Members of the hospitality industry in Himachal Pradesh are pinched by heat of the Lok Sabha elections as tourists footfall across various destinations in the state has nosedived even on a weekend break.
The visit of politicians and their public meetings are leaving the motorists stranded for hours, dashing the hopes of brisk business by the hoteliers.
As the soaring temperature in the plains of northern India pulls tourists to the hills, on an average 25,000 to 30,000 tourists descend Shimla and its nearby destinations on weekends.
"More than 15,000 tourists are expected on an average in Shimla every summer weekend till the onset of monsoon in the plains. This time, due to the Lok Sabha polls, the arrival of tourists has declined massively," D.P. Bhatia, Liaison Officer with Shimla-based Oberoi Group of hotels, told IANS.
According to him, hotels, guesthouses and lodges here have been experiencing less than 40 per cent occupancy during mid of week. On weekends, the occupancy ranges between 60 and 70 per cent, fairly bad at this point in time.
So are private taxi drivers and guides who too are pinched by the heat of polls.
"It is really frustrating to travel to the hills these days. First we were held up in a long traffic jam due to an election rally in Shogi. Then again there was a long jam on the outskirts of Shimla. It literally took six hours to reach Shimla from Chandigarh," motorist Navneet Saxena told IANS.
Added New Delhi-based banker Neeraj Bharti: "There is no traffic management at the election meeting venues."
Adding to the woes of commuters is the ongoing four-laning of the 88-km stretch that connects Shimla and Parwanoo as cutting of slopes has been on for over three years.
Likewise, other summer stations like Kufri, Narkanda, Kasauli, Chail, Manali, Dalhousie, Palampur and Dharamsala are also seeing drastic fall in cash register.
According to various reports, there has been just 30-35 per cent in the tourist inflow to picturesque tourist resort Manali.
"Our business has been severely impacted. We are expecting the tourist arrival will pick up once the elections are over," Manali-based travel agent Prem Thakur said.
"Around 10,000-12,000 tourists arrive daily in Manali on an average during peak summer and winter season. These days their arrival is less than 2,000 per day," he said.
An optimistic state Tourism Department senior functionary told IANS the influx of tourists would start picking up gradually in the first week of June.
Once the favourite summer retreat of the British, Shimla for the first time in its history saw an unprecedented water crisis in last summer, resulting in widespread protests.
Water-starved residents had turned to social media campaigns, asking the tourists to stay away from the northern India's famed hill resort during the peak holiday season.
Himachal Pradesh's economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.
The rural homestay scheme, started in 2008, have provided employment to around 3,000 people and generated economic activity worth over Rs 5 crore in the state, say officials.
The scheme also succeeds in driving tourists from traditional hotspots to offbeat destinations.
Tourists footfall in the state last year declined to 164.50 lakh, that included 35,6568 foreigners, from 196.02 lakh in 2017.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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