SRINAGAR: Despite a sizable traffic of tourists coming to Kashmir from South-East Asian nations off late, the total number of foreign tourist arrivals to the Valley continues to be abysmal. As per official data, Kashmir received only 50,000 foreign tourists, which makes half a percent of total all-India arrivals of about 94 lakh people, who visited India from across the globe in 2018.
Tour trade players say this is largely due to the travel advisories in place and the fragile situation here.
Even the domestic tourist arrivals to Kashmir do not show any improvement this year as well. Kerala received eight times more tourists than that of Kashmir in 2018, despite the fact that the coastal state was hit by severe floods in August this year.
While the Jammu and Kashmir government has been lately highlighting that 8 lakh domestic and 50,000 foreign tourists visited Kashmir in 2018, the state that was once considered tourism capital of India is nowhere close to Kerala, which despite being hit by devastating floods during its peak tourism season in monsoon, as per its tourism board received almost 64 lakh tourists from within and outside the country this year.
Kashmir-based tour trade players say the slump in tourism is largely due to the travel advisories in place and the very fragile situation here adding that last year also foreign and domestic tourist footfall to the Valley was abysmal compared to overall arrivals to other states. Manzoor Pakhtoon, chairman, J&K Tourism Alliance says he has been receiving several groups of tourists from South-East Asia countries such as Thailand and Malaysia but added that tour traders are not satisfied with the revival of tourist arrivals.
Hoteliers and houseboat owners who have been witnessing a decline in occupancy rates say “negative perception” of the valley created by media has done an irreparable damage.
The impact of the uncertainty in Kashmir is clear on tourism sector and especially that on foriegn tourist arrivals. At Srinagar’s famed Dal Lake, Ghulam Hassan, a shikarawala says efforts of the state and centre to promote Kashmir tourism is in vain unless ‘situation on the ground is conducive’ for tourism. “Look at those houseboats, only 2-3 of them have some groups of Eurpoean tourists staying while others are completely empty,” says Hassan. “What will promotion do when there are no tourists here. We have to win their trust all over again” Hassan says. Restrictions on visit to Kashmir earlier this year put in place by the USA had come as a shock to Kashmir’s tourist fraternity.”
The state government knowing that foreign tourist arrival is pivotal for Kashmir tourism is now planning to go on an overdrive of promotions.
Governor’s Advisor, Khurshid Ganai who holds the tourism portfolio told Greater Kashmir that the tourism department will be soon holding a Kashmiri food festival and other promotional activities in South-East Asia to attract more tourists. “It is quite heartening that the number of tourists have been increasing from Malaysia and Thailand ,” Ganai said.