Srinagar: The tourism sector in Kashmir is on a downward spiral as it faces heightened risk and uncertainty following the abrogation of Article 370 and increased violence on non-locals since October.
Even though scores of tourists continue to visit the valley everyday amid the ongoing clampdown and civilian shutdown, it is much lesser than previous years. According to an official of the state tourism department, more than 20,000 tourists have visited Kashmir including foreigners in the last three months since the clampdown began earlier in August. The number of tourists, however, who visited Kashmir last year at the same time was 2,28,905, the number depicting the massive hit that the tourism sector has taken due to the volatile situation
Earlier on August 2, the government issued an advisory directing all tourists in Kashmir to cut-short their visit and leave the valley immediately ahead of the unilateral decision to abrogate Article 370 on August 5. The tourists left the valley in hordes and within days, all business establishments associated with the sector including hotels, houseboats and transport services suffered a jolt.
Then on October 9, the government revoked the travel ban and issued another advisory urging people to resume their travel plans to Kashmir. The tourism department, during the period of travel ban, recorded as many as 8,404 tourist arrivals including 1,373 foreigners to the valley.
In the month of October, as the travel ban was revoked, as many as 9,327 tourist arrivals were recorded including 824 foreigners.
After the travel ban ended in the wake of improved situation as perceived by the government, the conditions in Kashmir worsened for non-locals as many of the visitors including apple traders and labourers were targeted by suspected militants leaving as many as 12 dead in seven attacks. “The attacks have led to a further deterioration in the situation leading to cancellation of travel plans by many,” an official of the tourism department told NewsClick.
The killing of five Bengali tourists in Kulgam area of South Kashmir has also hit tourist arrivals this season as majority of domestic tourists belong to the state of West Bengal followed by tourists from Gujarat.
The tourist official said that the months of October and November is a lean period but a lot of people from West Bengal visit around this time.
The department, however, is eyeing the winter arrivals now. “The winter arrivals pick up by the month of December and the winter season is also a peak season during which a lot of foreigners visit places like popular ski-resort Gulmarg,” the official said.
While the tourism sector continues to struggle due to the shutdown, tourists visiting the Valley continue to face inconveniences.
A resident of Mumbai, Kuber is travelling with his own family and two other families to Kashmir for the first time but, the situation did not deter him to revise his plan despite increased violence following the revocation of travel ban. “We are not afraid and people here are still warm despite all the politics around. But, there are no shops open and I wanted to do a lot of shopping and eat at local restaurants here,” he said.
On the other hand, another non-local Rinku Kumar died in a grenade blast at the city’s main shopping centre Lal Chowk on Monday (November 4), leaving his wife grievously injured.
The hotels have gradually started to open up in several parts of the Valley including in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg. “The flow of tourists is abysmal,” a hotel manager in Gulmarg said as uncertainty looms large over their business prospects. “We receive maximum of three to four bookings at this time,” he said.
Gulmarg also remained a no-go zone for many days in August and early September as tension between India and Pakistan surged over the issue of abrogation of Article 370. The cable-car service has since then been reopened and in the month of October, as many as 1,600 people had taken the gondola ride, a prime attraction for tourists in the Gulmarg meadow.
According to officials, the tourists visiting this time do not have any favourites, but are visiting Srinagar and Pahalgam in South Kashmir as well as Gulmarg and Sonmarg in North Kashmir. The tourism department has, however, directed travel planners and tour operators to avoid certain destinations like Shopian and Kulgam districts, where tension is higher.