Kashmir Sans Tourists On Christmas, New Year

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With Tourist Arrivals On Decline, empty shikaras stand in a row on the banks of famed Dal Lake in Srinagar. KO Pic Abid Bhat

SRINAGAR – For the first time in three decades, Kashmir will witness minimum presence of tourists to mark Christmas and New Year as a fallout of the lockdown after the revocation of Article 370 on August 5. On August 3, the J&K government had issued an advisory asking tourists and Amaranth Yatris to leave Kashmir.

Ever since the efforts to woo back tourists to Kashmir by the government including through schemes like ‘Back to Valley’ have not borne much fruit. The government has tried to infuse life in the sagging tourism industry by doing promotional campaigns in places like Kolkata and Pune to allay apprehensions about safety for tourists in Kashmir.

The August 3 government advisory for tourists not only resulted in the fleeing of tourists and cancellation of bookings but also shook the confidence of potential tourists who had planned to visit Kashmir.

As a consequence, the hotel and houseboats have suffered huge losses. The restaurants and handicrafts have also recorded a significant decline in earnings.

While most hotels have scaled down operations, some have been forced to cut down on staff.

The Internet gag has nearly crippled the operations of tour operators.

“The hotel industry never recovered after the advisory, though the government did withdraw the advisory later, but that did not help infuse confidence among the tourists for returning to the Valley,” Mushtaq Chaya, Chairman J&K Hoteliers Club, told IANS.

Chaya said the situation has never been this bad even at the peak of militancy during 1990s.

“The business is almost zero right now”, Chaya said. “Situation hasn’t been this bad since 1996, lakhs of people linked directly to tourism sector in Kashmir are facing tough times,” he added.

In Kashmir, the snow-peaked Gulmarg ski resort is the most sought after winter destination for the visitors. Every year thousands of tourists come to the Valley to celebrate Christmas and New Year. That trend continued even at the peak of militancy.

Mohammad Shafi, a tourist photographer at Gulmarg, says the tourist inflow to the ski resort has dropped drastically.

“On a normal day I would earn Rs 1000, but these days I earn not more than Rs 100 a day,” Mohammad Shafi said. “The situation was very bad in August and September, it has marginally improved now, but that has not helped some 25 odd tourist photographers in Gulmarg,” he added.

To attract tourists, the tourism department is planning to organise adventure activities in Gulmarg like Skiing, snow board ice skating and ice hockey. According to official figures, 35,900 tourists have visited Kashmir from August to November. In December, on an average not more than 300 tourists are arriving in Kashmir daily.

 

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