Success of ‘home stay tourism’ hinges on travelers seeking alternative accommodation to regular hotels along roads less traveled and going by the huge bills the government has piled up to maintain its rest houses – fetching very little revenues in return, the scheme may just get a fillip from the drain these public rest houses are proving to be.
Through a question raised by Rajesh Dharmani in the Himachal Vidhan Sabha during the monsoon session, Gulab Singh Thakur, public works minister (PWD) in a written reply informed the house that to maintain and repair the 680 circuit and rest houses that the state has, which includes some heritage status forest and PWD rest houses located in some of the most scenic places, the government over the last three years spent Rs 22.85 crore. During the same period, revenues earned from housing VIPs and tourists in these public properties fetched revenue of Rs 5.18 crore only.
“Operating these guest houses with such little returns,” says Vinayak Jisthu – owner of a hotel, “is a sheer wastage of public money.” Many Indian and foreign tourists come looking for quiet getaways but in peak season when one tries linking up with these rest houses, they are booked all summer for housing some VIP or the other, he added.
“The rest houses are not there as commercial properties,” says a PWD official, “because one of their main functions remains to provide transitory accommodation to visiting officials for administrative and other purposes to discharge their duties.” He adds, “sometimes they are also used to house state guest dignitaries.”
We have launched home stay scheme with the twin objective to disperse tourism activity from congested urban hill stations into rural areas and to strengthen rural economies by generating jobs in the service sector, says Manisha Nanda, secretary tourism.
Being optimistic that the home stay scheme will succeed, she denies that it has been launched because the government has failed to provide rest houses for tourism purposes. Government rest houses have other uses besides proving accommodation to tourists on availability but we have identified some forest rest houses which are being developed and would be marketed for eco-tourism, said Nanda.
Home stay concept is fast catching up in expanding tourism into rural areas, says Jisthu. But in many interior places it will take time for village tourism infrastructure to come up so that basic civic amenities can be added to house travelers.
“Why does the government not hand over some of these rest houses, especially the forest trail ones to professionals who can market and operate them getting better occupancy and revenues from them”, questions Jisthu!