Winter Hope For Tourism

THE Jammu and Kashmir tourism department has offered discounts to tourists as “a Diwali gift,” to draw them to the Valley. A 40 percent slash has been announced on the rates of hotels and houseboats. This is expected to bring more tourists to Kashmir much like the onset of winter did last year when a large number of tourists visited the region, aided by the successive heavy snowfall. According to reports, there is currently 50 percent occupancy in hotels in Kashmir and it could enhance going forward. The union home minister Amit Shah on his last week’s visit to the Valley said that from January to March this year the number of tourists stood at 1.13 lakh as against 36,000 tourists that visited in 2020.

The tourism department has already 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 over 80 percent of its tourism service providers have been vaccinated and are safe to welcome travellers from far and wide. Over the last several months, the Government has also been in the process of identifying new tourist destinations to accommodate more tourists and offer them more places to visit.

Upcoming six months would be crucial. There are expectations that the arrivals will pick up as a result of the snowfall which is a novelty for most Indians. The tourism players, however, would be wary about the apprehended resurgence of Covid-19 which could act as a spoilsport.

To be sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has played both a beneficial and a baneful role: though the disease stopped the inflow of tourists to Kashmir during lockdowns, it also made it possible that more and more tourists come to the region. The ban on international travel ensured that Kashmir became a preferred destination for the tourists across the country. Had the second Covid-19 wave not intervened, the last winter’s tourist rush would have continued into the summer also.

But things seem to be looking up again. The international travel remains largely banned. Though the abating pandemic has given confidence to the union government to relax Covid-related restrictions and reopen its borders to foreign travelers, the country has only granted tourist visas to travelers arriving on chartered flights. If Covid-19 remains under control, the facility will be extended to those arriving on commercial flights from 15 November. But the uncertainty on this score offers hope that this winter too, the Valley would witness more tourist arrivals. The tourism sector forms 6.8 percent of Kashmir’s GDP and employs around 2 million people. So, it is critical that we have another bumper tourism winter.

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