Tourists Return

WHILE the heavy snowfall this year has created many hardships for people in the Valley, on tourism front the things have started looking up. In famous health resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, the snow is drawing tourists back. According to tourism department figures, out of a total available 1800 hotel rooms in Gulmarg, almost all of the rooms are booked till the end of February. Another reason for the renewed tourist influx is the continuing ban on international travel which is forcing travellers in the country to look for tourist places within the country. And Kashmir remains a favourite place to visit for all Indians". Similarly, there is positive development on Covid-19 front too. Despite winter, the Covid-19 cases in J&K have witnessed a drastic fall from over 1000 in summer to less than 200 now. Besides the talk of vaccine is also shoring up the public confidence. This will remove the existing restraint associated with the travel. This has created hopes of a good year ahead for tourism.

And Kashmir tourism needs a year of bumper tourist inflow to compensate for the losses of the previous two years. In 2019, the tourist arrivals dropped by a whopping 34 per cent as a consequence of the removal of Article 370 and subsequent lockdown. Similarly, 2020 saw negligible tourism due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The pathetic state of tourism in Kashmir is best illustrated by the steep drop in the arrivals over the past three years. According to official data 8,42,202 tourists visited the valley in 2018, 4,99,582 in 2019, and only 28030 so far in 2020.

But from July 2019 onwards a trickle of tourists tentatively started wending their way back to Kashmir. Tourism department figures reveal a total of 186 tourists arrived in July followed by 284 in August, 848 in September, 2697 in October and 6327 in November, 56 of them foreigners.

The government is trying its best to bring tourists to J&K. The tourism department has roped in renowned Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali "to promote local art and culture". In an interaction with media in Jammu in December, Ali showed interest in making films that reflect local themes, music, art and locales. The tourism department is also organising winter games, which will be hosted at Gulmarg in February 2021 under the Khelo India initiative.

In November, the tour and travel operators from Maharashtra started an 'Unlock Kashmir Tourism Campaign' with support from the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department. Around 70 travel operators along with some writers and journalists from Mumbai visited Kashmir and travelled to many scenic spots. Here's hoping that more and more tourists visit Kashmir. Battered by the two consecutive years of abnormal situation, Kashmir economy desperately needs tourism and the normal business activity to put it back on rails.

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