Till last June, RS Negi, 47, used to be a busy man. There was a steady stream of guests round the year at his hotel in Guptkashi, en route the revered Kedarnath shrine, and the cash box jingled happily.
Two years back he had even taken a loan to add more rooms to the small hotel surrounded by lush green oak trees. But before he could earn any returns on those, the tragedy struck.
Like Negi, hundreds of others from hotel owners to taxi drivers to porters to chai wallahs, depended on tourism as their mainstay .
Although the government has resumed pilgrimage this year, the number of tourists is nowhere as robust as previous years. From May to June, 70,000 people have visited the Char Dham.
Members of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Uttarakhand believe that not just the Char Dham, even other tourist hotspots like Nainital, Mussoorie, Ranikhet are receiving less tourists this year — around 20% of what they would get till last year.
And according to them, the ‘negative publicity of the state by the media’ is behind the fall in number of tourists.
The industry body — PHD Chambers of Commerce and Industries (PHDCCI) — estimates that post last year’s June flash floods, the tourism sector has suffered losses to the tune of Rs. 12,000 crore.
The PHDCCI report said tourism contributes to about 32% of the state GDP.
Agreeing the disaster had left its impact on industry, state tourism minister Dinesh Dhane says the government has planned a series of campaigns to promote brand Uttarakhand.
“The government has announced some measures to help the industry including tax rebate to transporters till 2016. We are mulling ways to accelerate tourism-related business activities,” said Dhane.
The Centre had earlier exempted hotels and restaurants from paying service tax between September 2013 and this March. However, the move apparently did not help them much as the tourism season had already ended. The state government has, however, given a much needed relief by bringing down VAT from 13.5% to 5% for the industry.
“As the new government has now taken over in New Delhi, we request the state to approach Delhi on our behalf for relief in service tax and repayment of bank loans,” said Sandeep Sahani, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association.