Uttarakhand, recovering from an unprecedented natural disaster last year, is all geared up to revive its tourism sector and pinning hopes on a good response to the annual Chardham Yatra beginning next month.
The hill state, whose economy is hugely dependent on tourism, is home to Hindu holy shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri (Chardham), which attract a large number of devotees and religious travellers every year.
"We are in the process of rebuilding the state's infrastructure (which was hit by the disaster). We are ready to begin the 'holy yatra' from May 2 with the opening of Yamunotri and Gangotri gates," Umakant Panwar, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Uttarakhand told reporters here.
In June 2013, devastating floods and landslides caused destruction in the state. Though only 20 per cent of the state was affected by the calamity, it suffered a huge loss in terms of revenue.
"About 25-30 per cent of our revenue comes from tourism. (Post-disaster) the footfalls declined dramatically and the state incurred Rs 12,000-crore revenue loss," he said. The state is spending about Rs five crore on marketing and publicity to revive the sector.
"We are positive about a turnaround. In 2012, 2-2.5 crore people, including foreign tourists, visited Uttarakhand, but this number fell by 80 per cent in 2013. We expect about 60-70 per cent rise in footfalls this year," Panwar said.
In 2015, Uttarakhand will definitely witness a complete turnaround and the state will regain its glory of being a tourist paradise, the official added.
The state has already spent Rs 1,000 crore on restoring its infrastructure mainly through government assistance.
"We will be spending Rs 4,000 crore more, which will be a combination of public and private funding, to restore the state to its past glory," Panwar said.
The state is planning to introduce 'Winter Chardham' to encourage religious tourism round the year. During winter, for six months, the deities from all the four dhams are shifted and worshipped in shrines of Kharsali, Mukhva, Ukhimath and Pandukeshwar (Joshimath) where tourists can visit and pray. Besides Chardhams, Uttarakhand plans to promote other attractions like adventure, wildlife, leisure and eco-tourism.
While the restoration work is going on in full scale, the state government is offering sops like service tax waiver, reduction in VAT and tax holiday to the transport industry to boost the tourism sector, Panwar said.