Getting Tourism Right

As the Valley heads towards spring, there is no indication that the tourism would revive. Ever since centre stripped J&K of its special status under constitution, the tourism is one of the sectors the worst hit by the security lockdown and information blackout that followed. According to one report, Kashmir tourism has dropped 86% since Article 370 was de-operationalized. While in 2018, Kashmir had received 316,434 tourists between August and December, in 2019, this number has fallen to 43,059 for the same period. This has wrought havoc. The loss of jobs has been estimated to be at one and a half lakh so far.

Tourism is one of the pillars of Kashmir economy. Thousands of people are associated with the trade. Looking back, 2019 wasn’t good for tourism. Nothing went right for Kashmir tourism last year and in turn for the state’s economy. An escalation in India-Pakistan tension following Pulwama bombing sent tourists packing and dissuaded people planning a visit to defer their programme. Although by June, the situation had improved a great deal and the tourists had started returning to the Valley, the revocation of the Article 370 put paid to a promising season. In less than two days, Kashmir was empty of all the visitors. This has hit the traders hard. And if the situation goes on like this for the months to come, it will deal another big blow to Valley’s economy after the one inflicted by the unrests of recent years. That is, if it hasn’t already.

State Government should know that mere lifting of advisory will not do. It has to be urgently followed by the subsequent steps like withdrawal of communication blockade which has only been partially eased. A 2G mobile service will hardly help. So will not the selective easing of the broadband. But this is something that the government has been shying away from doing. This is unlikely to work.

At the same time, restoring communications needs to followed up with addressing longstanding structural problems affecting Kashmir tourism. There are some fundamental infrastructural infirmities that undercut all the government efforts to promote tourism. The Valley lacks the basic facilities like uninterrupted power supply, good roads, well-lit streets and safe habitations free of dogs. And in the absence of such facilities, any tourist who visits the state goes back disappointed – finding a wide gap between the Valley’s image as the paradise on earth and its decrepit infrastructure. They never return to Valley and second they don’t spread good word about the state. So, if the government is really serious about increasing tourist footfalls, it has to not only end the current siege-like environment but also go about addressing the inherent problems hampering the tourism industry in J&K.

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