NATIONAL

This autumn, it’s a new spring for tourism in Valley

Peach of a place:The Jammu and Kashmir government has come up with special offers to make the Valley India’s most affordable destination this autumn. A view of the Dal Lake in Srinagar.— PHOTO: NISSAR AHMAD  

The weather is fine and the facilities are better. Tourism in Kashmir is coming back to life after the devastating floods a year ago. The occupancy rate is 80 per cent this September, the first time since the calamity.

Fresh initiatives have been launched to make up for the steep fall in numbers. They include a campaign targeted at vacationers from West Bengal, where the Puja holidays will start in the third week of September, honeymooners and south Indians.

More footfalls

Compared with 11.67 lakh tourists who visited Kashmir last year, the number stands at just 6.8 lakh so far this year. However, the figure is up for September, show data from the Tourism Department. Last September, only 15,210 tourists visited the Valley, but in the first 10 days of this month, 23,648 came, the highest for the first quarter of the autumn month, considered a lean period.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has come up with special offers to make the Valley India’s most affordable destination this autumn. “We are offering up to 40 per cent discount on huts and hotels. We are recording 80 per cent occupancy from September 15, with the Puja holidays starting in West Bengal,” Peerzada Zahoor, Deputy Director, Tourism Department, told The Hindu .

The department is trying to reach out to tourists nationwide. It is organising a Bengali food and music festival and is planning to put the Sun Temple on the pilgrimage circuit to bring in south Indian tourists. “After the Punjabi food, south Indian food joints are the most popular outlets in the Valley. We want to build on the tempo and attract tourists from south India,” Mr. Zahoor said.

With the revival in tourism come two projects by ITC Hotels. It plans a Rs. 300-crore project to revive Nedous’s prime property in Srinagar, which had been with the security forces since militancy broke out in the Valley in the 1990s. It will also take over Pine N Peak, a hotel in Pahalgam, a tourist hotspot.

Positive campaign

The increased tourist arrival and fresh investments come after “Kashmir Calling”, a campaign on FM radios, the Zee Zindagi channel and newspapers to dispel fears among prospective tourists after the floods. “There were questions from tourists about the floods. In the past few months, the campaign has helped us educate tourists and tour operators. The tourism infrastructure was not badly affected by the floods. We also focussed on improved road links this year,” Mr. Zahoor said.

Buoyed by the numbers, the Tourism Department asked RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who was in Srinagar recently, to visit the tourist destinations of Pahalgam and Gulmarg to give a boost to tourism.