December 2019 News

87% Dip In Domestic Tourists To Kashmir Since August

8 December 2019
Times of India
M Saleem Pandit

Srinagar: A little over 32,000 domestic tourists visited Kashmir between August and November, but like the verdant highland pastures now buried under snow, tourism in the Valley seems frozen in time. The four-month figure marks a steep decline of 87% from the 2.49 lakh domestic tourists Kashmir had hosted during the corresponding period last year. In terms of foreign tourist arrivals, the dip is 82%. November was the best month of this bleak season, with 10,946 domestic and 1,140 foreign tourists visiting the newly-minted Union Territory - more than double the number of visitors in September. But for tour operators, the trickle of tourists since the ban on leisure travel to the Valley was officially lifted on October 10 is cold comfort. Parvez Baba, owner of Hotel Samci Riviera at Rajbagh in Srinagar, has only four rooms out of 24 occupied this week. Whats more, he has had to offer these rooms at half the normal rack rates. My hotel is just three years old and I cant afford to lose any business that comes my way. If I charge Rs 4,000 a room, what chance do I have of getting a guest? he said. If uncertainty about when Kashmir will return to normal is keeping tourists away, a few adventurous ones are seeking out the Valley as a never-before bargain of low footfall and rock-bottom rates. Robertson, an Australian skier who left Srinagar last Tuesday after spending three nights in Gulmarg with six friends, felt perfectly safe during the trip, although not having internet turned out to be a bigger challenge than he had imagined it would be. I have visited Kashmir several times, mainly for skiing. But my friends and I had to cut short our stay this time because it was difficult staying in touch with our families back home without internet, he said. In June and July, when nobody possibly had an inkling of the tumult awaiting them in August, the Valley received 1.62 lakh and 1.49 lakh domestic tourists respectively. This was around 27 per cent higher than the figures for the same period last year, according to Jammu and Kashmir Tourism. Sources said the July number could have been even higher had the Amarnath Yatra not been curtailed ahead of the August lockdown linked to the nullification of Articles 370 and 35A. Most of the 9,004 domestic tourist arrivals recorded in August were of Amarnath pilgrims who had to curtail their trip because of the administrations order to clear out the Valley ahead of the lockdown. Between October and November, 21,413 domestic and foreign tourists visited Kashmir, less than a quarter of the figure for the corresponding period last year. Octobers contribution to this aggregate was 9,327 tourists. Habibullah Wangnoo, who owns Wangnoo Sheraton Houseboats, hosted about 250 foreign tourists between August and November, mostly from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand , Australia and Indonesia. He is expecting another group of 32 tourists from Malaysia on Tuesday. Not having internet is the main deterrent to foreigners visiting us. I appeal to the authorities to restore broadband internet in at least Srinagar city so that tourism can pick up the pieces, he said. According to official data, 3,413 foreigners visited the valley from August till November despite several countries issuing advisories not to travel to Kashmir. Hotel owner Parvez is grateful that a few domestic tourists like Rakesh Khanna are keeping tourism here alive, if not kicking. I like to visit the Valley whenever I can. Its not quite normal around here yet, but theres nothing to deter someone like me from enjoying the snow-clad mountains at this time of the year, said Rakesh, a resident of Amritsar staying at Hotel Samci Riviera. Amit Kumar from Delhi was in Srinagar with his family last week, unwinding on a houseboat after a trip to Gulmarg to see some snow. My family is delighted to be here, he said. We havent had a single bad experience, but I am pained to see that Kashmir is a long way from normal. Most of the shops remain closed for the better part of the day, and the sense of desolation all around can throw you off just when you think everythings going to be fine.