Srinagar- Most of the tourism players in the valley are not enthused over the Jammu and Kashmir government’s move to reopen the Union Territory for tourists amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the ground situation is far from normal for any such activity to take place.
They said in these extraordinary times, the survival of people is paramount and everything else comes later.
“Even as the financial condition of the tourism players in the Kashmir valley is bad, majority of them do not want tourists to start coming yet, more so when there has been a spike in the COVID cases. Everyone is concerned about his safety and well-being,” Javaid Ahmad, a travel agent, said.
He said the situation in the wake of the pandemic was not conducive for resumption of tourism.
“We see cases increasing with each passing day. The situation is far from normal. In fact, it is getting worse,” Ahmad said.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided to open the tourism sector in a phased manner, but limiting it to tourists arriving by air only.
However, it has advised the tourists above the age of 65 years to avoid coming to the UT and also announced compulsory RT-PCR testing of all tourists at the airport on arrival.
“All incoming tourists must have confirmed hotel bookings for the duration of their stay. All incoming tourists must have confirmed return air tickets to any place outside J&K, either to their departure point or any other destination,” the J-K administration had said in an order.
Ashfaq Siddiq, the president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), said tourism and leisure is the last thing on the minds of people in the times of a pandemic.
“We have to see the ground realities, the whole of India, the whole of the world in fact, is grappling with COVID crisis. Tourism and leisure is the last thing on the minds of people in the times of a pandemic. Let us not fool ourselves and expect tourists to start coming. We have other states, where the footfall is higher and which have not yet allowed the tourism activities to take place,” Siddiq told PTI.
“Things like tourism, horticulture and others will come gradually only when we survive this health scare. Our survival is of the utmost importance,” he said.
Siddiq said on one hand, the administration has announced the opening of tourism in the UT and on the other hand, lockdown has been re-imposed in most areas of the valley.
“How do you expect tourism to flourish if the smooth movement of a tourist, who would come for peace of mind, is hampered?” he said.
The TAAK president said the decision was “ill-timed” and the announcement should have been made when the situation allowed it.
“It is an ill-timed decision. We had earlier appealed to the authorities to allow tourism to reopen when the lockdown was eased in early June so that a message is carried across and mindset would have been created among the people who intended to come,” he said, adding that however, now the situation was not right.
When asked if the tourism stakeholders were ready for the arrival of tourists, Siddiq said while they would follow the SOPs and other guidelines, the government needed to put in place contingency plans.
“Private stakeholders are taking precautions and following the requisite SOPs. We can have SOPs and follow them, have the infrastructure ready according to the guidelines, but I want to ask, what contingency plans do we have? We have seen a spike in the cases in Srinagar in the last few weeks and things have escalated out of their hands. Now, how do you expect the tourists to come under these circumstances? It is a point of concern,” he said.
Asif Burza, a young hotelier who is the managing director of Ahad Hotels and Resorts, said the tourism industry has to make the infrastructure COVID-compliant.
“We have to make our infrastructure COVID compliant. Whatever activities or businesses are there, we have to restart those as we do not have a sure shot date as to when this will go away or when there will be a vaccine. It can stay for a month or 10 years, we do not know. So, the sooner we make ourselves compliant, we make ourselves used to living in this scenario, the better it is,” Burza said.
He also demanded a bailout package for the hospitality industry in the Union Territory.
“For us, it has been a year-long lockdown. They cannot link us with the rest of the country where it was only for three months,” he said, referring to curbs imposed across UT following abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in August last year.
Ahmad, the travel agent, said the government should rather focus on infrastructure build-up right now before the tourists start arriving.
“The government should utilise this time for upgradation and refurbishment of the infrastructure most of which is in dilapidated condition. This way, they can also provide employment to locals here in the time of lockdown,” he said.
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