Tourists throng Himachal on New Year's Eve
Shimla, Dec 31- Thousands of tourists are making a beeline for popular hill destinations in Himachal Pradesh to ring in the New Year, bringing cheer to the hospitality industry.
Most hotels were fully booked well in advance of the 'big day'.
"The response (of tourists) is good. Most of our hotels are packed to capacity well in advance," Subhashish Panda, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp managing director, told IANS.
This season is going to be quite lucrative for the state hospitality industry, Panda said.
"This time we are going to create a new record - the record arrival of tourists in a year," he said.
During the four-day Christmas holiday bonanza, around 125,000 tourists, mainly from the plains of north India, visited various destinations in the state.
Harnam Kukreja, president of Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurants Association, said: "This year will definitely compensate for the losses incurred by the tourism industry last year."
The global recession and the Mumbai terror attacks had severely hit the arrival of tourists - both domestic and overseas - last winter.
The most sought-after destinations are Shimla, Narkanda, Kasauli, Manali and Dalhousie, say travel agencies.
"The state's travel industry is betting big on the last day of the year with the footfall likely to cross the 100,000-mark across the state on a single day," Anil Attari of Tourism Scouts India, a Shimla-based travel agency, said.
Some travel agents have also slashed the prices of holiday packages and are hoping to attract those who are still cautious about spending big bucks, he said.
According to him, bookings for tour packages have increased by 30-40 percent since last year.
Manali, the popular tourist resort in Kullu valley, about 250 km from state capital Shimla, is witnessing a heavy inflow of tourists.
"Around 30,000 tourists have already reached Manali and 20,000 to 25,000 are likely to reach by evening," Travel Association of Manali president Anil Sharma said on phone.
He said that most tourists planned to visit the Gulaba slopes, near Manali, to enjoy skiing, snow-scooter rides and sledging. The Gulaba region has witnessed heavy snowfall.
Manali is the only prominent hill destination in the state from which tourists can reach snowy slopes with ease.
The tourism department and the police have geared up to cater to the tourist rush.
"We are taking steps to ensure that no tourist is cheated by any hotelier or travel agency. A special drive has been launched to check hotels and restaurants," tourism director Arun Kumar Sharma said.
New parking lots have been created in Shimla to cater to the tourists.
"We have created some additional parking lots in the city. Policemen in plainclothes would be deployed to keep a watch on mischievous elements. Our special emphasis would be on checking drunk driving and late night brawls," Superintendent of Police R. M. Sharma said.
Last year, 9.37 million domestic and 367,000 foreign tourists visited Himachal Pradesh. Kullu and Manali are hot spots followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.
Tourist arrivals in Himachal Pradesh last year surpassed the state's population of about 6.5 million. (IANS)