OVER the last several months, Kashmir Valley has been attracting a large number of tourists from across the country. One reason for this is the absence of the international travel as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The surging numbers of the visitors tell a happy story. Data reveals that the last December saw 13, 237 tourist arrivals in Kashmir, highest such number in the month in last several years. Most of these tourists visited Gulmarg where the hotels remain booked ever since. January, despite witnessing the harshest cold, saw 4863 tourist arrivals. Prospects for tourism are since getting better by the day. The renewed outbreak of the coronavirus infection hasn't worked as a dampener so far. And there's hope that with increased vaccination helping the administration get a grip on the contagion, the ongoing spring and the upcoming summer season will see more visitors make Kashmir their destination.
Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir has already received a big boost with prime minister Narendra Modi granting Rs 786 crore for tourism promotion in the UT's budget this year. This is Rs 509 crore more than last year's budget. This is allowing the administration to make ambitious tourism promotional plans to draw visitors to the UT. The administration has held meetings with travel agents from the other parts of the country. It also brought them on a visit to Srinagar. The Bollywood producers and the directors were also invited to persuade them to resume shootings in the Valley. Now the administration is also coming out with a new film policy "to bring back the golden era of Kashmir on the silver screen again". Recently, the cultural shows and the musical concerts were also organised which, however, ran into public opposition in view of the rising Covid-19 cases. Similarly, the crowds at the tulip garden also outraged sections of population. The anger wasn't against the revival of tourism but the implications for the health of the encouragement to large gatherings. And it is a legitimate apprehension.
That said, the return of tourists to the Valley is a welcome development. The sector is the mainstay of Kashmir economy and is a source of livelihood for lakhs of people. This sector has been battered by the events of the last two years leaving thousands of people associated with the trade unemployed. So, it is good that the sector has been an unlikely beneficiary of the Covid-19 lockdown and continuing restrictions on international travel. And to make most of the current situation, the administration is also facilitating direct flights from cities such as Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad to Srinagar. The steps are welcome as long as the administration also ensures that the SOPs are followed and the gatherings are avoided in its bid to promote the sector.
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