With winter tourism at peak, hospitality players finally recovering losses
The winter holidays are upon us, and droves of tourists are back in the mountains, giving the Indian tourism sector something to cheer about. Himachal Pradesh has witnessed the arrival of 1.28 crore tourists, including 28,232 foreigners till October 31st this year, says the data.
Bhoomika Singh December 17, 2022
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With the winter season at its peak, travel buffs are packing their bags and heading for the mountains. And this year people are more enthusiastic than ever, as they get to travel restriction-free after a long time.
According to Phocuswright’s recent India Travel Market Report, the total Indian travel market will maintain the pre-pandemic gross booking levels of around USD 32 billion in 2023.
Having said that, this entire year has been a year of experiments for Indians, as they leave their homes to travel, try new things and gain experience. This has resulted in an influx of tourists at all the tourist destinations across the country, particularly in the mountains. This trend has brought about a paradigm shift in the hospitality sector and the surge in spending has led to the recovery of losses that were incurred due to the pandemic, especially in the mountains.
The hills are merry
For instance, Jammu & Kashmir has been witnessing a greater footfall of tourists for several reasons. The Directorate of Information & Public Relations report released earlier in October this year revealed that J&K has already hosted around 1.62 crore tourists in the nine months since January 2022.
This has been the highest this year as compared to the previous years. Earlier, the region had an average footfall of about 10 lakh tourists, which saw a massive boost in a short time, thereby generating substantial employment for the youth and local businesses of this region.
According to the report, numerous changes have occurred in the region since the repeal of Article 370. Due to this, the tourism industry in J&K saw a significant boost in April 2022, with a highest-ever record of 102 to and fro flights and around 15,199 average daily passengers.
Similarly, tourists have been flocking to Himachal Pradesh, which is known for its picturesque landscapes, its flavourful cuisine, its bustling markets and its vibrant festivals. According to recent data, tourism in Himachal Pradesh has resumed after the COVID-induced lull, with footfalls increasing more than threefold until October 31 of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Not just Himachal Pradesh but Uttarakhand too has witnessed a huge amount of tourist footfalls this summer. Due to the extreme heat in the North Indian plains, tens of thousands of tourists made their way to the hill stations of Uttarakhand. In fact, the valley has been witnessing quite a lot of footfalls in the winter season as well due to the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.
Tourism has picked up its pace
If we go by the recent travel trends, Indians have been looking for off-the-grid experiences. Meanwhile, many travellers consider sitting in front of a cosy, crackling fireplace somewhere deep in the woods and miles from their nearest microchip to be a blissful experience.
That’s one of the reasons for the influx of tourists into the mountains.
Himachal Pradesh witnessed the arrival of 1.28 crore tourists, including 28,232 foreigners, between January 1 and October 31, according to the tourism department’s data.
At 30.4 lakhs, tourist arrivals in the twin districts of Kullu and Lahaul and Spiti accounted for 23.8 per cent of the total footfall in the first 10 months of 2022. The Atal Tunnel, an all-weather road through the 13,058-foot-high mountain in Rohtang Pass has also emerged as a tourist hotspot.
Similarly, according to the authorities in Uttarakhand, the pilgrim cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh and the hill stations of Mussoorie and Nainital were packed with tourists, and hotels and homestays were close to full capacity. That too happened weeks earlier than the usual peak season of mid-to-late May.
The last week of April saw the arrival of 300,000 people in Haridwar and Rishikesh, which was 40 per cent more than the average at that time of the year usually. In the hill stations of Mussoorie, Nainital, Tehri, Almora, and Ranikhet, this number stood at nearly 500,000.
As per the reports, 20,000 to 25,000 adventure sport lovers reached Rishikesh for river rafting in the Kaudiyala, Brahampuri, Shivpuri and Clubhouse rafting points.
For this season, the authorities are optimistic
For starters, the tourism sector and its allied industries in Himachal Pradesh suffered immense losses during the pandemic and tourist inflow dropped 81 per cent in 2020. The tourist arrival figure, which was at 1.72 crores in 2019, crashed to 32.13 lakhs in 2020 before marginally recovering to 56.37 lakhs in 2021.
