While Spring Is On Doorstep, Revival Of Tourism Still A Distant Dream

While Spring Is On Doorstep, Revival Of Tourism Still A Distant Dream

Srinagar: When its magnificent tulip and flower gardens are in full bloom, Chances of a revival in the number of tourists visiting Kashmir in the imminent spring season, remain bleak as the valley continues to suffer from limited internet access and partial shutdown.

According to media reports quoting people associated with tourism industry, tour operators, hoteliers and houseboat owners, who have already lost thousands of crores as tourist inflows fell to a 16-year low in 2019 told ET that going by the bookings occupancy rates would be less than 10% for Marc h and April.

They said, “On average, hotels and houseboats should have been 70% booked by now,” said Mir Anwar, president of Travel Agents Society of Kashmir, a lobbying body of over 120 agents. “We have seen huge cancellations over the last few months and there is very little uptick now. Most tourists are unsure of staying in the valley with such limited access to the communication facilities.”

Hamid Wangnoo, chairman of the Houseboat Owners Association in the valley according to Current News Service told a national daily that they have been offering up to 50% discounts to woo visitors during the key season.

“We have been attending road-shows across India and trying to recreate awareness on Kashmir, especially for tourists in the Far East, given that European governments have issued advisories to their citizens against travelling to the valley,” he said.

“Still the demand is very bleak”, he added.

The numbers compiled by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry says that the hospitality and transport sector alone lost business worth Rs 4,882 crore between August and December, its senior vice president Nasir Hamid Khan told the paper.

Countries including Germany, the UK, US and Canada had issued advisories against travelling to Jammu & Kashmir to their citizens soon after the central government on August 5, 2019 virtually abrogated Article 37of the Indian Constitution, which gave autonomous status to the state in terms of its ability to formulate laws for its permanent residents, and announced bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two separate union territories.

“The advisories persist,” said Neeraj Balani, the Indian managing director for International SOS, a global medical and travel security risk Services Company adding that they are also advising clients to defer travel plans to the Kashmir valley, including Srinagar.

Arshad Sheikh, a Srinagar-based tour operator, said numerous hotels have laid off staff and some are on the verge of shutting down.

Close to 560,000 foreign and Indian tourists, including visitors to the famed Amarnath Temple, visited Kashmir in 2019, according to the state’s tourism department.

The number was the lowest since 2003 and down by 33% from 2018 when about 830,000 people visited the valley. To be sure, tourist inflows to the valley have been falling since 2017.

But the numbers plummeted since August, 2019. Between August and December, tourist inflows to Kashmir valley plunged 87% on year to 43,059, according to government figures. Before that, in June and July alone, some 318,000 people had visited the valley.

According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the total business lost by all the key sectors, including horticulture, construction, infrastructure and real estate, between August and December amounted to Rs 17,878 crore. The industry lobbying body had recently shared a report detailing the losses with the country’s commerce and railways minister Piyush Goyal.

In January, the government reinstated limited mobile internet, primarily 2G connections in the valley with access to a limited number of websites which didn’t include social media. The police are now cracking down on suspected users of virtual private network (VPN), trying to circumvent the ban and gain access to social media websites. (CNS)