Shimla’s Silent New Year: Lowest Occupancy in 40 Years

Shimla, known for its enchanting winter landscapes, faced an unexpected challenge this New Year as the picturesque hill station recorded the lowest tourist occupancy in the last four decades. Despite predictions of a snowy weekend and the Chief Minister’s lenient directives towards inebriated revellers, only 50-60 per cent of the city’s hotels saw guests, marking a stark contrast to the 80 per cent occupancy observed during the previous year’s New Year festivities.

Tourism stakeholders, including the Shimla Hotel and Tourism Stakeholders Association, had anticipated a ‘white New Year’ to draw visitors, but the likelihood of snowfall remained disappointingly low. While the Mall Road and The Ridge teemed with tourists enjoying the winter carnival, the surge in foot traffic did not translate into room bookings, as reported by MK Seth, president of the association.

Despite Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s call to adopt the hospitality mantra ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ and the police’s pledge to assist tourists while allowing 24×7 operations for food joints and pan shops, the tourism sector experienced a significant downturn. A unique challenge surfaced with unregistered tourism units diverting business from established hotels and accommodations, further exacerbated by touts luring tourists towards unregistered lodgings.

The situation, described by Prince Kukreja, vice president of the association, as the “lowest occupancy in living memory,” has left industry players perplexed. Kukreja, however, remains optimistic, anticipating a late-evening surge in occupancy.

Interestingly, tourists prefer secluded accommodations in suburban areas, seeking solace amid the serene backdrop of forests. Even the allure of private parties failed to pack the hotels in the city centre, which is typically bustling during this festive season.

A considerable number of tourists, approximately 7,600 vehicles from other states, entered Shimla through the Shoghi barrier on the Shimla-Chandigarh Road. Nevertheless, the negative impact of social media reports highlighting traffic congestion and alternative destinations affected the inflow of visitors to Shimla.

The local Meteorological Office had predicted snowfall and rainfall over the weekend due to a fresh Western Disturbance, but the anticipated winter wonderland did not materialize in the key tourist areas. As Shimla reflects on the unexpected drop in tourist numbers, industry stakeholders remain hopeful that the charm of this hill station will beckon visitors back in the coming days.