After good start,tourism suffered major hit due to unrest in Valley

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Srinagar: After witnessing a heavy rush of guests during the first half of 2016, when more than 10 lakh tourists visited the Kashmir valley, tourism sector suffered a major setback due to cancellation of all bookings due to unrest.

Now at a time when the tourism sector is making all out efforts to bounce back and attract skiers, adventure lovers and other guests during this winter, demonetization coupled with lack of snowfall are making the things difficult for those associated with the industry.

Everything was going on smoothly and hoteliers and houseboat owners were finding it difficult to accommodate more guests despite very high air-fare, sudden change in the situation following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Burhan Wani and two other militants in an encounter in Anantnag kept the visitors away.

Though the tourist season in the valley starts with the opening of Asia’s largest Tulip garden on the foot of Zabarwan hills, overlooking world famous Dal Lake in March-April, but this time world famous ski resort of Gulmarg and famed health resort of Pahalgam received guests even until eruption of protests and strike.

According to the Deputy Director Tourism, Kashmir, about 10 lakh tourists from different parts of the country and abroad visited the valley during the first half of 2016.

“About 10 lakh tourists visited in the first half of the year. Due to the unrest the number hit an all time low in the last five months. But, the silver lining in all this is that we still used to receive about 6000 foreign tourists on an average every month even during unrest,” he said.

He said now that the situation has improved, the number of tourists visiting the valley will gradually increase as tourist department has lined up several events to attract more visitors during the winter months.

Similar views were expressed by those associated with the tourism industry.

“First the unrest and now demonetization have broken the back of tourism sector of the valley. From last five months tourists stayed away from the valley due to the unrest. Now that the situation was improving, we were hoping that the tourist inflow during the winter months will improve, but demonetization has seriously hit the influx of the visitors,” said Abdul Razak Mir, shikarawalla, who was sitting ideal on a bank of Dal Lake near Nehru Park.

He alleged that demonetisation has forced prospective travelers to queuing up outside the banks in the country.

Mir said that a tourist has to have hard cash in his hands to visit the valley, where e-transfer of money was not possible at majority of places. “I don’t have a swipe machine, if a tourist takes a shikara ride he has to pay in cash. Similarly, if he goes to Gulmarg, he will have to pay ponnywallas and local taxi drivers in cash. The limit for withdrawing cash from your bank account for a week is Rs 24,000, how can someone think of going on a vacation when people are finding it difficult to meet day-to-day needs with such limited resources,” he added.

However, Mir hoped that tourist will once again visit Kashmir, where both the government and separatist leaders have invited travelers to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of the people of the valley.

The unrest also badly affected Travel agents in the valley, where the air fare took a nosedive in the second week of the unrest. “Initially for about ten days, the air fare from Srinagar to other parts of the country, including Jammu and Delhi, witnessed a considerable increase as tourists and locals, who had come to celebrate Eid with their families, were leaving in a hurry. The tickets from Srinagar went as high as Rs 16,000 to Rs 20,000,” Managing Director of Travel 24X7 Tawseef Ahmad said.

He said however, after about 10 days, the air fare took a nosedive. During the unrest the air fare was about Rs 2200 to 2500, which is very less as compared to the price of tickets in the summer season.

Meanwhile, life took a turn from good to bad in the last around five months of unrest for a young hotelier Tufail Ahmad, who alongwith his three friends took a hotel on lease for Rs 14 lakh at Khayam in Srinagar for a year.

However, due to cancellation of bookings due to the unrest that has left over 91 civilians dead and thousands of others injured in security force action in the last over five months, Tufail has incurred heavy losses.

“We were doing great before the unrest hit the valley on July 8. The hotel had full booking till the end of this season. But, unfortunately when the unrest hit the valley, all the booking were cancelled,” Tufail said.

He said they were only able to recover only 70 per cent of the money they had invested.

Similarly, transporters, including associated with tourism sector, have also incurred heavy losses due to the unrest. “In the last five months we suffered huge losses because of tourists staying away from the valley in view of the unrest. Now, we were hoping that tourists will once again return to the valley as the situation has normalized. But, the influx of tourists is very less than expected,” said Omar Ahmad, who is a driver at TRC Taxi stand.

Omar said winter doesn’t witness influx of huge number of tourists in the valley, but the number of visitors coming in this year was very less as compared to previous years.

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