WITH the waning of the second Covid-19 wave, tourists are returning to the Valley. On an average 30 flights operate at Srinagar International Airport daily with seven to eight thousand people travelling to and from Kashmir. The people associated with the tourism sector are pinning hope on the upcoming autumn and the winter thereafter to draw more holidaymakers to the Valley, just like the corresponding period from October to April had done last year. According to government figures, 1.13 lakh tourists had arrived in Kashmir during the period, a figure that the then union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel had told the parliament at the time had broken the record of the past 16 years.
To woo travellers back, hotels and houseboats are providing huge discounts with prices reduced by as much as 50 percent. The tourism department has taken several measures to ensure that the fear of the Covid-19 contagion doesn’t scare away the visitors. According to government data, so far 80 percent of its tourism service providers have been vaccinated and are safe to welcome travellers from far and wide. Government is also in the process of identifying new tourist destinations to accommodate more tourists and offer them more places to visit. Recently, a meeting chaired by the advisor to governor Baseer Ahmad Khan listed out parameters to identify these places and the adventure spots.
Sounding a note of caution though, the tourism in Kashmir is not only about whether the pandemic is on or gone. The security situation is a factor too. While the Covid-19 lockdown may have been responsible for shutting the Valley off over the last one year, the security situation too has not been good.
At the best of times, the situation in the Valley remains uneasy and uncertain. And sometimes a big local event could make the region a site of geopolitical tension just like the Pulwama attack did. Truth is that while tourism is a boon for Kashmir it needs a peaceful environment to thrive, something that the Valley has lacked for the past thirty years. And considering the ongoing state of affairs, fundamentally the situation remains the same.
So, while we look forward to a fresh season of tourism, it is important that the state of siege that has more or less prevailed since the repeal of Article 370 in August 2019 is lifted. And this siege is not about the lockdown or the denial of internet and phones but about the political uncertainty and unpredictability.
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