The absence of snowfall this season has led to reported cancellations of bookings by tourists, unleashing a gloomy period for tour operators and travel service providers who enjoyed record arrivals after the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Bollywood film shoots have also been put on hold while skiing enthusiasts have cancelled trips.
“There was a bit of snowfall in Gulmarg for about five to six days in November last year, but since then, there has been nothing. Tourists have been asking to reschedule trips as there is no snow. There is 80% less work compared to last year this time around,” said Ishfaq Ahmed Resha, a tour operator in Srinagar.
Anup Thakur, president of Kullu Manali Paryatan Vikas Mandal, termed the impact as ‘severe.’
“Normally, in Manali, we have about 80% tourists in January. Because of no snow, that number might have come down to about 30% this year. Snow is a major attraction for film shoots as well. We are hoping for some snowfall by the first week of February,” he added.
Mukhtar Ahmad from the India Meteorological Department, Srinagar, said while there have been intermittent dry spells in the valley in the last few years, this year, there has been an extremely long dry spell with temperatures at least 6-8 degrees Celsius above the normal in all the weather monitoring stations in the region. He added that the prolonged dry spell could be broken by the expected emergence of a western disturbance over the next few days.IMD has predicted light isolated rainfall or snowfall over the Western Himalayan Region from January 25-31 under the influence of two feeble western disturbances.The official weather office recorded a 79% rainfall deficit in December and a 100% deficit till January 24 in Jammu and Kashmir, and 99% deficiency in both Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in January.
“Film stars have been enquiring and are waiting and we are hoping for some snowfall towards the end of this month and in February,” said Nakul Khullar, owner of the Baragarh Resort & Spa in Manali, an IHCL SeleQtions property. Sanjay Madan, managing director of the four-star hotel East Bourne Resort in Shimla, said snow has been eluding Himachal Pradesh and it had been a dry New Year and Christmas. “It’s not just tourism, but horticulture and agriculture are also dependent on snow, so this impacts other things too,” he added.
P.P. Khanna, board member of Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) said the absence of snowfall in the North has already affected tourism, especially in the Kashmir valley.
“It has been reported that there has not been any booking for film shooting which normally takes place in Gulmarg and Sonmarg in February and March. A lot of foreign ice skaters visit Gulmarg, and they are missing this year. Even Auli in Joshimath is a big winter sports destination for ice skating with foreigners and locals but they have also suffered because of lack of snowfall,” he added.
Rajiv Mehra, president of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), said business in the hills had been impacted. “Now, even if it snows, it won’t lead to much of a difference as the holiday season is over,” he added.
However, some like Asif Iqbal Burza, MD, Ahad Hotels and Resorts ,said people have been shifting their bookings but there has been a limited impact on his hotel business as people also visit Kashmir to experience the culture and cuisine.
“This cycle comes every four or five years. Two years ago, we had our first snowfall in October. We are expecting good snow by the end of this month,” said Burza.