WITH winter setting in and Kashmir starting to receive snowfall, the local administration is looking forward to revive the stalled tourism activity in the region. And to this end, it is bringing tour and travel operators from across the country. Recently, around 70 travel operators along with some writers and journalists from Mumbai visited Kashmir and travelled to many scenic spots.
Ever since the revocation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, the tourism sector in the Valley has been in a freefall. The tourists fled Kashmir on August 3 last year. 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.
This 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.
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.
Similarly, there are also around 25000-30000 vehicles engaged with tourism which have little work now. The number of tourists who visited Kashmir through August to December last year was just 43,000 and from January to September this year, it has been a meagre 19,000, with most of these arrivals before March. However the good news is that bookings and inquiries by the visitors have reportedly gradually increased over the past several weeks.
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. 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 Kashmir within the country. Here’s hoping for a bumper tourist season in winter.
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