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Since 370 repeal, Kashmir tourism dept stuck in think-mode

Srinagar: With no tourist influx to Kashmir for almost a year now, the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department is finding newer ways to justify its existence.

Sample this: The department says it is planning about programmes it may conduct once tourists head back to Kashmir.

Director J&K tourism department Kashmir, Nisar Ahmad Wani says they are doing “every activity” except carrying out the publicity programmes, which have been kept on halt.

“We are functioning like any other department does, say education or social welfare department. Right now we are making brochures, renewal of travel agencies and making a list of programmes to be followed in future,” he says.

However, the return of tourists to Kashmir, at least till next summer, is quite improbable.

The political upheaval followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have been a double blow to the tourism sector.

Thousands of hotels are empty, cabbies don’t have any sightseers to drive around Kashmir, and restaurateurs have sent their chefs and waiters on long leaves.

Currently, the functioning of the Kashmir tourism department is limited to the renewal of travel agencies and listing its programmes for the year, which though are doubtful given the magnitude of Covid-19 spread in India.

In such a time, the tourism department’s ambitious plans may hardly see the light of day, at least, in 2020.

Officials at the tourism department claim that the functioning of the department has taken a drastic hit for the last one year due to “averse situation.”

Virtually defunct, at present Tourist Reception Centre Srinagar is being used by the district administration for testing of suspected COVID-19 cases.

“When government announced lockdown on March 21, the department’s buildingS including offices of Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation are used by the authorities for its Covid-19 programmes,” an official said.

Not just the primary office building, the department’s hutments and hotels in various districts too have been used as administrative quarantine facilities to accommodate the travellers returning to the valley.

“Many of our hutments and buildings at Gulmarg and Pahalgam are utilised to accommodate the travellers who had returned to the valley after the outbreak of coronavirus in the valley,” the official said.

 Earlier this year, the government conducted promotional programmes in various states to woo tourists to the valley. Even tour operators of Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh signed MoU for tourism promotions.

Kashmir had witnessed the lowest tourist arrival from August to November last year in comparison to the figures of six years for the corresponding period.