As the religious and leisure tourism season builds up apace in Uttarakhand, stories are coming in of the difficulties being faced by visitors – be it traffic jams lasting several hours, to fatal road accidents, or deaths of pilgrims owing to over-exertion and poor medical support. Add to this the excessive number of visitors causing shortages of hotel rooms, parking space and other services. These problems are only going to increase in the years to come as people’s disposable income levels increase and many parts of North India become more proximate because of enhanced road connectivity.
What have Uttarakhand’s government and the tourism industry done to deal with the developing situation? Precious little! It is all left to administrators at different levels to handle, even though they have little policy making powers, or even discretion regarding use of the limited funds. Instead of building on existing strengths and capacities by implementing consistent and long term policies, the Tourism Sector is left to the whims and fancies of the political leadership. It does not matter how outlandish an idea proposed by one or the other lobbyist, it is quickly taken up if it involves foreign travel and capital expenditure on construction projects. This puts an unsustainable burden on already limited capacities.
It is claimed that new destinations will be developed, particularly one, each, in every district of the state. However, the pace at which this is being done is slow and there is no transparency in the implementation. Not many of the important stakeholders have been taken into confidence, probably because it would then become difficult to include cronies and other vested interests in the process.
At the same time, not enough is being done to educate the host community in its role, the crux of which would be to provide visitors’ the best possible and unforgettable experience. It could be just a personal interaction or a business initiative, the effort should be to maximise quality. At the present, just Mussoorie and Nainital are the main draws for leisure tourists, with a few alternative destinations coming up. This process has to be speeded up through proper market positioning, brand promotion and targeting niche customers before they even step on to Uttarakhandi soil. This has to be a competitive process and certainly not left to babu-riddled government agencies.
Also, the regulatory process needs strengthening – from police services to domain specific requirements. The recent deaths on an expedition to Nanda Devi are a good example of having to take responsibility for maverick activity that did not have regulators’ sanction. The numbers and opportunities are increasing; capacity must exert to keep pace if profits and sustainability are to be enhanced.