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Empty houseboats, hotel bookings cancelled — tourism takes a hit in post-Pulwama Kashmir

In January 2019, a total of 25,095 tourists had visited Kashmir. The state's tourism department says the numbers 'will go down dramatically' in February.

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Srinagar: The tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir has come to an almost complete standstill after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February that killed 40 CRPF personnel.

Hotel bookings are being cancelled by the dozen every day, houseboats are empty, taxi drivers and shikara owners are whiling away time with no business on the horizon.

Ashfaq Siddiq, president of the Travel Agent Association of Kashmir, blamed the atmosphere of panic “created by the government and the media” for the spate of cancellations.

“Leave alone February, 90 per cent of the confirmed bookings for March, April and May have been cancelled,” Siddiq told ThePrint.

“Which tourist is going to listen to us when we try to convince them that no tourists have been targeted in Kashmir, when the government and the media have created so much panic?”

Downward trend

Mushtaq Chaya, chairman of the J&K Hoteliers’ Club, an umbrella body of four- and five-star hotels in Kashmir pointed out that tourism had started picking up in 2017, but again got hit in 2018 following the agitation over plans to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35A.

“The Pulwama attack is reprehensible and those involved should be punished. But the escalation in tension between India and Pakistan that followed in its aftermath should end now. It has impacted our business. Our economy has taken a hit. Nobody wants to do business with us,” Chaya said.

According to the tourism department of J&K, 12.27 lakh tourists visited the Valley in 2017, but the figures dipped to 8.4 lakh in 2018.

In January 2019, a total of 25,095 tourists visited Kashmir.

“We have not compiled the figures as yet, but the numbers will go down dramatically in February. But we are hopeful that once the situation normalises, tourists will be back,” Nisar Ahmad Wani, Kashmir’s director of tourism, told ThePrint.

Shikara owners sit idle by Dal lake | Moushumi Das Gupta/ThePrint
Dal lake bears an empty look without tourists | Moushumi Das Gupta/ThePrint

For Mohammad Rafiq, a shikara owner at the Dal Lake, the normalisation can’t come soon enough. He said he is hoping against hope that government will take whatever measures are required to ensure that the livelihoods of people like him are not lost.

“How am I supposed to feed my family day after a day like this? For the past fortnight, I have been twiddling my thumbs, hoping that some tourists will turn up,” Rafiq said.

Also read: Jobs & milk to helping the stranded — how a CRPF helpline became a lifeline for Kashmiris

Silver lining

However, there are a few groups of tourists who did not cancel their booking and landed in Kashmir after 14 February.

One of the few group of tourists from Mumbai who did not cancel their booking after the Pulwama attack. The group came to Kashmir on Feb 23 and travelled to Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam
One of the few group of tourists from Mumbai who did not cancel their booking after the Pulwama attack. The group came to Kashmir on Feb 23 and travelled to Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam | Moushumi Das Gupta

Tushar Choudhary came from Mumbai with a group of 10 people comprising his family and friends on 23 February. The group visited Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam, and is returning home Friday.

“Initially, after the Pulwama terror attack, we were apprehensive and thought of cancelling our booking. But our travel operator assured us that nothing will happen. So we went by his word and came. And I don’t regret the decision at all,” said Choudhary who works with construction major Larsen and Toubro.

Meanwhile, the Kashmiri hotels’ offer to open their doors and hearts to stranded tourists across the state when airports were shut down Wednesday due to the Indian and Pakistani air forces’ skirmish on the LoC was widely appreciated on social media. While the tourists left after the Srinagar airport reopened to civilian flights Thursday, the hoteliers and the state tourism department hope this would’ve helped change the perception.

“When we got to know that many tourists have got stuck, we spoke with each other and the hoteliers’ association decided unanimously to host them for free, till they return. We wanted to reassure the tourists that we are not like what people are making us out to be,” said Sheikh Bashir, owner of The Kaiser, a hotel in Jawahar Nagar that was among the first to make the offer.

“No tourist will ever be harmed in Kashmir,” said Bashir.

The tourism department also chipped in, providing transport to the stranded tourists from the airport and hosting them at its guest house for free.

“Five vehicles were provided to bring back the stranded tourists and take them to the airport Thursday morning. Most of the tourists have left now,” said Wani.

Also read: Kashmiris more agitated over fate of Article 35A than talk of India-Pakistan war


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