For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Nothing can describe the hospitality industry in Himachal Pradesh better than Newton’s law of motion.
As the heat in the plains of northern India pulls tourists to the hills, they feel the heat of being fleeced everywhere.
Hotels, guesthouses and lodges have doubled their tariffs. Private taxi drivers and guides openly fleece the tourists by quoting high rates in this peak summer season, pinching the pockets of thousands of holidaymakers.
Sample this: In the picturesque tourist resort of Manali, for glimpses of a snowy landscape spread over the majestic Rohtang Pass, you should be ready to shell out an extremely high fare to hire a cab.
So it is in tourist spots near Shimla, such as honeymooners’ paradise Kufri where each pony owner is virtually trying to poach you without paying any heed to your refusals. You will end up getting charged an exorbitant fare for a ride across the hilly terrain.
“We have been charged Rs 12,000 by a travel agent for arranging to and fro journey between Manali and Rohtang Pass. This is fleecing in the name of taking you close to snow cover,” Samuel Mukherjee, a tourist from Kolkata, told IANS.
The actual fare of a luxury cab is Rs 6,000 while an ordinary one costs Rs 4,000.
His wife Sudeshna remarked: “We had no option but to listen to the taxi driver to avoid spoiling our vacation. There is no mechanism here to check abnormally high tariffs.”
With only 1,200 taxi or private vehicle permits — 800 petrol vehicles and the remaining diesel — issued online daily on a first-come-first-served basis to visit the Rohtang Pass, some 52 km from Manali, taxi operators are charging two to three times more than the actual fare, reports say.
Added New Delhi-based banker Chinamaya Mehta: “I was looking for a luxury hotel in and around Shimla for four days. To my surprise, the room tariff of a luxury hotel in Shimla is around Rs 16,000, almost double the five-star hotels in Delhi and Mumbai.”
He asked the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department to keep eye on hotel fares to check exorbitant pricing, especially when the tourism season is at its peak.
Ongoing protests in Jammu and Kashmir, which is scaring away tourists, and rising mercury in the plains have triggered a sudden surge in tourist footfalls in Himachal Pradesh.
Hill stations like Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Kasauli, Chail, Manali, Dalhousie, Palampur and Dharamsala are flooded with visitors.
According to various reports, there has been an increase of 30-35 percent in the tourist inflow to the state compared to last year.
Hundreds of touts, mostly Kashmiris, operate in the guise of potters in Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of the Raj.
“If a tourist asks for a booking in a particular hotel, we try to convince him that the particular hotel is either unsafe for tourists or closed for renovation. We would take him to another hotel where we are offered hefty commissions,” a tout admitted.
Saying he had received complaints against taxi operators for fleecing tourists in Manali, Subdivisional Magistrate H.R. Bhairwa said he had blacklisted 70 cabs over two weeks.
“In case they repeat the offence, their permits to ply private taxis will be cancelled permanently,” he said.
A word of advice: Prefer to stay in state-run hotels.
“We charge fixed tariffs throughout the year. In this season, we are promoting some of our less-visited properties by offering special discounts of up to 25 percent,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) General Manager Vijay Sharma told IANS.
In a first, the HPTDC, which has 59 properties in the state, has started a special package tour from Manali that will take the tourists at least for a day at Keylong in Lahaul Valley via snow-marooned Rohtang Pass in a deluxe bus.
Himachal Pradesh’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.
The state attracted 18.45 million tourists last year, which is 2.7 times its population, says the state’s Economic Survey 2016-17.
According to the report, the state has 2,604 hotels with a bed capacity of 70,869 registered with the tourism department. In addition, there are 787 home-stay units with a provision of 2,137 rooms.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Vishal Gulati