Himachal Pradesh Sets the Stage for More Tourismby Opinion Express September 27, 2018 0 comments
Himachal Pradesh is gearing up for more tourism-based activities by promoting unexplored destinations and transforming the state to an adventure hub. Additional Chief Secretary, Tourism, Ram Subhag Singh talks about new infrastructure projects in the state.
Some of the popular destinations in Himachal Pradesh are currently operating beyond their capacity due to high influx of tourists, leading to scarcity of resources and a threat to the serenity of the locale. To manage the sector better, the additional chief secretary for tourism, Ram Subhag Singh, explains that the state tourism department has fast-tracked development work of other unexplored destinations, to disperse the tourists and allow them an opportunity to experience some of the most pristine places in the state. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How has tourism fared in the state so far?
A total of 19 million or one crore and 90 lakh tourists visited Himachal Pradesh in 2017. The number of tourists is more than double the population of the state—nearly 72 lakh. Though this number is very large, the number of foreign tourist arrivals amounts to only five lakh. We have observed that the inflow of international tourists has become stagnant over the years, while domestic tourism is growing leaps and bounds. We have our work cut out for us. We have put proper measures to increase the number of foreign visitors to the state. Currently, the most popular destinations among foreign tourists are Manali, Shimla, Dharamshala and Dalhousie.
Which new destinations are being developed in Himachal?
Since the popular destinations in the state are struggling to accommodate more tourists than their capacity, we plan to give tourists more choices and disperse them to other places of interest. Some destinations under this plan include Janjehli in the Mandi district which is being developed for eco-tourism and trekking and Chanshal is being branded as a 3650day attraction as it is covered in snow most times a year and has pristine meadows at very high altitude. The paragliding opportunities at Bir and Billing are also being upgraded. For niche tourism segment, we are planning to promote the cold desserts of Lahaul and Spiti. These destinations are open only for six months in a year but after the opening of the Rohtang tunnel, we will be able to offer these untouched areas throughout the year. We will however regulate tourist inflow in such a way that it does not spoil the serene destination.
Which new segment of tourism are you working on?
I see a huge opportunity in the eco-tourism, rural tourism and adventure tourism segment. The state has a huge potential for ropeways, an activity which is very popular across the world. Very recently, we have taken out a policy which has made it very easy for private players to invest and set-up ropeways in the state. Earlier, the government would charge an annual concession fee from the investors from the first year of operations but we have proposed that the private players can set up the facilities and we will not ask for any fee for seven years of the operations, making the projects viable for them. Also, during the months of October and November, a tourism mart is in the works which would focus on showcasing Himachal Pradesh as an ideal destination for adventure activities. We are trying to work out some agreements with the industry and other trade association partners to boost this segment.
What are your major challenges and how are you addressing them?
We have identified connectivity as one of the major challenges to tourism. The airports in the state have shorter runways which limits connectivity. However, the present government has taken many initiatives to boost air connectivity. To address the challenge of connectivity, we are soon introducing heli-tourism from Chandigarh to all parts of Himachal Pradesh. The tourists can fly from various parts of the country to Chandigarh in the wide-body aircraft and then take a heli-taxi which will be affordable.
Is the state also developing tourist-friendly infrastructure?
We are doing very well on the front of infrastructure development. With the support from Asian Development Bank in collaboration with the government, we have already initiated projects to the tune of Rs 700-800 crore. These projects include parking facilities at tourist destinations, beautification of cities and development of several man-made lakes in the state. We have also initiated an infrastructure development project worth Rs 1900 crore over a period of eight years which will make it much easier to visit Himachal Pradesh over the next few years.
How is the state marketing and promoting its facilities?
Though the state tourism department has strong presence in the electronic and print media, we have found that our presence on the social media platforms is very weak. It is the digital age and in order to attract more young travellers towards the intended segment of tourism, we need to establish a stronger presence on the digital platforms to reach out to the target audience. To this effect, we are engaging PR agencies to manage this segment. We are also branding the new destinations and making the tourists aware about the various development initiatives of the government towards boosting tourism in the state.
Writer: Ankita Saxena
Courtesy: The Pioneer