Kashmir loses 4-5 lakh tourists due to unrest

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Srinagar: For Shikara owners and others, loss of a good season revenue has resulted in overdue electricity bills and their children school fees pending now for months.

The Shikara owners of Srinagar show up every morning at Dal Lake, even though each of them can count the number of customers he has served in the last five months on one hand. But where else do we go? one of them asks.

The ongoing unrest and the Hurriyat-called shutdown has affected most economic activities in the Valley, but extremely low footfall during what would otherwise have been the busy season of Amarnath Yatra and Durga Puja holidays has hit tourism and allied industries hard.

“We have lost about four to five lakh tourists during these five months,” said Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Director, Tourism, Kashmir. The fall was greater in domestic tourist footfall than in the number of foreign tourists.

“The people associated with hotel industry pegged the loss to the tune of Rs 200 crores. Hotels and restaurants have lost about Rs 200 crores,” says Showkat Chowdhary, President of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA).

“We used to be overbooked during this season. But as the unrest began, all the clients cancelled their bookings, Jaan Mohammad, manager of hotel Imperial Lake View at Dalgate which has 27 rooms, all of which are unoccupied. If shelling occurs at the Line of Control, customers don’t understand that it is more than a hundred kilometres from here. Out of the 15 employees before the unrest, only three are left on the hotel owner payroll,” Mohammad says.

“Even if a tyre bursts here, people say a bomb has exploded,” says Sultan Mohammad, a Shikara owner.
Director, Tourism, however, says that they are planning to start promotion exercises again next year to counter the negative publicity of this unrest.

But for Shikara owners and others, loss of a good season’s revenue has resulted in overdue electricity bills and their children school fees pending now for months.

“A couple of months into the unrest, when conditions calmed in the city, we still could not travel to towns and villages, where situation was still tense,” says Javed Ahmad, general secretary of the tourist taxi stand at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. “Yet today if we take our vehicles out, the traffic police will ask us for our tax receipts. Every year, taxicabs are required to pay permit tax, token tax, and passenger tax among others. We want the government to take account of our lack of earnings this year,” he says.

“Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association is asking the government for a one-year moratorium on our loan repayments,” says Chowdhary. “We are willing to pay the amount with interest later, but right now businesses are just trying to stay afloat. The government has also lost in tourism revenue and contracts. We could not sell the contracts for the management of the Mughal Gardens, Shalimar and Nishat Bagh. This alone cost the government five crores,” says Mohammad Hussain Mir, Director, Floriculture.

Even if normalcy returns to the Valley, the new batch of tourists will be headed to winter destinations like Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam. “We are planning winter events to kick off tourism. We are holding a national ice skating championship and ice climbing events in Pahalgam,” says Deputy Director, Tourism, Jeelani Zarger.

Meanwhile, businesses around the summer destinations are worried that the next year might also draw a tepid tourist response.
Farooq Shah, Secretary, Tourism, said that there is no comment whether the government will consider and provide relief to the businessmen financial woes.

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