‘Tourists who were supposed to be here this winter will not be here now’.

 

Srinagar: The tourism sector has been badly affected in Kashmir after the recent killings, triggering security beef-up and more frisking, causing anger among locals. Apart from the fact that tourism is the second largest sector in Kashmir after agriculture, it also gives an opportunity to the locals to display their hospitality and push for more competent offers to lure tourists. After the meteoric drop in tourism or rather zero tourism after the abrogation of Article 370 and then struck by consecutive Covid-19 lockdowns, the tourism industry had literally collapsed. However, tourism had started picking up this summer, and just when the service providers in the tourism sector were optimistic about things picking up and their incomes rising, Kashmir saw a spree of killings that shook the normal flow of functions.

Irshad Ahmed Hazari, who runs a travel agency business in Kashmir, said that the current situation has already started affecting their business. “Right now, there is a 15% drop and cancellation of tickets; what is more painful is that people who were planning a trip to Kashmir in the winter season have stopped contacting us. The tourists who were supposed to be here this winter will not be here now, and our business will inadvertently go down, again, all thanks to the killings,” he added.

Although tourist destinations are mostly safe in the valley, other places have been under surveillance to stop the possibility of any untoward incident. Gul Junaid Khan, Assistant Commandant Kashmir operations sector CRPF, who oversees seven districts in the valley, said: “We have increased surveillance and at some places, we have intensified search operations backed by intelligence to pre-empt any such further event of killings.”

Houseboat Union Secretary General, Rashid Ahmed Kaloo, said: “There is a lot of people coming to visit Dal Lake and more so, they are staying in the houseboats. After years, we have seen this much of crowd, and you never know when this place might become barren again. Violence and silence is the normal for us, I hope that the rush remains and people dependent on tourism don’t get to see the post Article 370-abrogation era again.”

Shikara union president, Ghulam Rasool Akhoon, said: “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but today our daily work is running just fine. We have an exclusive lake economy and everyone wants to stay in the houseboat, everyone wants to ferry in the shikara, and moreover, people come to see the Dal Lake.” He added, “There isn’t much impact on us right now, but there might be tomorrow. All I know is that killings are wrong, we can’t sustain without the contribution of people from Bihar, from UP, from MP,” he added.

Travel agents are already afraid of the after effects of the killings. People who are already there or who had committed to be there, or those who had spent money to be in Kashmir, are keeping the tourist flow in Kashmir buoyant, but it is just a matter of time when things may return to the economic agony that comes from the sharp decline in tourists and visitors.