In a meeting last week, the Jammu and Kashmir Hoteliers Club expressed their concern about the low footfall of the tourists to Kashmir. Compared to last year when over 8 lakh people including 50,000 foreigners visited Kashmir, this year the number has so far failed to pick up. So, the hoteliers have urged the tourism department to intensify promotional campaign outside the state and also in foreign countries. The ongoing slump has followed the Pulwama attack which killed over 40 CRPF personnel.
The number of tourists has drastically reduced despite the efforts by the state government to woo them back. In recent months, the states tourism department has carried out campaigns in various parts of the country to increase tourist footfall in the Valley. But it has failed to make the difference. The tourism to the state plummeted in the wake of the Pulwama attack. The following skirmishes between India and Pakistan forced the countries such as the US, UK, and Australia to update their travel advisories for Kashmir. They have advised their citizens not to travel to Kashmir. The harsh government measures including highway ban have hardly helped the matters. The tourist arrivals have thus reduced to a trickle. Already, the domestic tourist arrivals in Kashmir have dropped by 40 percent over the past three years.
But 2019 was expected to be different. Heavy snowfall had brought a large number of tourists to the state. Buoyed by the inflow, the advisor to governor Khurshid Ahmad Ganai had early this year 0said that the government was expecting the tourist inflow to cross 13 lakh.
But subsequently the signals that went out from Valley to the world reflected a Kashmir that is abnormal, The tourism traders have blamed the television channels for creating a perennial negative image about Kashmir. True, the prime time television debates have often amplified the troubled situation in the Valley to boost their ratings. This turns the potential tourists away from Kashmir. If the situation since March is any indication, nothing has gone right for the Kashmir economy. Even the onset of spring has failed to bring tourists back to Valley. The intermittent escalation in violence has dissuaded people planning their visit to defer their programme. According to hoteliers there have been thousands of cancellations of the hotel bookings. This is hitting the traders hard. And if the situation goes on like this, and the seasons ahead pass without bringing tourists to Valley, it will deal another big blow to Valleys economy after the one inflicted by the Pulwama bombing. Or one can say, it already has. The tourism loss has percolated to all other sectors of the economy. This has created unemployment in its wake. The growing joblessness will create more desperation in Kashmir, particularly among the youth, with often unintended consequences. So, it is important that the Kashmir tourism, the backbone of the Kashmir economy, picks up. We cannot afford to lose yet another summer. We need to ensure that the businesses keep going and we welcome the tourists, no matter what turn the situation takes.