EVERY year as the winter sets in and snow falls, Kashmir looks forward to tourists. But for the past two winters such hopes have been belied. Right from February 2019 when Pulwama bombing that killed 40 CRPF security personnel triggered Indo-Pak skirmishes, tourism in the Valley has been in a freefall. The revocation of Article 370 in August last year did further damage. It evacuated Kashmir of all tourists. On August 3, two days before scrapping of Article 370, the tourists fled Kashmir. The flight followed a government order calling upon tourists and the pilgrims to the annual Amarnath pilgrimage to cut down their visit and leave the Valley within 24 hours. The Government buses were pressed into service to ferry tourists and pilgrims from across the Valley and rush them to Srinagar airport and bus terminals to facilitate their exit. Within following two days, Kashmir was empty of all the outsiders, something that inflicted a crippling blow on the state’s tourism industry during its peak season. Hotels which until then had enjoyed 80 percent occupancy turned into ghost houses, among them premium hotels in famous scenic resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam whose rooms go for as much as Rs 25000 a night in the peak season.
This winter again, the local administration is looking forward to revive the stalled tourism activity in the region. And to this end, the tour and travel operators from Maharashtra were recently brought to initiate an ‘Unlock Kashmir Tourism Campaign’. Around 70 travel operators along with some writers and journalists from Mumbai visited Kashmir and travelled to many scenic spots. According to tourism department the delegation will spread the good word about Kashmir.
But would this time round tourists come? Depends how the situation evolves. Covid-19 pandemic remains a dampener though. With the country bracing for a third wave of infection, the situation could go back to square one. But there’s one good possibility though. International travel will take a long way to return to normal. This, in a sense, offers tourist places like Kashmir some hope. Indian tourists who can’t visit abroad, can visit the Kashmir within the country.
Tourism sector forms 6.8 percent of Kashmir’s GDP and employs 2 million people. But the seven month siege following erasure of the region’s autonomy followed by Covid-19 pandemic, the sector is in bad shape. A significant number of people associated with it have either been laid off or are in the process of losing their jobs. Here’s hoping that this winter the tourism picks up. This will go a long way to shore up the Valley’s battered economy.
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