Uttarakhand’s prospects as a tourism destination might take a hit due to the forest fires, industry experts said on Monday.
With photos of the blazing fires going viral, those engaged in the industry are apprehensive that tourists may stay away from the hill state during the summer — a peak time for tourism - including pilgrims who visit the state for the Char Dham yatra.
Tourism is the economic mainstay for Uttarakhand, with the state receiving a substantial influx of tourists annually.
“The forest fires, if not controlled urgently, could affect the tourism flow this year. It is causing adverse publicity (for the state) and we are wary of it,” said Sandeep Sahni, president of the Uttarakhand Hotel Association.
Anil Taneja, resident director of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI)-Uttarakhand, said that fear psychosis might play its part if the situation was not brought under control very soon. “Summers are peak time for tourism in Uttarakhand and people will avoid coming here if it (the forest fire) continues,” Taneja said.
Uttarakhand is still recovering from the harm its tourism industry suffered in the aftermath of the floods that swept through the state in June 2013, leaving over 5,000 dead. PHDCCI, in its report, had estimated the loss to the state tourism sector at Rs 12,000 crore after the disaster.
According to official figures, as many as 2.84 crore tourists visited Uttarakhand in 2012, but the number dropped to 2.26 crore in 2014. However, the number rose to 2.95 crore in 2015 and the tourism industry was hoping to receive a record number in 2016.
“The state had gradually started earning the faith of the tourists after the 2013 disaster and now the negative (media) publicity of forest fires might once again put us on a back foot. The government needs to ensure wide publicity - that barring a few places, most parts of Uttarakhand are safe,” said Vipin Nautiyal, a Tehri-based tour operator.