Srinagar: Government’s decision to unlock Kashmir in a phased manner after a significant decline in daily coronavirus cases has given a ray of hope to the tourism players in the Valley who are reeling under acute financial losses from the last three years.
“Kashmir is ready to welcome tourists,” Secretary Tourism Sarmad Hafeez told Kashmir Observer on Thursday.
On June 6, over a month after the J&K government imposed a lockdown in the Valley and the restrictions caused the tourism industry to fall silent, the administration announced a phased withdrawal of Covid lockdown amid a decline in fatalities and positive cases.
The decision has exhilarated the tourism stakeholders as the Valley is once again set to receive tourists, raising hopes and solving financial constraints of shikarawalas, houseboat owners, hoteliers, restaurant operators, ponywalas and handicraft dealers.
“Since last week, we have received around 10-20 bookings per travel agency but the numbers will grow up to 40-50 bookings if the Tourism Department brings in an effective and durable infrastructure for safe and prosperous tourism in Kashmir.” Habibullah Pandow, a senior member of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) told Kashmir Observer.
The hoteliers too have welcomed the phased lifting of the lockdown in Valley and have expressed optimism that the tourist inflow will increase day by day.
“Since lockdown was lifted and partial restrictions were imposed, we are getting around 10-15 bookings in one single day,” President Kashmir Hotels and Restaurants Owners Federation (KHAROF), Wahid Malik, told Kashmir Observer.
He further added that the number of tourists arriving in Kashmir is relatively low compared to the winter rush.
“I’m sure the number of tourists travelling to Kashmir will grow by the end of this month,” he said.
Publicity Secretary of Houseboat Association Kashmir, Mohammed Amin Malik said that the tourism industry suffered a whopping loss of Rs 1500 crore since August 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was revoked and the state was split into two Union Territories.
“The unprecedented lockdowns following it broke the backbone of the tourism industry. It may take a while to recover from those losses but for now, we really appreciate the means that the Tourism Department has taken in order to revive the crumbling state of Kashmir’s Tourism,” he said.
According to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), since 2019 the tourism industry in Kashmir has lost around 70,000 jobs and many stakeholders believed that the numbers would have grown by the end of this year, if J&K administration hadn’t restored the tourism activities in the Valley.
Meanwhile, the tourism department has also braced up and have taken a slew of measures to ensure a Covid free inflow of tourists into Kashmir
“For now, tourists entering Kashmir through airport and highway have to undergo a Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) and only those who are found negative will be allowed to march forward,” Secretary Tourism Sarmad Hafeez said.
He further said that those tourists who are found positive for the virus will be directly referred to the government managed quarantine care centres where they will have to stay till the time they’re found negative.
“During their stay in these quarantine centres, their essentials including medicines will be managed by the administration itself. We are discussing new measures to arrange a hassle free inflow of tourists into Kashmir and for the same we are in contact with various airlines and Airport Authority of India,” he said.
He further added that in order to save time for these tourists, the Tourism department is having brief discussions with DDMA and Airport Authorities for ensuring that the tourists carry not more than 72-hour old RT-PCR report while entering Kashmir via any mode of travel.
“For now, the tourist inflow in the valley isn’t that much, but as soon as we implement new strategies that will ensure a Covid-free tourism, the number of tourists will surely grow,” he added.
Almost two weeks back, the Tourism Department had come up with two-pronged strategies to ensure that the Tourism industry recovers from the state of shambles. The first and the foremost step, according to Hafeez was to ensure that people related with the Tourism are fully vaccinated.
Till now, around 20,000 people who are related with Kashmir’s tourism have been vaccinated,” he said, adding “Vaccination will ensure that tourists and local stakeholders, both are safe,”
The Second strategy, he said, was to organise capacity building workshops for the members of the Tourist-trade to familiarise them about the ways of doing business Post-Covid and making them adhere to safety protocols.
“From Wednesday next week, our capacity building program will commence with 4000 stakeholders including shikarawalas, hoteliers and houseboat owners in the first session.” Hafeez added.
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