remain mostly dry till around January 25. IMD’s Shimla centre director Surender Paul said, “So far, only scanty snowfall has been recorded at higher reaches. For the next seven to eight days, the weather is expected to remain dry but we expect a change in weather by the end of January or early February.”

The tourism industry in Himachal has been in the doldrums for the last three years. The pandemic adversely impacted the tourism Industry and when it was gradually recouping, heavy rains in August last year triggered floods, causing massive damage to road infrastructure. It resulted in a dip in tourist influx.

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