Tourism in Kashmir is set to suffer another dry year as the unrest continues in the valley. There has been very low tourist flow since September 2014 when Kashmir witnessed a devastating flood.
The local tourist agencies are blaming the Central government and the state government’s policies for the mess. “I travelled with the state tourism department to various places to get tourists. I could feel that the Central government was stonewalling all the efforts to send tourists here. The national news channels are also to blame as they are showing Kashmir as a war zone,” said Muhammad Yaqoob Dar, a local tourist guide.
Kashmir’s unrest has also impacted tourism in Jammu which is witnessing a low tourist flow to Vashino Devi shrine at Katra. “Bookings for this summer to Vashino Devi shrine have been cancelled and we are facing the impact of the Kashmir violence,” said Rajesh Kumar, a travel agent in Jammu.
Tourism has had its dry spells in the past also. During the unrest of 2008, Rs 750 crore was lost because of cancellation of bookings made by tourists. In 2010 and 2016, thousands of crores were lost. “In 2016, Rs. 3000 crore was lost by us and in the year 2017 it would be more because there are no bookings at all,” said Fayaz Ahmad of Mazada Tour and Travels. Fayaz had travelled with the state’s tourism department to various places in the country to woo tourists back, but it proved to be of no help. “They told us straight that they will not recommend people to go to Kashmir. There is growing hatred against Kashmiris and the Central government is doing nothing to revive this sector,” Fayaz told this reporter.
The local business community and the tourist agenst are mainly blaming the national new channels and the way the state government has handled the ground situation, for the failure of tourism. “Who will come here? There is ban on the internet. News channels are showing encounters and protests. The Army operations are being shown daily. We are doomed,” said Sheikh Nisar Ahmad, a local house-boat owner.
Abdul Zain-ri, a tourist guide in Kashmir, said: “I used to take tourists on daily basis to Srinagar on heritage walk. This season all such packages stand cancelled and I don’t see any future for the guides like us.” Abdul alleged hatred is being spread against the Kashmiris and the tourists were being discouraged to travel to the valley.
According to the data available with the state tourism department, the tourists have started travelling to Kashmir and they are coming without bookings. They admit that most of the organised bookings to the Kashmir Valley have been cancelled because of the violence on the streets here. The months of April, May and June are considered as the peak season in the Kashmir Valley but for these months there is no booking at all.