A majority of Andhra Pradesh-based tour operators, particularly from Hyderabad, has decided to discontinue Char Dham packages even as the stranded passengers from the flood-afflicted pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand are returning to New Delhi via Dehradun, said an official from the city-based temple-tour agency.
Due to the enormity of floods and to ease the evacuation efforts being carried out by the Army and ITBP forces, the Uttarakhand state government has closed all the entry points leading to Char Dham pilgrim sites. Also, Kedarnath has been completely shut down, where the Army and Air Force are conducting evacuation through air-lifting operations, he added.
In terms of evacuation from Dehradun, he said, they were engaging bus operators from Jammu, Punjab and Chandigarh to drop passengers to Delhi. From here, passengers were being brought to Hyderabad, Nalgonda, Vijayawada via road and air, the official said.
"Every year, around 200 tour operators (small to big) from Andhra Pradesh send 1,500-2,000 pilgrims to the Char Dham visit, starting from mid-May to October. This year, roughly 2,500 pilgrims have been to Char Dham. After the completion of Char Dham yatra, most of them visit Haridwar, Allahabad and Varanasi. Normally, a 12-day family package for four costs around Rs 75,000, which includes food, accommodation and travel," said Srinivas Rao, senior manager of city-based Southern Travels.
Unfortunately, this year, the season ended abruptly. Southern Travels had sent 250 yatris in two buses for the 12-day Char Dham yatra in groups comprising 25-27 members each, to be escorted by tour guides. "All our customers were safe and have been relocated to Dehradun," he said.
Speaking on the possible losses, Rao said the season accounted for 30 per cent (around Rs 3,500 crore) of the tourism sector's annual earnings. Due to the calamity, they were witnessing 99 per cent cancellations from the affected travellers and from pre-bookings. "Not all is bad for the sector as operators' vehicles have been covered under the comprehensive insurance scheme, whereas travellers were registered for life insurance claim," he said.
An AP Association of Tourism Operators member said they were refunding full amounts for all pre-bookings, whereas travellers returning from Uttarakhand were being compensated for the left-over days in the package. "We're not applying pressure on the stranded travellers to consider our ready-made packages to other locations," he added.
Meanwhile, travel enquiries to Kerala, Karnataka and Goa continue as usual."Our business in the South is doing well. Moreover, over the last one week we have witnessed a rise in customer interest to these places," said Rajasekhar, manager of Sagar Travels.