The chief minister was replying to the four-day discussion on the state’s general budget for the year 2024-25 in the Assembly on Thursday.
Tourism had barely recovered post-Covid in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh registering 1.06 crore tourists in the first six months of 2023, when monsoon accompanied by floods brought the tourism industry down on its knees. As if that wasn’t enough, more recently the Himachal Pradesh government imposed taxes ranging from Rs 3,120 to Rs 5,000 on all tempo travellers and Volvo buses registered outside the state.
And this fresh tax means, tourists are now preferring Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir over Himachal.
Ram Rattan Sharma, All Himachal Pradesh Taxi Operators and Drivers’ Association president says, “For the non- AC tempo travellers the increased tax is Rs 3,120 and for the AC tempo travellers, it is Rs 4,220. For the private Volvo buses registered outside of Himachal, a flat Rs 5,000 will have to be paid.”Tourists who travel by train from states like Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra obviously hire taxis and tempos at Ambala and Chandigarh railway stations to come to Himachal. And these are mostly non Himachal tour operators. Now they are protesting this move of the Himachal government.
Anup Thakur the Kullu-Manali Prayatan Vikas Mandal president says, “We have already started bearing the brunt. The tourists who had booked rooms with us have started cancelling them.” Thakur adds, “We understand the government has no option after all the infrastructural damage the state has witnessed, but it would have been better if the increase in the tax was incremental.”
Budhi Prakash, the presi- dent of HP Travel Agents Association Manali concurs: “We have started receiving booking cancellations on WhatsApp groups which has started impacting the hoteliers and even travel agents and operators. This means that we may not have good earnings at all from the two main seasons — Diwali and later during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”
Sanjay Sood, a member of the Shimla Hotel and Restau- rant Association says, “Why would the tourists come to Himachal if the government takes such decisions? Tourists will prefer Kashmir, Uttarakhand and other states. It is like digging one’s own grave. What can I say?”
He adds that “a representation has been sent to the government. Let us see what comes out of it.” Ram Rattan Sharma argues the government should have spoken to the stakeholders rather than taking a unilateral decision.
After all, it will not serve anyone’s purpose, nor ours and neither will the government make money if the tourists prefer other destinations in place of Himachal. The deputy commissioner of Kullu Ashutosh Garg, said, “The decision has been taken by the transport department and at the district level there is not much that can be done”. Whether any representation has reached his office, he said, “maybe we will have to check up with the ADM.”
Meanwhile, various travel agents’ associations of Gujarat, West Bengal and Maharashtra have boycotted bringing tourists to Himachal after the recent tax raise. Most of them are now giving them the option of travelling to hill stations such as Mussoorie in Uttarakhand which is more affordable.
Mukesh Agnihotri, the Transport Minister of Himachal Pradesh could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.