Bringing Tourists Back

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THE number of tourists who visited  the Valley through August to December last year is 43,000 and from January to September  this year, it is just 19,000, with most of these arrivals before March, the officials have revealed to media. However the bookings and inquiries by the visitors have reportedly gradually increased over the past several weeks.
Covid-19 pandemic remains a dampener. Travel is one of the sectors most impacted by the contagion. More so, in the Valley where the infection surfaced when the tourism sector had already been crushed by the seven month siege following the revocation of Article 370. But in March this year the imposition of Covid lockdown closed off any chances of the sector’s early revival. Though the union and J&K government has  taken steps to unlock the economy, with Unlock 5 witnessing even the reopening of cinema theatres and the schools, travel is yet to resume at the pre-pandemic scale. In fact, international travel will a long way to return to normal. This, in a sense, offers  tourist destinations like Kashmir some hope. Indian tourists who can’t visit abroad, can visit the destinations like Kashmir within the country.
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 region’s economy.  An escalation in India-Pakistan tension following Pulwama bombing in February   sent tourists packing and dissuaded people planning a visit to defer their programme. Although by June, 2019 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 hit the traders hard. And if the situation persists for more months to come, it will deal a far bigger blow to the Valley’s economy after the one inflicted  by the unrests of recent years. That is, if it hasn’t already.
J&K Government has a role here. It can’t rest on its hands. This is time, it makes it possible for the tourists to visit. And to start with, the government has to ensure it makes it affordable for the tourists to visit by lowering the airfare and also not making the Coronavirus test on arrival  mandatory. The tourists with recent negative tests should be allowed to come. This would go a long way to help out the otherwise moribund tourism sector and also revive the larger economy.

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