Bring The Tourists Back

THE J&K administration has finally decided to reopen the tourism sector, the backbone of J-K’s economy, that has been shut since August 5 last year when the union government withdrew the former state’s special status. The decision was taken at a high-level meeting headed by Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu. J&K government spokesperson Rohit Kansal has said the detailed guidelines and Standard Operating Procedure are being put in place to ensure the tourist arrivals don’t lead to further spread of coronavirus. The tourism in Kashmir has reduced to a trickle since August 5 move. And in March when the arrivals were picking up after a long hiatus, the outbreak of Covid-19 forced the government to impose yet another lockdown and ban the entry of tourists as a precautionary measure.

Now, with the union government unlocking the economy and the J&K administration following the suit, the tourism is one of the major sectors of the former state’s economy that is being opened up. One of the important measures in this direction is the reopening of the prominent tourist places including parks and gardens. Government had earlier closed them to public in view of the Covid-19 lockdown. This included the Tulip Garden, one of the largest tulip gardens in Asia. However, the government has made it mandatory for every visitor to wear mask, maintain social distancing including at ticket counters. Besides, use of hand sanitizers is a must. There will also be thermal scanners at the entry points.

Tourism is one of the pillars of Kashmir economy. Tourism forms an estimated 6.8 percent of the GDP and employs over two million people in the region. It was dealt a crippling blow in the middle of the peak season last year. Looking back, 2019 as a whole wasn't good for tourism. Nothing went right for Kashmir tourism and in turn for the region’s economy. An escalation in India-Pakistan tension following Pulwama bombing in February last year sent tourists packing and forced people planning a visit to defer their programme. Although by June, the situation had improved a great deal and the tourists had started returning, 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. That is, if it hasn't already. For eleven months now no tourists have visited Kashmir. It is good that the administration is finally waking up to the need to revive the sector. Kashmir has lost four straight seasons to the turmoil and the region can ill-afford further halt to the economic activities. More so, the tourism that is so critical to livelihood of a vast section of society.

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