The Omicron threat has finally subsided. The weekend restrictions in the markets have ended and educational institutions too are in the process of reopening. And life seems to be gradually moving towards a ‘new normal’. In this new normal, people are still required to wear masks and follow other Covid appropriate behaviour.
While booster doses for the elderly and frontline workers have started, people are hoping that the government starts vaccinating children below the age of 15 years soon. At the same time, the people as well as the authorities should learn from the past mistakes given that the Coronavirus has been majorly tamed now.
However, a new variant can come at any moment and nobody should lower their guard, especially the tourism stakeholders. While tourists have already started trickling in, their arrivals are a good omen for the battered tourism sector that will be looking forward to revive after a series of lockdowns from 2019. Conduct of Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests should continue to remain mandatory for intending tourists and there should be no entry to any unvaccinated visitors to Kashmir.
The same holds true for the workforce that comprises labourers, masons, carpenters, painters, etc that come to the Valley after the winter season. And while the government undertakes several promotional campaigns across the country and sometimes abroad too, it is important that alongside an invite, a message should go out that only vaccinated persons and those willing to follow Covid safety protocols will be welcomed.
The tourists too need to be assured that the stakeholders in Kashmir valley would follow the Covid safety protocols. The local stakeholders ranging from drivers to hotel staff too should follow the Covid safety protocols while dealing with the visitors.
It is no secret that those associated with the tourism sector have gone through a lot during the past few years. Entire world was affected by the Coronavirus pandemic but the case of Kashmir is different. Earlier too, the sector has taken a severe hit especially during the street protests and unrests in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016.
The September 2014 floods too had dented the sector and it is yet to revive fully from the jolts of the past. All businesses in the Valley suffer if there is a lockdown but the tourism season in Kashmir peaks only during the spring and summer months. Now that the spring season is about to arrive, the government should take proactive steps so that those associated with the tourism sector do good business this year. Few days ago, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCC&I) expressed concern over the problem faced by the tourism industry with regard to the issuance of permits to commercial vehicles for tourism purposes.
It said the tourist operators were facing problems due to non-availability of permits to the vehicles which resulted in cancellation of bookings. The chamber said the tourism sector in general and tour operators in particular were running into the most difficult time due to business losses since August, 2019. While the KCC&I had appealed to Governor Manoj Sinha to intervene, the government should employ proactive officers. The officers should ensure resolution of problems in the first place much before the stakeholders issue appeals.
At the same time, the local stakeholders should join hands with the government to expand the scope of tourism in Kashmir. It is good to note that Doodpathri has emerged as a new tourist destination among both locals as well as visitors. A winter carnival is presently underway at Aharbal during which trekking expeditions were held. Other sports events organised included Snow Cricket for girls, Snow Volleyball, Snow Rugby and Snow Cricket matches for boys.
This Winter Carnival is being organized by District Administration Kulgam in collaboration with Tourism, Aharbal Development Authority and Divisional Forest Division to showcase the beauty of Kulgam for all its recreational and adventure potential. There are several other spots in Jammu and Kashmir that need to be developed fully so that tourist activities do not just remain confined to the Mughal gardens, Gulmarg and Pahalgam. Trekking too has emerged as the new trend among both locals and tourists. While regular domestic tourists do not usually go for long treks, the Shankaracharya hill can fill in the gap.
The Shankaracharya 360 degree trekking trail offers a 360-degree view of Srinagar city and the surrounding landscapes. Recently, this trail was inaugurated and a trek in Shankaracharya can be enjoyed by those who are not comfortable with going for long treks. Rural home stays with the OYO group, which were started recently at South Kashmir tourist resort Pahalgam, too will help in building a better and varied tourist infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir. And having more picnic spots will ease the rush at the popular ones that are better for the tourism sector in the ‘post Covid world’.