Year Of Tourism 

MORE than 20 lakh tourists, including 3.65 lakh Amarnath yatris and over ten thousand foreigners, have visited Kashmir in the first eight months of this year. According to the tourist officials, this is the highest number of tourists Kashmir has received so far, beating by far even the pre-turmoil period record. The occupancy rate for houseboats has been over 80 percent. According to the figures, up to 10,000 people, most of them from the  other areas of India visit Kashmir in over 100 flights per day. Also thousands of people are visiting the Valley by road. Most hotels are booked through the summer with tourist resorts like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Dal lake attracting the most tourists. However, the UT government has now increased the options for tourists by developing more resorts. For example, Aharbal, Yusmarg, Tosamaidan, Gurez, historic old city in Srinagar are finding a prominent place on the tourist map of Kashmir. These places need further development of tourist infrastructure and also wider publicity for people to visit.

A combination of factors has made the tourism boom possible: One, there is this perception across the country that after the revocation of Article 370 J&K has been fully integrated into India. Second,  Covid-19 fallout which severely reduced the options to go abroad and third  the ongoing sweltering summer in mainland India which has forced people to escape to colder places like Kashmir. The Tourism department has said that an advertising campaign across major Indian cities and the opening of new destinations were also attracting more tourists.

Tourism, one of the mainstays of the Kashmir economy, is one of the sectors that has been hit the hardest over the two years following the abrogation of Article 370 with successive Covid -19 lockdowns also crushing the sector. As a result,  a large section of people was largely without employment. Their savings have already been depleted. This includes also the people associated with tourism. In 2021, many cases of suicides and suicide attempts took place as a result. The major cause of suicide attempts was financial distress in the families caused by the turmoil of the preceding two years and also by the extended successive lockdowns.

But the excessive focus on fewer resorts are drawing tourists away from other equally scenic places. There is an urgent need to develop new tourists sites, so that the benefits of tourism reach people across the Valley. There are plenty of such places in the Valley – Bangus Valley in North Kashmir, for example. The government needs to invest in the infrastructure in these places to facilitate the tourists to travel to lesser known resorts.

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