Will the winter bring some cheer?

On its knees since July 7, Kashmirs tourism Industry hopes that some snow and little help from separatists will see them smile again.

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Srinagar: The streets are quieter; there are fewer men in uniform out with their automatic weapons. The protestors are either in prison or recuperating in hospitals, still seething with rage. But amid all this, people in the tourism business are again hoping for a windfall, after six months of curfew and shutdown that crippled their business. The winter might still be largely dry, with a light snowfall in the mountains only, tour operators are receiving queries from tourists outside of Kashmir planning to come in winter to Kashmir.
Since last month, the tour operators are receiving booking queries from travel agents after the resistance leaders narrowed down their program of shutdown to two days a week. Dal Lake, which wore a deserted look for more than five months, is presenting a beautiful look these days with colourful shikaras’ again floating on the lake.
 Gulmarg and Sonmarg, two prime destinations for holiday-makers are covered in snow and hoteliers are hoping that it would attract tourists to the place. If the uprising had affected any sector badly in Kashmir it is the tourism industry.
It is thought that the industry suffered losses worth over Rs.5,000 crores forcing the sector to cut down almost 80 percent of its staff.
Reportedly 216,252 tourists arrived in Jammu and Kashmir from January 1 to March 18 this year against 82,376 in the corresponding period last year. The arrivals include 5,524 foreigners against 4,494 in the corresponding period last year.
Unofficial figures reveal that so far over 3.5 lakh tourists had visited the valley before unrest.
The tourism players say that they were expecting a booming tourism season this year. “But soon after the unrest 51.5 percent of our bookings were cancelled. Now we are trying to restore our business by sending our marketing team outside the state,” said Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir (ATAOK) president Rauf Tramboo says.
He claims that they were expecting around sixty to seventy thousand people to arrive in Kashmir during the winter season which beings from December and goes all the way till March.
Amid all these uncertainties people have not lost hope to see valley’s tourism industry flourishing again. Regardless of the summer when Kashmir was under curfew and shutdown the tourism players are now preparing for winter challenges.
The bad state of tourism industry has not only moved the government but forced the pro-freedom leadership to appeal tourists to visit Kashmir.
“The tourism is slightly picking up and since the onset of winter season many outside based tour operators are confirming about rates for this season,” Manzoor Sidiq, President Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) said.
The travels agents are eagerly waiting for a good snowfall as they say it determines the flow of tourists to vale during winters.
“Snow is everything for us. It not only proves beneficial for agriculturists but for tourism also as skiers from different parts love skiing at Gulmarg,” Sidiq adds.
The improvement in the situation has boosted the morale of tourism related people who now have moved outside valley for promotional activities. “Right now majority of the travel agents are keeping in New Delhi and other places to convince people to visit Kashmir. Even our government and separatists have also shown support to this industry which saw a bad time this year,” TAAK president says.
While tourists are planning Kashmir visit, the central government’s demonetization move which created crisis elsewhere is becoming a hindrance in the revival of winter tourism here.
 “The crisis is being felt across India and it is obvious that when people don’t have money they can’t plan anything. The situation had improved here and people were confirming about Kashmir packages but the demonetization by central government is hitting our business,” Ibrahim Siah, President Travel Agents Society of Kashmir said.
In a bid to woo tourists to the valley, the government has also geared up to start tourism- related promotional activities.
It recently organized “Winter calling” festival which evoked good response as many people participated in it. Shikara race, water sports and cultural programs were the main attraction for visitors during the festival.
 The government is planning more promotional activities to revive the tourism industry in Valley.  "For the promotion of tourism, we are going to organise different events in coming months and this festival, namely "Winter Calling", is an initiative, because without proper publicity, the tourism industry cannot flourish in valley," said Mehmood Shah, Director (Tourism).

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