After a long time, there is some good news for Kashmir valley’s tourism sector. Ahead of the season of festivals, tour operators are witnessing a spurt in bookings. After the second phase of Covid lockdown, bookings had suddenly dropped and only high-end hotels would witness occupancies. However, in the recent past, bookings have again surged for the autumn season. The tourism stakeholders are now expecting a good autumn and ensuing winter season. At the same, present arrivals too are increasing with every passing day. The increase in arrivals can be gauged from a recent post from the Twitter handle of the Srinagar Airport. “A historical day in the journey of Srinagar Airport. A total number of 10,944 passengers in a single day! This is in stark comparison with average 7,500 passengers per day before COVID,” Srinagar airport had tweeted on August 28. Even as the tourism sector was hit worldwide from last year after the outbreak of Coronavirus, Kashmir had been hit in August, 2019 only in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 that granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. As per the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCC&I) estimates, 500,000 jobs were lost in the aftermath of the centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 on August 5, 2019. It said 70,000 jobs were lost in the tourism sector alone. 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. Therefore, after several years, there is a ray of hope for the tourism sector in Kashmir.
Interestingly, the maximum number of present bookings have been coming from West Bengal, Maharashtra, and some southern states. Prior to the successive lockdowns since August, 2019, Kashmir had witnessed an increase in tourist arrivals from the South Indian states. Therefore, the tourism department had launched an active promotional campaign across South India to woo more visitors. While such promotional campaigns should continue, the authorities should also have a plan of reviving promotional activities to promote Kashmir tourism in Southeast Asian countries. The plan can be implemented once the Covid related restrictions and protocols ease down. In the latter part of 2018, High Commissioner of Malaysia to India, Dato’ Hidayat Abdul Hamid had visited Kashmir in the wake of the encouraging inflow of tourists from Southeast Asian countries. After meeting with a delegation of Valley based businessmen, the Malaysian High Commissioner had agreed to facilitate the interaction of the Kashmir chamber delegation with major business chambers of Malaysia for exploration of areas of common economic interest. He had also exhibited interest in strengthening the economic ties between Kashmir and Malaysia. At that moment of time, Malaysia’s largest and low-cost airline AirAsia Berhad had offered to fly direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to the Srinagar Airport and was then awaiting a nod from the local authorities. Those developments of 2018 should be revisited and kept in mind while making plans to boost Kashmir tourism in the future.
And besides routine tourism promotional campaigns, the government should also start holding events that catch the attention of people globally. The ongoing event like TATA Steel Professional Golf Tour of India’s (PGTI) is a good step in this direction. Such events will give a major push to promote Kashmir as a golfing capital of the country as top golfers are among 125 players participating in the tournament. The TATA Steel PGTI will witness participation of 125 golfers, including 119 professionals and six amateurs. Among them are Olympian Udayan Mane, Indian star Jyoti Randhawa and PGTI Order of Merit leader Karandeep Kochhar. During his visit to Kashmir in 2017, professional golfer Shiv Kapur had stated that the golf courses of Kashmir valley were fit to hold international tournaments of ‘world level’. “I was blown away by the beautiful golf courses here. I have played in most of the golf courses in Asia and other European countries but the golf courses here have natural settings which are complemented with the perfect weather conditions….such courses can easily host world level golf tournaments,” he had then stated. Therefore, the government should set the ball rolling and prepare plans to host international golfing tournaments in the Valley. Having events like that of the music maestro Zubin Mehta concert in 2013 too can put Kashmir on the international tourism map.
And while the promotional and other activities continue, the government should ensure that the third wave of Covid, in case it arrives, does not greatly dent the already ailing tourism sector of Kashmir. The authorities need to learn from the past mistakes. The decision to host events at the gardens and tourist spots earlier this year before the second wave of Covid had been censured by many. In case the Covid positive cases increase yet again, corrective steps need to be taken at the right time. The promotional campaigns also have to Covid specific now. While extending an invite to the tourists, a message should go out that only vaccinated persons and those willing to follow Covid safety protocols will be welcomed. The intending tourists too need to be assured that the stakeholders in Kashmir valley would follow the Covid safety protocols. The authorities also have to ensure that all the local tourism stakeholders ranging from the pony-walla to a hotelier are fully vaccinated.
(Email: [email protected])