“The initial indications are quite encouraging regarding the flow of tourists despite number of unfortunate incidents. We pray nothing adverse happens since we have already suffered huge losses in last two years after floods,”
Since last one month 28 year old Uzair is facing hectic schedule at his office. He runs a travel agency in congested Dalgate area and is coordinating the trips across valley of his tourist customers. Uzair is expecting a substantial footfall of tourists this season following the drastic decline in domestic and foreign tourists during 2015 in view of devastating deluge of 2014.
“We hope and pray for peace this year. This industry has suffered massive losses in last two years after the floods of September, 2014 in state,” says Uzair.
The prime season of tourism in Kashmir has already started as the mercury in others parts of India is soaring unbearably. Hundreds of tourist every day are landing in Kashmir and heading towards the meadows like Gulmarg, Pahalgham and Sonamarg to enjoy the breathtaking views amid cool breeze.
Official sources believe that there is already occupancy rate of upto 80 to 90 per cent of hotels and houseboats and they are expecting it to be increased exponentially in coming days.
In Kashmir as many as 2000 registered hotels are catering the increasing rush of tourists every year. However, the arbitrary hike in airfares by the airlines and hotels in view of increasing footfalls of tourists in valley is concerning the tourism department.
The officials admit that the soaring prices of hotels and airlines are causing dent to further flow of tourism and keeps potential number of tourist away from visiting scenic Kashmir during summers.
“In most parts of the country, the summer temperature is so high that everyone wants to visit places with moderate temperature and Kashmir strikes to their mind first. But the sky touching airfares and unaffordable hotel rates are forcing away average class tourists who choose other affordable destinations,” says the officials in tourism department.
They plead helplessness and say their effort to retain control over such issues doesn’t show any results.
The president of Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant owners, Javed Ahmad Burza insists for having upper limit of airfares and hotel charges during the peak of tourism in valley.
“There must be an upper limit of tariff by both hotels and airlines to avoid illegal profiteering which discourages flow of tourists to Kashmir during the peak season.”
The major economy of state is agriculture and horticulture with which over 70 per cent people are associated. The government jobs are also the second largest sector contributing to states economy and roughly five lakh people are directly employed in government sector in state.
However, the government since last one decade after the steep decline in gun violence which had shattered the tourism industry is taking multiple initiatives to revive and upgrade the industry to boost the local economy.
Every year around one million tourists visit Kashmir. However, the flow could have been much higher in case the adverse advisories are lifted by most of the countries in world.
Majority of the countries have issued the adverse travel advisories for their citizens and urged them not to visit Kashmir during their travel to India.
“If we receive foreign tourist, the economy will boom. They are high end tourists and spend a lot. But unfortunately our government has failed to convince these countries,” says, Abdul Majeed travel agent.
However, as the uncertainty in Kashmir has always been the major reasons for its progress and prosperity, the local tourism players believe that the incident like Handwara followed by number of encounters and shutdown calls have forced large number of tourist to cancel their plans of visiting valley.
“The initial indications are quite encouraging regarding the flow of tourists despite number of unfortunate incidents. We pray nothing adverse happens since we have already suffered huge losses in last two years after floods,” says, Imdad, selling shawls and Kashmiri art on the banks of Dal lake.
“Every incident of violence potentially disturbs the tourism sector.”
Javed Burza blames, however, the negative publicity of media for spoiling the tourism in Kashmir. “Whenever any wrong incident of minor magnitude happens in Kashmir, it is exaggerated by media which discourages the tourist to visit Kashmir.”
He believes that if the media portrays the positive image of Kashmir, it will be full of tourists.
“There is a full tourism season right now and we hope it sustains throughout the season,” he prays.
Burza says that Jammu and Kashmir is a border state and adverse incidents are bound to happen but that doesn’t mean there is no normal life and it is a ‘war zone’.
“There are places in India which are more vulnerable to tourists unlike Kashmir. But they remain unnoticed and Kashmir is always portrayed as ‘war zone’ even if minor incident occurs.
As Government of India seems unfazed to encash the prevailing peace in valley, Burza is dismayed with no flow of tourists from America and Britain which has the highest purchasing power.
“We receive foreign tourists from south east Asia countries with very low purchasing power. We urge government of India to pitch the case of adverse travel advisories by America and Britain so that elite class tourist visit Kashmir”.
Interestingly, the efforts of tourism department to garner the tourist flow from Middle East countries and successive efforts of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to attract bollywood to state doesn’t show expected results on ground.
The state tourism department invested huge funds for advertising Kashmir in Middle East countries in last few years to attract high end tourists to valley.
The story first appeared in print edition of June 1, 2016.