For example, in the same period a year ago, Himachal Pradesh welcomed 41.03 lakh tourists, as per the data. The maximum footfall of 20.63 lakhs was recorded in June while January recorded the lowest at 7.69 lakhs.
However, this season seems to be off to a great start.
Seeing this as a great opportunity for the business owners and locals of the mountains, the respective state authorities are optimistic and hopeful about ending this winter season with an even higher tourist footfall.
Talking about the increased tourist footfall and the reasons behind it, Amit Kashyap, Tourism Director and Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) Managing Director, says, “People who were stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak have now started moving out.”
“Aggressive marketing by the tourism department in vernacular languages in states such as Gujarat, from where the tourist inflow was less, has helped increase the footfall,” he adds.
Kashyap attributes the rise in tourist inflow to marketing via television channels and multiplexes, and to short videos on social media highlighting unexplored destinations in the state’s 12 districts.
“We are hopeful of touching the pre-COVID tourist inflow figures by the year end as November and December are peak tourist seasons. However, the number of foreign tourists is yet to pick up,” Kashyap says.
The Manali Hoteliers’ Association chief, Mukesh Thakur says that the Atal Tunnel, the new gateway to Lahaul and Spiti, has drastically increased tourist footfall. The tourist inflow is picking up and Manali will be packed to capacity from December 20 till January 10, he says, adding that the winter carnival starting from January 2 is another sought-after event.
Watching the snowfall is a big attraction for tourists, and so are the gondolas of Solang, the igloo stays in Hamta, the winter sports in and around Manali and the skiing and snowboarding courses offered by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, according to him.
Weighing in, Ashok Thakur, owner of the Paradise guesthouse in Old Manali thinks that the Atal Tunnel has widened the opportunities for tourists to explore and stay at different places. Also, many travellers are also making a beeline for Sissu in Lahaul and Spiti.
“Earlier tourists used to travel by flights only to Ladhak and Kashmir, but now because of the Atal Tunnel, things have changed, and people have started exploring drive-through destinations as well, Thakur explains.
Thakur also believes that the rise in population and people’s will to spend more on travel has also propelled the tourist footfall this year.
Sharing how his last trip to the Indian mountains before leaving the country has become the best memory of the year for him, Navjot Sandhu, a tourist staying in Manali expressed his excitement as he witnessed the fresh snowfall in Rohtang. “I never expected that we’ll get to experience the fresh snowfall, this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed snowfall,” he enthused.
“We planned to go to Jispa via Rohtang and then back to Manali. Due to the Atal Tunnel, it became quite easy and feasible for us to cover all the destinations in only one day,” Sandhu added.
Preparations for this season
Every year, the winters herald the festive season. The hoteliers, the administration, the guides and the travel companies usually start their preparations weeks before its arrival. Starting from bookings to accommodations, the food, the ambience and everything else starts getting prepared in advance.
Speaking about the preparations, Thakur says, “Being an accommodation provider, our preparations for the winter carnival include decorations that keep changing according to festivals like Christmas and New Year, and our food preparations include continental and authentic cuisine.”
“Other than this, the entire city has always been decorated with trendy lights and decorations. Live shows are organised at the Mall Road with games and small competitions to engage the tourists and entertain them,” Thakur adds.
Add-ons in the mountains
Most of us live life according to a routine. But this season, the travel trends by booking.com depict that travelers are looking for a break from their routines, and 50 per cent of them want to experience a culture shock in 2023.
We have picked a few spots to prepare a small bucket list of places that can bring you tranquility and enable you to take a break from your daily routine.
Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh is the home of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and a popular tourist destination. While Shimla is known as the “Queen of the Hills” due to its British architecture. Snow and adventure sports are popular in Kullu-Manali.
Tourists flock to the “Shakti peeths” of Kangra, Bilaspur, Una, Simaur, and Mandi which is also known as “Chhoti Kashi” for their ancient Shiva temples. Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Chamba are popular destinations among foreign tourists and adventure seekers. What are your plans for the winter vacation? Do let us know.