Tourism Players Upbeat As Pandemic Ebbs, Spring Sets In

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Srinagar- With the onset of spring season coinciding with the Coronavirus endemic, the tourism players in the Valley are upbeat and expecting an important turnaround in Jammu & Kashmir’s summer tourism that suffered brutally in the first and second wave of the pandemic.

Pertinently, as the devastating influence of COVID-19 has somehow ebbed away, Kashmir’s economy has finally found an encouragement to fully open up for the globe, especially after a steady rise in tourist footfall shimmered a glimpse of hope in Kashmir’s Tourism industry during the winter months.

But many businesses that depend on tourism, including tour operators and hoteliers, see signs that even more tourists, compared to the winter footfall, could start streaming in as the summer season nears, providing a badly needed boost for the valley’s tourism stakeholders.

“The tourism stakeholders earned a relatively better profit in the last four months than they did during the two brutal waves of Covid,” says Kamran Habib, a trainee pilot who relocated to Srinagar and started working as a tour operator during the first wave of Covid.

“The early bookings have jam packed the months of March and April. All the rooms are sold out in Gulmarg, Gurez, Lolab, Pahalgam and other parts of the Valley.”

As per Kamran, the total percentage of bookings has increased by 80% compared to the summer months of 2020 and 2021. “Our fraternity was the worst hit in the last two years. But, if the bookings keep on growing at the same rate, then the Tourism industry can retain its original shape in terms of economy.”

As per the data available with Kashmir Observer, for the first time since 2015, the number of tourist arrivals for the month of November in 2021 had reached a record 1, 25,605 and in January and February 2022, over 1.5 lakh tourists had visited Gulmarg with over 80,000 domestic tourists.

Khursheed, a hotelier and houseboat owner told Kashmir Observer that the Government's decision to organize various “tourism boost” programmes and open Mughal gardens at full capacity has led to a massive increase in bookings for the upcoming months.

“Even though we received more than 1 lakh tourists in January and February this year, I’m sure that the number of tourists arriving in Kashmir will witness a massive boost in the summer months. Since January, the tourist footfall is gradually increasing and if the same continues, the numbers will increase in April, May and June,” he said.

As per the tour operators, hundreds of high-end domestic tourists are arriving in Kashmir in choppers and chartered flights, which is boosting the tourism economy a lot compared to the other domestic tourist arrivals.

The tour operators have also said that besides Gulmarg, the domestic tourists who wish to explore Kashmir are booking their stay for Gurez valley in the months of April, May and June.

“The Government has decided to open Tulip garden from the first week of April and because of it, the bookings have also increased. Most of these bookings are coming from the Domestic customers.” says Kamran.

Mohammed Ashraf, a Shikara owner, told Kashmir Observer that Tourism Department’s plan to promote Jammu & Kashmir at national and international level is a commendable job as hundreds of tourists are thronging the Dal Lake every day.

“And since floating Cinema was introduced in Dal, more and more customers are willing to take a Shikara ride,” says Ashraf.

Talking to Kashmir Observer, Secretary Tourism, Sarmad Hafeez said that because of the various programmes and festivals organized last year by the Tourism department along with local stakeholders, has made Kashmir’s tourism the highest in the country.

“For summer tourism, the department will intensify its attempts to organize various programmes and events in various parts of the country to attract more and more tourists towards Kashmir valley,” Hafeez said.

The Tourism Secretary said that his department will be organizing many spring festivals in the next one month.

“We will be having Badamwari Spring festival, spring festival in Yusmarg, Gurez and Tulip Garden. We are spreading Kashmir’s tourism to every corner of J&K. The department will organize road shows and other programmes in 21 cities across India in an attempt to attract more tourists to J&K,” Hafeez adds.

Notably, this is for the first time in the past several years that the J&K Tourism Department has rechristened the status of several tourist destinations as “all season” places, in an attempt, to boost the tourism industry and provide a relief to the stakeholders whose work had suffered brutally since 2019.

"We've asked the tourism stakeholders to brace up in terms of facilities and logistics being provided to tourists as we're pragmatic that the coming months would bring a good footfall of tourists in Kashmir," Hafeez told Kashmir Observer.

Notably, the Government has also decided to promote the tourism potential at maximum capacity on a bigger scale in collaboration with the stakeholders.

"As the Covid situation in the country improves, the Department would again undertake promotional activities across various tourism markets of the country. We are endeavouring to enhance the experiences of tourists by introducing new and more concepts like floating theatre in Dal Lake. The department has also decided to start paragliding services in Jammu. Besides paragliding, we’ll have parasliding and mountain bike services available in J&K.” The Tourism Secretary said.

The tourism department has also asked stakeholders to help the department in promoting the 75 offbeat destinations identified by the Department across J&K.

“We’ve asked all the stakeholders to come up with attractive and competitive packages so that more and more tourists are persuaded to visit J&K,” Hafeez said

“And we’re hopeful that the tourists thronging Kashmir during the summer months will be higher than past several years.” He added.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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