Shimla, Sep 30 (IANS) A whopping 6.5 million tourists have visited Himachal Pradesh this year, exceeding the population of this scenic north Indian hill state.
The state's population is around six million and the number of visitors to the state last year was lower than this figure.
'The 6.5 million tourists included some 400,000 foreigners,' said state Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh here Friday.
'This upward swing has taken place despite poor air and rail connectivity in the state. So almost all these arrivals are taking place by road, which has improved considerably in recent years,' he claimed.
'Earlier, tourists came to Himachal largely during summer to escape the intense heat of the plains, but now the trend is to visit Himachal resorts round the year,' said Singh.
'Which is why we have a new slogan for Himachal tourism - 'Himachal for all seasons and for all reasons',' the chief minister added.
He said the state was still missing out on high-end tourists due to poor air-connectivity, which needed to be improved. He said efforts were on to improve this sector.
'The Dharamsala and Kullu airports are being expanded so that larger 45-seater passenger aircraft can land there. We are also exploring the possibility of increasing the length of the Shimla airport,' Singh said.
'We are also considering utilising some 60 helipads scattered all over the state by introducing heli-taxi services to connect some of the remotest and off-beat scenic locations to holiday makers,' he said.
Singh added: 'We are also mulling setting up two large airports in the lower hills of the state at Balh in Mandi and another in Una district,' he said.