Kashmir Angry Over Tourist Exodus But Govt Claims 6 Lakh Expected
Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris directly and indirectly associated with the tourism industry are hugely upset over the losses they have suffered due to a government travel advisory that remained in force from 2 August and was withdrawn on 10 October.
Authorities, nevertheless, sound optimistic about a massive revival, claiming that despite the two-month freeze, the number of tourists visiting the Valley in 2019 would cross six lakh.
“As soon as the government issued the advisory, every single tourist in Kashmir was herded out by Police and officials of the Department of Tourism. We pleaded that it was just an advisory advising the tourists against visiting the Valley and not an order to vacate. But nobody listened to us. All the hotels and houseboats were emptied in just 24 hours.”Owner of a group of houseboats on the Dal Lake
The hoteliers and houseboat owners, who spoke to The Quint a day after the advisory was revoked, preferred not to be identified in the media, but maintained invariably that the losses they had suffered in the last 10 weeks could never be compensated.
‘Earnings Reduced to Zero’: A Houseboat Owner
The owner of a chain of hotels said that every single booking for August and the remaining months of the year had been cancelled from 2-5 August.
“Hoteliers and houseboat owners had no option but to return an advance of crores of rupees to the tourists. All but three or four hotels were closed down. Our technical staff was absorbed at different hotels by our principal partners in Delhi and other places. Still, hundreds of security and non-technical staff lost their jobs,” he said.
Bashir Ahmad Mir, a houseboat owner at the Nigeen Lake, said,
“Our earnings were reduced to zero for no fault of ours. If the government had its own reasons to take away the tourists, it should have announced a compensatory package for the victims of its decision. This high-handedness is not possible in any country in the world. Our bank loans and compound interests are swelling and we have virtually nothing to eat.”Bashir Ahmad Mir,
Mir said that there was “no possibility” of the revival of tourist trade in the next three months. “Telephones and internet are not operating. We have no means of communication with our customers. We believe that they have no plans of visiting the Valley this year. Even if they have, how will they remain in touch with their families across India and overseas? How will they schedule their programmes after landing in Kashmir?”
But Director of Tourism Is Sure There Will Be Surge in Tourists
Director Tourism Kashmir Nisar Ahmad Wani, however, claimed that the losses incurred in the last 10 weeks could be made good “to a large extent.”
“We are going to launch an extensive campaign across the Valley to encourage the tourists to visit this autumn and the forthcoming winter. We are 101 percent confident that there would be a positive response and many of the aspiring tourists would visit in the next three months,” Wani told The Quint.
“The tourist inflow may not pick up immediately. It may happen gradually. But we are sure that thousands of tourists will visit the Valley this season,” Wani added.
He confirmed that “100 percent of bookings” had been cancelled when the advisory came out abruptly in the midst of a flourishing tourism season in August. He said that his department is currently assessing the losses suffered due to the freeze for over two months.
“As and when we will be asked to submit any proposals for relief and rehabilitation of the people associated with the tourism trade, we will lose no time to respond,” Wani asserted.
Data Shows Dip in Tourist Numbers
Compared to the record number of 8,30,758 tourists in 2012, only 5,37,165 tourists have visited Kashmir in first nine months of 2019.
Since January 2016, maximum number of tourists in a month had visited in the middle of 2019.
The number of tourists who visited the Valley in 2019 was 25,095 in January, 15,903 in February, 21,237 in March, 61,815 in April and 81,139 in May.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)