Shimla: Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal Saturday launched the helicopter taxi service in the state to attract high-end tourists, an official said.
The government has signed an agreement with three private operators - Sim Sam Airlines, Mesco Airlines and Shiva Airlines - and allowed them to operate heli-taxis on identified routes.
"Dhumal launched the heli-taxi service in Shimla. Now all the three companies can operate inter-state and intra-state heli-taxi services," Director of Tourism Arun Sharma said.
The tourism department has identified 57 helipads across the state and fixed the airfare on 28 routes ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 13,000.
"The tourists can now travel within a short span of time even in landlocked valleys and snowbound areas," Sharma said, adding that "the Buddhist tourism circuit in the trans-Himalayas will definitely get a major boost".
The service will be most helpful in reaching Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur districts where Buddhist monasteries like Tabo -- also called as the Ajanta of the Himalayas, Dhankar, Gungri, Lidang, Hikim, Sagnam and Nako are the attractions.
Tourism is an important contributor to Himachal Pradesh`s economic development, besides horticulture and hydro-power generation.
As many as 13 million tourists visited the hills of Himachal Pradesh last year as compared to 11 million in 2009, registering an increase of over 16 percent in a year, a state tourism survey said.
The 2010 arrival number was 16.38 percent higher than 2009 and 25 percent up from 2008.
Similarly, the number of foreign tourists increased from 400,583 in 2009 to 454,851 in 2010 - an increase of 54,268 or over 13 percent in a year.
Famous hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala, Dalhousie and Kasauli were preferred among both Indian and foreigners.