Coming on the heels of the National Green Tribunal's ban on diesel run vehicles on the Rohtang Pass, the strike by taxi operators has dealt another blow to the struggling tourism and hospitality industry in the region. On Thursday taxis remained off the road for the third day, aggravating problems for hoteliers as well as visitors.
What added to the hospitality industry's woes is that owners of all commercial transport vehicles joined hands with the taxi operators due to which autorickshaws were off on the road, forcing tourists to shell out hefty charges to labourers for carrying their luggage.
Rajesh Goyal, who had come to Manali from Delhi along with his wife and two little children in a private bus, told this reporter tourist buses were parked more than a kilometer from Manali tourists like him had to suffer a grueling ordeal to reach their hotel rooms along with their luggage.
Many tourists said due to transportation being unavailable in the town, labourers were fleecing tourists to carry their luggage from one place to another.
Efforts by the district and local administration to persuade taxi operators to call off their strike proved futile.
The latter were stubborn in their decision to continue their stir till the Supreme Court heard their petition on the National Green Tribunal's directive to the state government to charge environment protection cess from tourist vehicles heading for the Rohtang pass.
The taxi operators' strike has adversely impacted tourist arrivals in the district even as hotels are facing a huge decline in room occupancy rates, which have now slumped to 40% from 80%.
Suresh Sharma, a travel agent in Manali, said: "Tourists visiting the town are distressed and are even quarreling with travel agents and hotel owners who arranged their trip to Kullu. Some of them are returning immediately. If the situation remains the same over the next few days it would spell the doom for the region's tourism industry."
When contacted, additional district magistrate Vinay Singh Thakur said the district administration had decided to operate Himachal Road Transport Corp buses from Manali to other local tourist spots from Friday onwards for the comfort of tourists.