In spite of the fact that every year the number of tourists visiting Shimla and Himachal, is increasing there is no respite from innocent tourists being cheated at every front. From the minute they enter the City, they are suddenly swarmed by porters and guides who carry a number of brochures of various hotels and take them to a choice of their hotel. In return they get a decent amount of money as commission or at times even a day’s full tariff if the booking is for a longer duration of stay. Weekends are worse as 90 to 100 per cent hotels have full occupancy and those a few left, charge more than double or triple amount of approved tariff rates making it a bitter experience for those visiting. Thus, swearing never to come back to Shimla.
SHO, Shimla Shakuntala Sharma was seen patrolling The Mall, talking to tourists while guiding them towards their destinations and nearby markets. She was also seen instructing the pramwala, a constant opposite Tourism Lift, ready to render services to tourists travelling with their tiny tots. “I have warned these pramwala not to harass tourists by hovering around them as it would entail a fine of up to Rs 500,” she stated, while adding that “all efforts were being made to help tourists”. Despite receiving a warning, minutes later these guys were seen rushing towards the entrance of the Lift as they saw tourists approaching the Mall.
On enquiring about the haggling of room tariffs by the porters and guides, she said, “the members of the hotel associations should talk to the tourism department as well as the Superintendent Police and table their concerns”. It has also been seen that at times this step was encouraged by the hoteliers themselves as they were paying huge amounts of commissions to these porters/guides for room bookings.
Anil Walia, owner of Hotel Himland West said, “We have never encouraged such practice and being one of the oldest hotels in the city we have never given any commission till date. Rather I have also received complaints from my guests who have confirmed booking of being mislead by these porters by telling them strange stories such as the hotel is haunted, burnt or at one time a guest informed me he was told that a murder had taken place in that hotel”. He further added that few hotels indulge in scrupulous means of getting room bookings as in spite of giving around 10 per cent commission on the room tariff these porters are given additional incentives such as utensil, television or at times mobile phones on getting regular bookings for a given month.
Ajay Doegar, owner Hotel Doegar, Ridge, did acknowledge to the fact that until two years they were paying Rs 200 as commission to porters for room bookings but since then they have stopped this practice. He stated, “Now we take regular bookings only through travel agents or we have an online booking system under which we get confirmed bookings. This is a huge racket which needs to be controlled as most hotels located near the railway station and bus stand give nearly 20 to 30 per cent commission or at times full days rent”.
While talking to Amandeep Singh, a tourist from Punjab, he said, “en route to entering the city we were waved by a number of people showing us cards/brochures of hotels but we wished to take a chance and walked into various hotels enquiring about vacancy. Luckily we got good rooms at decent prices and were happy with our visit to Shimla”. However, Vicky and friends from Delhi were not that lucky as they reached Shimla around nine o’clock at night and were taken for a ride by the porters. Without disclosing the name of the hotel he said, “This guy took us to this hotel, for which we had a climb a very steep hill and then we had to pay nearly double the amount for overnight stay. Unhappy over the situation we feel that if the porters are minting money at least the hoteliers should show some empathy and work honestly. Obviously with such things happening we will think twice before coming again, or rather ensure booking in advance”.
The picture portrayed by various hotel owners was quite grim and the fact that tourists are easily taken for a ride. Cumulative efforts need to be made to stop those indulging in such practices so that the visitors feel at home when visiting Shimla and have an enjoyable stay rather than having a sour experience. Surjeet Kumar, Publicity Officer, Tourism & Civil Aviation Department, Shimla said that regular checks are undertaken to avoid such harassment from porters and many have been caught but due to lack of proof we have had to let them go. It is only if the travel agents and hoteliers come forward with such complaints, we can take some action. Otherwise our hands are tide too.
This one is for all the weekend tourists and those who suddenly overnight decide to take a break from summer heat and head for this famous destination, popularly known as Queen of Hills. The coming months will see Shimla thronged by tourists as its natural beauty, cool breeze and pleasant weather, amazing views of surrounding Dhauladhar Mountains will lure them to this hill station. So in case you are planning a trip to Shimla then ensure that you make reservations in advance or at least reach before nightfall, lest you fall in the porters trap. Hence, “Be Warned and Be Informed”.