Srinagar: Over 18,000 foreign tourists visited Kashmir in the first five months this year, the highest in the past three decades, officials said on Monday noting that the successful conduct of the G20 here has generated greater interest among the travellers.
Besides tourists from Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, nationals of Western countries like Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the USA have also visited Kashmir in huge numbers this season.
Authorities cited the success of the G20 Tourism Working Group meeting held here in May as the reason behind the rising footfall of inbound or foreign visitors.
“As the G-20 meeting was a grand success, the world saw our real tourism potential. The ambassadors, delegates, and high commissioners of G20 countries experienced the hospitality, warmth, and flavor of Jammu and Kashmir,” Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, Secretary, Department of Tourism and Culture, told news agency
He said Jammu and Kashmir was one of the prime destinations across the globe a few decades ago in terms of leisure, adventure, and spiritual tourism and hoped that it would again become one of the top tourist spots in the world.
Shah said, “The number of arrivals and bookings have tripled and occupancy rates have also increased,” adding that the number of tourists that arrived here in the first five months of the year has already surpassed the number of inbound visitors over the entire last year.
Manzoor Ahmad Pakhtoon, president of the Houseboat Owners’ Association, said the footfall of foreign tourists here this year is higher than in previous years.
“The figures have doubled this year as we saw around 10,000 foreign tourists last year but more than 18,000 tourists from different parts of the world have arrived in Kashmir already by this June,” Pakhtoon said.
Mark Wory, a New Zealander, who has arrived in Kashmir on a motorbike expedition with others from his country and Australia after travelling through Ladakh, said, “The ride through the mountains was spectacular. This is a beautiful place and the people of Kashmir have been wonderfully hospitable; we feel safe here. I have heard of the G20 meet and expect policies would be reformed so that more people like me can come to Kashmir and enjoy this place,” Wory said.
J Boyd from Australia’s Queensland, a part of the bikers’ group, said he was hopeful that more foreigners would come to visit the valley. “The people of Kashmir are friendly and helpful. I have enjoyed every moment here,” Boyd said.
Tim Lang from New Zealand, while echoing the sentiments expressed by his trans-Tasman compatriots, said he felt safe in Kashmir.
“We were surprised that there is a travel advisory asking not to travel to Kashmir. Riding to Kashmir from the Himalayas on a motorbike, I felt completely safe and sound,” Lang said.
Ellie, a resident of the Netherlands who camped in the Union Territory for over six months with her husband Kashmir for them “felt just like home” and she felt bad as their trip was about to end.
“We started camping in Kashmir in December. We went to Kishtwar and Lolab Valley and are staying in Srinagar for a week,” Ellie said.
“In Holland, authorities do not advise us to visit Kashmir but after living and travelling to many places, I feel completely safe here. The people of Kashmir are generous and helpful. So, my message would be to visit Kashmir,” she added.
Alexander, a traveler from Italy, said he was enamored by the beauty of Kashmir. “It is beautiful, lovely, and warm. The valley is very interesting as it has a lot of history, delicious food, and humble people and there are a lot of things to do. My message to everyone who wishes to visit Kashmir would be to come to Kashmir, you will enjoy it for sure,” he added.