What might have been a record in Kashmir’s history of tourism may now be another 15 years in the coming. And that too only if total peace prevails from this minute.
As public perception about the peace and harmony in the Valley increased, so did the number of tourists. What had begun as a 20.9 per cent increase in growth rate of tourist inflow in the state in 2009 (the third highest in India), had the Indian tourism industry holding its breath by mid-May 2010, hoping that the tiny state of J&K would cross ten lakh visitors (one million) this season (April to mid-September).
The state’s highest ever tourist inflow was 7,22,000 in 1988 before militancy peaked, following a steady and direct drop in tourism.
A senior official in the Union Ministry of Tourism told Hindustan Times, “the entire tourism industry was abuzz because not only was it bringing life back to the valley, the upswing in tourism was in fact serving as a morale booster for North Eastern States where insurgency has hit tourism.”
All that ended on June 10 this year. That was the date when the cancellations began. In a short span of time, around 80 per cent of all bookings for the period from June 10 to mid-September had been cancelled.
“The remaining 20 per cent probably did not cancel only because those were packages or tickets offered at discounted prices on condition that they could not be cancelled or rescheduled or refunded. It remains to be seen if any of those people actually show up. The majority will write it off as an unfortunate loss,” said a senior state government functionary, who did not wish to be named.
Officials in two of Srinagar’s largest hotels confirmed that they were already witnessing less than 40 per cent occupancy.
“In March, we were turning down people who wanted bookings for July. Now we only have a handful of people. And they are also leaving as soon as they can,” said a hotel employee at the Grand Lalit.
With over 700 incidents of stone pelting reported from the state over the last three months, the return of civil unrest has undoubtedly sounded the death knell for the state’s tourism industry; which is the mainstay income for over 60 per cent of the state’s population.
“I suspect it will take at least five to seven years to bring back this level of tourist inflow to the state. And that is assuming there is total peace and a lot of media hype about the prevalent harmony…”said Chairperson of the Travel Agents Association of India, (Northern Region), Jyoti Mayal.
Meanwhile, within the state, the Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association has asked the Centre and State to exercise caution in issuing statements which would further fuel the existing civil unrest and damage the tourism trade further.