Dharamshala tourism industry that had just started limping back to normalcy after pandemic-induced lockdowns and curbs has again been hit hard by the July-12 flashflood incident.
The occupancy in the hotels of Bhagsunag and McLeodganj area has dropped to almost zero that was nearly 90% in the preceding weeks.
Addressing a press conference, Ashwani Bamba, president of Dharamshala Hotel and Restaurant Association, said the “irresponsible reporting” of a localised incident depicting it as a cloudburst on social media and some news channels has triggered a sense of fear among the tourists and they have been cancelling their bookings.
He said the bookings for not only July but August were also cancelled and the hotel industry has suffered losses up to ₹500 crore. He said the Bhagsunag incident was not a cloudburst, but water from a nullah changing its course.
He said the nullah was packed with debris and there was no space for free flow of rainwater. “The shuttering of culvert which being constructed on nullah upstream was not removed, as a result of which rainwater changed its course and with great force came on the road and caused damaged,” he added.
“But the way this episode was depicted on social media, with the headlines suggesting that entire Bhagsunag has swept away in a cloudburst created an atmosphere of fear and panic,” he said, admitting that encroachment on the nullah and drains by some hoteliers had also led to the flooding.
“Visuals of sliding cars at Bhagsunag were merged with increased water level of Gaj rivulet and Boh landslides were shown as that of Bhagsunag only to create sensation,” he said, adding that after a long shutdown due to coronavirus, there was a hope of good tourism and in fact, it had picked up from 40-50% during weekdays up to 90% on Saturdays.
“This incident has not only affected tourism in Upper Dharamshala, but in the entire state,” he said.
Bamba said the hotels had also called back their staff and if the situation doesn’t improve, they may again be rendered jobless.
“We wish to convey to everyone that situation is very much normal in Bhagsunag and other tourist hubs and there is nothing to be afraid of,” he said, assuring the tourists that they will be safe and comfortable.
Meanwhile, Dharamshala mayor Onkar Nehria, who was also present in the press conference, said the municipal corporation has issued notices to hoteliers who have encroached upon nullah, and the illegal structures will be demolished.
He said some people have voluntarily started demolishing their illegal structure.