Srinagar, Mar 6: In wake of the Pulwama attack followed by war-like situation between India and Pakistan, many prominent international travel agencies are dissuading their clientele from visiting Kashmir.
The February 14 suicide bombing on the highway near Lethpora saw 49 paramilitary troopers getting killed, triggering a war-like situation between India and Pakistan, as the former accused the latter of sheltering Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant outfit that claimed the attack.
The resulting tensions led to cancellation of nearly 80 per cent of the bookings by tourists scheduled to visit the valley in spring.
Further narrowing the chances of a reasonable tourist arrival, a few international travel service providers have now started recommending its Indian customer base to choose other hilly destinations over Kashmir.
“Our central tour management team is closely monitoring the current situation and developments in Kashmir. Our teams are in touch with customers and assisting them where required with optional destination, postponing travel dates or providing a future voucher,” Rajeev Kale, President and Country head, Leisure Travel, MICE and Visas at Thomas Cook (India) limited told The Kashmir Monitor in an emailed statement.
He said alternate destinations selected by its customers for summer include Himachal Pradesh in north Indian and Ooty, Kodaikanal and Munnar in south. “Bhutan and Sri Lanka in Indian subcontinent are also seeing interest,” Kale said.
“Besides domestic destinations, international short haul destinations including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Dubai are also in high demand,” he said.
Reputed international travel agencies share a good proportion of tourist flow to Kashmir particularly those of foreigners from European and gulf countries.
Pots-Pulwama attack many countries including Britain have asked its citizens to refrain from visiting Kashmir.
Karan Anand, Head Relationships, Cox & Kings said they are also expecting their clients to switch destinations over Kashmir in view of the present situation.
“We see a shift in cancelling of trips to Kashmir in the medium term due to the present situation. Travelers will schedule their visits for Kashmir another time. However, Leh, Ladakh and Nubra valley will stand to gain in the coming summer holiday season,” Anand told The Kashmir Monitor in an email.
He said the situation in Kashmir is likely to boost tourism in Himachal Pradesh and north-east by at least 20 percent this summer.
“For the upcoming season we expect people to switch to destinations that share the same topography and receive a fair bit of snowfall.
Hill stations such as Manali and Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh, Katao and Zero Point in Sikkim are expected to see a spike in the number of domestic Indian tourists. We expect a 20 per cent increase in numbers to these destinations,” he said.
“Those opting for hill stations will also travel to places like Nainital, Rishikesh, Dalhousie and Dharmshala in Himachal Pradesh in the North and these destinations can expect a growth of over 20 per cent this summer,” Anand added.
Neelu Singh, CEO & Director, Ezeego1, said the rate of enquiries for other destinations has gone up due to the current situation in Kashmir.
“Summer travel to Kashmir will come down as holidaymakers are exploring other destinations in north India. Tourists are switching to places in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Bhutan and Nepal are also gaining more tourists due to the altered preference and rate of enquiries for these two countries have gone up significantly,” she said.
Some political and right-wing Hindu outfits had called for boycotting Kashmir tourism soon after the Pulwama attack.
Kashmir tourism has been witnessing a slump in arrivals since 2014, as tourists preferred other destinations over the valley due to worsening of the decades-old political conflict in the region.
In 2018, Kashmir received only 8.5 lakh tourists, which is the lowest in last seven years. In 2012, the state had received 13 lakh visitors.