BEFORE the third Covid wave broke out in January, Kashmir witnessed an inflow of 2.5 lakh tourists in November and December, most of them visiting Gulmarg and Srinagar. Tourist footfall was between 4,000 and 5,500 per day in the two months. According to the tourism department, the occupancy of the hotels in Gulmarg had gone up to nearly 100 percent, so was that of the houseboats in Srinagar and other places like Pahalgam. Snowfall in the Valley has always been a big draw for tourists which is a novelty for most people in mainland India. Also, with international travel continuing to be barred, Kashmir has become the preferred destination for tourists in the country. More so, in the winter when unlike most parts of mainland India, it snows in Kashmir.
The surge in the tourist rush began in October itself when around 93,000 tourists visited the Valley. Overall, six lakh tourist footfalls have been recorded in Kashmir in 2021. In 2020, 4.1 lakh tourists had visited Kashmir amid the then runaway pandemic. These are glad tidings for the sector otherwise battered by the turmoil following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 and the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic.
But in January, the spike in fresh Covid infections, this time triggered by a new virus mutant Omicron. The number of tourists who visited the Valley in January came down to 35000. Also, there was also some opposition in the Valley to the encouragement of the tourist arrivals in the midst of a full-blown Omicron wave.
Now with the Omicron wave winding down, tourists could be hoped to return. Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Kashmir economy. And the return of tourists to the Valley in large numbers would be a positive development. And to this end, the administration has already taken steps to protect the Valley as a safe destination. This has involved a two-pronged strategy: one, vaccination of the people associated with the tourism. Second, strict enforcement of the SOPs to ensure the safety of the tourists during their stay in the Valley. The administration has already carried out vaccination drives at tourist destinations.
Tourism has the potential to shore up our beleaguered economy. Here’s hoping that things improve from hereon. The waning pandemic wave is once again creating conditions for unhindered tourism in the Valley. This is also the hope of the people associated with the tourist sector. They expect the third wave to blow over soon so that the tourists continue pouring into Kashmir and help resuscitate the economy and generate jobs.
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