Where Are Tourists?

This winter has so far turned out to be very harsh in Kashmir. The Valley has experienced successive heavy snowfall since beginning of November, throwing life out of gear: electricity has been erratic, traffic movement has been affected, more so along Jammu-Srinagar highway and the flights have recurrently been grounded. For seven days since December 6, no flights operated from Srinagar Airport, leaving thousands of people stranded.

The new J&K administration under Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu has struggled to deal with the successive snow fury. During first snowfall on November 6, the administration took days to clear roads of snows and electricity also took several days to restore.

But for all the hardships it creates for the people, the snowfall in Kashmir is a boon for tourism. It is expected to bring holidaymakers back to the Valley. But this hasn’t happened so far. At 8,960 feet, Gulmarg, Kashmir’s wonderland of snow, has fewer tourists to serve. According to the tourism department, the occupancy of hotels in the famous hill resort has steeply fallen, a rarity in this season.

The absence of  tourists in the winter is put down to the still unfolding fallout of the revocation on August 5 of Article 370 which granted J&K an autonomous status under Indian constitution. Kashmir has since been largely under a security lockdown and a communication blockade which is only now being lifted.

The hoteliers display a mixed sentiment: only some are upbeat.  The tourism department, more so. They hope to receive more tourists as the exorbitant cost of air tickets to Valley comes down.

Tourism players fondly reminisce the pre-August 5 period when hotels in Kashmir had 60 to 70 percent occupancy.  Similarly, houseboats in Dal lake were booked to the gunwales, despite the Pulwama attack in February last  which killed more than forty CRPF personnel.

But this winter has so far turned out to be the worst in years. Compared to last year's records, the occupancy in hotels has halved. Lifting of advisory in October hasn’t thus made much of a difference.

Tourism forms 6.8 percent of Kashmir's GDP and employs 2 million people.  Now the industry stares at an uncertain future. A significant number of people associated with it have either been laid off or are in the process of losing their jobs.

Now Kashmir’s beleaguered tourism industry is banking on snow to resuscitate it. According to hoteliers, a trickle of visitors has started arriving. Some local news channels have also shown tourists playing with snow at Gulmarg and Pahalgam, Kashmir’s prominent scenic resorts. Will this trickle grow into a steady stream of visitors which is needed to give a leg up to the Valley’s economy? Only time will tell.


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