Srinagar, Apr 19: Tourism Industry in Kashmir believes there are hard times ahead for the second consecutive year as the Valley is witnessing a sharp decline in tourist arrival, with just one per cent booking reported for the month of May compared to the last year, claim travel agents.
Questions are also being asked of State Tourism Department’s failure to get the season going despite spending crores of rupees on promotional activities.
Post Srinagar parliamentary election, the situation in Kashmir overturned as nine civilians have been killed during clashes with forces since last 12 days.
Sources say that a top corporate just cancelled a weekend conference in Srinagar. They had booked 80 rooms for 3 days. Many have put the bookings on hold mode as they continue to monitor the situation through TV and social media.
Travel agents claim that no advance bookings for upcoming month are being witnessed by them due to the “worsening” of the situation.
“I can cite you one example. I confirmed a booking for 20 rooms in May, which now has declined to just nine rooms. Tourists are cancelling the bookings en-mass, however those who had paid in advance would visit just to save their money,” said president, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Manzoor Sidiq who also owns a hotel along Dal Lake.
Sidiq who has spent almost three months of winter in promoting his travel agency outside state said that tourists have got discouraged after repeated incidents of violence were reported in Kashmir.
“They (tourists) wait and watch and then take any decision. This season we would receive tourists from Ahmadabad where temperature touches 45 Degree Celsius. But not a single booking is reported by travel agents from there,” he said.
“I have been associated with this business during 90s as well but never saw situation like this. Tourists visited here during April to see Tulip garden. But now tulips will wither within a week and then only a handful of tourists will be seen here,” Sidiq said.
People associated with the tourism business said that they would have to look for other business, if situation doesn’t improve.
The tourism players claim that the sector was witnessing “no progress” for the past few years due to “unfavourable” conditions.
“We have seen floods and then unrest last year. If conditions like this continue to prevail here then the tourism industry, which is a source of income for lakhs of people, will vanish from here,” Ibrahim Siah, President Travel Agents Society of Kashmir (TASK), told The Kashmir Monitor.
“Hoteliers have invested a huge sum in the business by opting for loans from banks. Many travel agents have been spending months together outside state to assure tourists that nothing was wrong here. But now the sector is suffering at large,” he said.
The government recently postponed the parliamentary election for Anantnag seat in May, when Kashmir receives good number of tourists.
Worries of stakeholders and tourism department have increased with the decision by Election Commission of India (ECI), who claim that it can affect the entire season of tourism in Kashmir.
“We have been spending months over tourism promotion and then such incidents occur, leading to huge losses to the sector. Exercises such as elections are avoidable and can be held when the atmosphere becomes conducive,” Director Tourism, Mahmood Ahmad Shah told The Kashmir Monitor earlier this week.
The Kashmir valley has witnessed a steep fall of nearly 50 percent in the arrival of tourists in the last four years.
As per the figures released by the state government, the tourist flow has declined from 11 lakh during 2013 to mere four lakhs in 2016.
Moreover, the department has spent nearly Rs 4 crore over its promotional campaigning during the past two years.
Stakeholders also blame that the government for not framing a “concrete” tourism policy for Kashmir.
to the lack of tourism policy, they said that meager development is seen in this sector, which employees more than three lakh people in the valley.
“Forget law and order. We are not able to provide good roads and facilities to tourists. Why would anyone one want to come here? We are overpriced and over hyped”, a tour operator who works closely with Government privately admitted.