Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir’s tourism industry is about to collapse as there are zero advance bookings so far which has prompted the tour operators of Valley to demand immediate restoration of internet services and attractive offers by the Centre to woo tourists back to Kashmir.
Majority of the tour operators are of the belief that last year’s August 05 advisory asking tourists to leave Kashmir has left behind a “bad impression” in the minds of visitors who would otherwise frequent Kashmir every year.
“We are in a bad condition at present,” Chairman Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Alliance (JKTA) Manzoor Pakhtoon said.
He added, “When the Centre announced advisory last year, many tourists fled Kashmir in bad taste. Many of them had to cut short their stay. That was something really bad for Kashmir’s tourism sector which continues to haunt us.”
He said J&K government has not done anything new or extraordinary to woo tourists to Kashmir given the fact that “tourism industry is falling apart.”
“There were some road shows in many parts of India but that’s a routine. We urge the Centre to immediately restore the high speed internet services so that tourism starts picking up again and the industry is saved from collapsing completely. There has to be concessions for the tourists like Leave Concession Travel (LCT) for government employees across India,” he said.
He further said, “If this happens, a large number of government employees would visit Kashmir and that can really help in reviving the ailing tourism sector.”
He said internet gag is also one of the major reasons as to why bookings are not taking place and why tourists are staying away from Kashmir.
“We used to get advance bookings till May and June in the month of March. Today, we have zero advance bookings which is not a good omen at all even though we are hoping against the hope,” Pakhtoon said, adding that in absence of tourists, lakhs of people are on the verge of starvation.
He said, “It’s a chain, if a tourist arrives in Kashmir, he becomes the source of living for hoteliers, house boat owners, drivers, restaurant owners and if he or she travels to Gulmarg, Pahalgam or other tourist spots, many people earn their livelihood like pony wallas, dhaba walls, guest house owners, hoteliers etc. Lakhs of people are associated directly and indirectly with the tourism.”
President Travel Agents Society Kashmir (TASK) Mir Anwar said that in March, there used to be 70 per cent advance booking, but today the booking is not even five percent.
“We vociferously demand restoration of internet service so that tourism picks up again. There is a notion among tourists that something was worrisome in Kashmir as authorities have snapped high speed internet and banned social media,” he said.
“My point is that if a tourist arrives in Kashmir, he or she won’t be able to stay in touch with his/her friends on social media. And if a business group comes, they won’t be able to monitor their business which is all about high speed internet. So ban on high speed internet is a really big worry for all tourism players,” he said.
Echoing similar concerns, Kashmir’s Shikara Walas Association (KSWA) president Wali Muhammad said that there are 5000 Shikaras (small boats) registered with the government but only 400 are rowing around Dal and Nigeen Lake.
“Come and see majority of Shikara owners have switched their jobs as there are no tourists. Only a few are roaming around Dal Lake in search of local visitors. We are on the verge of starvation. Situation has been worrisome since last year’s August and things are getting worse with each passing day,” he said.
He said, “We are not even able to pay the school fee of our children. Many of us have even sold boats to feed our families.”
Pertinently, on August 03 last year, GoI issued an advisory asking tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to vacate Kashmir immediately and to head for their respective places.
This was two days prior to the announcement of historic decision by the GoI—rollback of Article 370 and slicing of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories (UTs)—Ladakh and J&K.