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Kashmir tourism takes baby steps to normalcy as visitors return

A fisherman casts his net in the Dal Lake as a woman rows the boat, in Srinagar, on Sunday, October 11, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The tide is finally turning for Kashmir’s beleaguered tourism industry, a key contributor to the Union Territory's economy, which has witnessed a 13-month hiatus due to the double whammy of the revocation of special status last year followed by the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

International competition

The silver lining has come with the UT winning the bid to host the 50th annual Skal International Asia Area (SIAA) Congress in 2021 during the annual general meeting recently against four other cities. Skål International is a an organisation of tourism leaders around the world, promoting global tourism and friendship. The Congress is likely to be held between April 8 and 11 next year at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC).

“Kashmir has witnessed the darkest phase in the tourism sector ever. The August 5 decision last year kept tourists away due to the official bar for many, many months. The COVID-19 pandemic only prolonged the grim period, witnessing highest ever job losses of around 75,000 in the sector. The SIAA Congress has come as a good omen,” Nasir Shah, secretary of Skal Club of Srinagar, told The Hindu.

Winning the bid was not easy though

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“The Skal is a Spain-based tourism body with 15,000 members and 150 chapters across the world. Kashmir won the spot against four top cities of Europe and Asia. This event will pave way for international tourism players to visit Kashmir and flip the international tourist footfall,” Mr. Shah said.

Mr. Shah, whose group has already started preparations for the event, said the J&K administration needs to further streamline COVID 19-related measures to ensure hassle free movement.

Group tours return

With the pandemic situation improving, domestic tourists have also started planning their visits to Kashmir. In the last week of September, the Kashmir Valley hosted the biggest group of 70 doctors from Delhi in 13 months at the Royal Hilton hotel.

“We can't stop the cycle of life. A group of doctors decided to come to Kashmir to bring positivity in our team, after spending months inside their homes from March. We chose Pahalgam for being the country’s best hill station,” said Dr. Archana, a doctor who was part of the group, said.

According to official figures, the Kashmir Valley has a total of 40,753 hotel rooms in around 1,500 hotels. “The occupancy has been around 1% in the last one year,” an official said.

Welcome at Gulmarg

Buoyed by the growing tourist footfalls, the J&K Cable Car Corporation on Saturday restarted Asia’s highest cable car, Gondola, in north Kashmir’s ski attraction Gulmarg.

“The second phase of the Gulmarg Gondola from Kongdoori to Apharwat opened for commercial operation October 10. It will be operational only on weekends for the time being. But the operation of Gondola for the first phase, from Gulmarg to Kongdoori, will continue to remain functional on a daily basis,” an official spokesman of the Cable Car Corporation said.

The Corporation has put in place COVID-19 protocols and standard operating procedures after boarding and deboarding of passengers.

From an income of ₹6.69 crore from tourism in 2018, revenue plummeted to just around ₹45 lakh in the past two years, an official said.

A team of the Tourism Department, headed by Ideel Saleem and Ahsanul Haq Chisti, also visited Kolkata this month to attract tourists over the Durga Puja holidays.

“The tour operators of Kolkata were informed that their counterparts in J&K are geared up and fully equipped to receive tourists and ensure health and safety protocols,” Deputy Director in the J&K Tourism department Mr. Chisti said.

According to the Tourism Department, a large number of queries from prospective tourists have started from West Bengal for visits in in December and January, when Kashmir's winter peaks, for snow-covered hills and plains.


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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 9:23:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/kashmir-tourism-takes-baby-steps-to-normalcy-as-visitors-return/article32827826.ece

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