By Vishal Gulati Shimla/Manali, May 28 (Agency)
No bookings in the Kashmir Valley? Head for the hills of Himachal Pradesh for your vacation.
The hospitality industry here says that with hotels in Srinagar valley chock-a-block full, tourists are finding their way to the serene hills of Himachal Pradesh.
"We are feeling relieved, as our worst fears of losing tourists to Srinagar is now proving to be untrue," D.P. Bhatia of Clarke's Hotel in Shimla told.
He said that from May 20, there had been a sharp increase in tourists to Shimla and nearby destinations.
"Economically, we are now much better-off, with most of our properties finding good response with tourists, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi," said Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation general manager Yogesh Behl.
Tourist footfalls this season in the state, though delayed, had picked up, he said.
"Since Srinagar gets fully booked, people are now opting for destinations here in Himachal Pradesh. We are hoping for even greater inflows as the onset of next month's Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage would discourage tourists from choosing to holiday in Kashmir," Behl told.
Besides state capital Shimla, other destinations preferred by tourists to Himachal Pradesh include the hill stations of Kullu, Manali and Dharamsala.
The state tourism department is daily getting 20 to 25 enquiries from those who cancel their bookings in the Kashmir Valley.
"We are here after we failed to get good accommodation in either Srinagar or nearby areas," said Abhijit Prashar, now holidaying in Shimla with his wife.
Gajender Thakur, president of the Manali Hoteliers Association, said that the current occupancy rate for Manali hotels was 80 percent.
Travel agents, however, feel that the comparatively tougher journey to the hill state is still keeping the high-end tourists away.
"There's been a considerable drop-off in high-end, especially corporate, visitors, this time owing to poor air connectivity," said Manali Travel Agents Association president Anil Sharma.
The air tariff on the Delhi-Kullu circuit is also higher compared to the Delhi-Srinagar one.
"Moreover, flights to Kullu often remain erratic," Sharma added.
According to the tourism department, Shimla and Manali are expecting an average of 40,000-50,000 tourists each during every weekend in June.
The annual tourist arrivals in Himachal Pradesh crossed 15 million in 2011.
The number of foreign tourists visiting the state has more than doubled from a little over 200,000 in 2005 to nearly half a million in 2011.