Published on : Saturday, November 28, 2020
Before the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, Kashmir witnessed a lot of travelers. Tourist destinations in Kashmir were jam packed with hotel occupancy at its peak – 95 per cent, according to Kashmir’s tourism department. Dal Lake, the central tourist attraction in Srinagar, witnessed people taking a stroll along the lake till late night. It had also boosted business of related sectors like handicrafts and the transport sector.
However, with the government issuing the advisory in August 2019 announcing evacuation of visitors from the Kashmir valley before withdrawing its special status, it set the tone for the times ahead.
In July 2019 alone, more than 1.5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir and, at the time of the advisory, around 25,000 tourists were at Gulmarg, Dal Lake and Pahalgam. The eviction brought in disaster for many hotels, and houseboats struggled to stay afloat. Hoteliers started dismissing staff with businesses closing down and an estimated 144,500 people working in the tourism sector (including in handicrafts) lost their jobs, as per the 2019 report of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI).
To add to the woes, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic followed by months-long lockdown from March brought the tourism stakeholders to the brink of bankruptcy. Total economic losses, as per KCCI, were estimated to be above Rs. 40,000 crore between August 2019 to August 2020, with tourism being the worst affected sector.
Nevertheless, in the midst of doom and gloom, early snow this year has brought some happiness with tourists gradually pouring in. “I have got about 30 inquiries from tourists and a few bookings have materialised in the past one-and-a-half months,” said Farooq Kuthoo, a tour and travel operator. He is also the president of the prominent Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK).
He added that two reasons for this are the ban on international travel and the weather. In mid-November, Kashmir received the season’s first snowfall, converting Gulmarg, which is often compared to Switzerland, into a winter wonderland.
Kuthoo said, “Last year in winter, we held aggressive tourism promotions in the country. But Covid lockdown spoiled it all. Tourism arrival has been picking up of late and, by the time we are done with winter, we can have a good summer season as well.”