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Paradise calling: Kashmir decks up to welcome one million tourists

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Srinagar: Leaving tumultuous period behind, Jammu and Kashmir is all set to welcome one million tourists this year.

This is for the first time after the abrogation of Article 370 that tourists in large numbers will be descending on the valley.

 

“We have had record arrivals in 2016 when 8.5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir.  This year, I expect 10 lakh tourists including yatris given the response we are getting,” Dr. GN Ittoo, director of tourism, told The Kashmir Monitor.

Official figures reveal that over 50,000 domestic and foreign tourists visited Kashmir from November 15 till date. This excludes 70,000 high-end local tourists who made most of the winter tourism in Kashmir.

The tourism department has launched a massive publicity blitzkrieg outside Kashmir to instill confidence among the tourists and tour operators.  

“We conducted roadshows across different cities of the country. We used social media platforms effectively to mobilize tourists and tour operators. Plus Jammu and Kashmir managed the pandemic very well which also contributed to luring tourists. Tourists felt that they will be safe if they visit Kashmir,” said Dr. Ittoo.

Kashmir has been witnessing a persistent drop in tourist footfall for the last three years. Figures reveal that 12, 745, 96 tourists including yatris visited the valley in 2016, which dropped to 11, 960, 67 in 2017. In 2018,  7, 85,173 tourists visited the valley.

Prior to the August 2, 2019 government advisory, more than 5.21 lakh tourists and 3.40 lakh pilgrims had visited Kashmir. In between August 5 to October 1, 2019, when advisory was in place, as many as 4231 tourists had visited the valley, which included 928 foreigners. In 2018, 1.61 lakh tourists had visited the valley during the same period, which included 9800 foreigners.

This year, Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to organize tourism festivals in major tourist destinations to create a new feel and boost the confidence of visitors. 

“We had a successful Pahalgam festival. Now we are throwing Sonamarg open for tourists a month earlier. We will be organizing a festival in Sonamarg and Dood Pathri too. In June, we are planning to hold a houseboat festival. The idea is to create a new feel,” said Dr. Ittoo.

Tourism stakeholders too exuded confidence that there will be a good flow of tourists this year. “Tourism is in a recovery mode. We expect a good flow of tourists this year. A good number of tourists arrived in winter,” said Adil Khan, vice-president, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurants Association (KHARA).