Let More Gulmargs Bloom

AFTER more than three years, tourists have from all across the country have begun to wend their way back to Kashmir. This winter has witnessed a good number of tourists visiting the Valley, something that has come as a boon for the Valley’s battered economy. The statistics about tourist arrivals paint a happy picture of the tourist sector. According to tourism department data, this year, in  January alone, a total of 46383 tourists visited Gulmarg. As against this, 98,757 tourists visited Gulmarg for the entire last year.  This is a welcome change. For almost 17 months, the tourism sector in J&K lay decimated. The siege following revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 and later the Covid-19 lockdown made Kashmir out of bounds for the holiday makers. Thousands of people associated with the sector lost their jobs as the health resorts and the hotels were deserted.
Following Covid-19 lockdown, the J&K administration released a stimulus package of Rs.5.67 crores for tourism sector. The benefit of Rs.1000 per month was later extended for a period of six months and an amount of Rs 618.70 Lakh has recently been approved for the tourism stakeholders. But the growing tourist arrivals since have buoyed up the sector. According to tourist department figures, the hotels in Gulmarg are occupied until March. Similarly, the tourist spots like Pahalgam are seeing the rush. But it is Gulmarg which is the go to place. This is because Gulmarg has received most of the publicity. Adding to Gulmarg’s appeal is that it is also the skiing destination. But the excessive focus on Gulmarg is drawing tourists away from other equally scenic places, some of them like Aharbal, Yusmarg, Tosamaidan, Gurez, historic old city in Srinagar have only recently found a prominent place on the tourist map of Kashmir. These places need development of tourist infrastructure and also a wider publicity for people to visit.
Going forward, the tourism department has to work hard to ensure that more people from across the country are persuaded to visit Kashmir. The visits by the tour operators and also the Bollywood producers has played their due role in bringing tourists back. But it is also true that the spike in tourist visits to Kashmir is in some part the result of the ongoing ban on international travel due to Covid-19 pandemic. And once the world recovers from the pandemic and in the international travel is restored, Kashmir will be in direct competition with the international tourist destinations. So, the tourism department has to prepare for this turn of events. Even when international travel is restored, there will be enough tourists in the country who will be happy to come to Kashmir provided Kashmir is sold as one of India’s most sought after tourist destination through coordinated promotional activities.

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