Srinagar: Despite this being peak tourist season in Kashmir, when hotels normally record bookings above 80 per cent, most hotels are merely registering 40 per cent occupancy at the moment, and that too after offering heavy discounts.
A tourism department spokesperson said the repeated closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway led to a steep decline in the tourist footfall this season. Also, persistent bad weather was a dampener in Kashmir this year, affecting everything including hotel bookings, he said. “Besides four flood threats since March this year, the fear of frequent cloudbursts too has hit the hotel business,” the spokesperson added.
What has further aggravated hoteliers is the fact that many of them had upgraded the infrastructure by adding nearly 5,000 rooms in anticipation of what they thought would be a bumper tourist season in Kashmir. “If a bad season wasn’t enough to discourage tourists, then the skyrocketing airfare to visit the Valley further played spoilsport,” the spokesperson said. He said a plane ticket to Kashmir is often more expensive than that for other exotic locations like Kerala and Goa.
Many hoteliers say the situation has meant that most tourists end up staying in B and C-rated hotels of Kashmir. “Those who stay in such hotels form a major chunk of tourists in the Valley,” said the spokesperson. “As a result, only a small chunk of tourists are staying in A-rated hotels in Kashmir.”
But one of these top-notch hotels, Vivanta, is proving to be an exception by registering better sales. “We too are providing discounts after the floods,” said the hotel’s sales manager, “but then our occupancy was above 80 per cent and even right now it is 90 percent occupied.”
But the sales counter isn’t ticking everywhere. Abdul Wahid Malik, General Secretary of Kashmir Hotels and Restaurants Federation, said hotels have recorded fewer check-ins since February this year. “We (hoteliers) are running fifty per cent down from last year,” Javed Burza, a managing director of Hotel Mount View Pahalgam, said. To salvage the season’s income, he said, hoteliers are offering 20-40 per cent discounts to tourists. “There are many factors which collectively dampened the bookings,” Javed said. “But climatic changes, highway closure and political instability are three major reasons behind the decline.”
Last year, despite the devastating floods and elections in the state, about 11 lakh tourists thronged Kashmir. “But this year, our condition is really bad,” said operational manger Masroor Hussain of Srinagar’s Batra Hotel. “We are providing a number of packages with 40 per cent discount. But the condition is still dismal.”
Hussain blames the electronic media for showing a negative image of Kashmir. “Whether it was about the weather, Masrat Alam, raising of Pakistani flags, they (India media) sensationalised it all the time and gave Kashmir a bad image.”
With the Valley inching closer to the first anniversary of the September floods, hoteliers are expecting to end the season with some respite. “In September we are going to start international rafting in Sonamarg,” said the tourism department spokesperson. “And yes, on Diwali, we are sure to get a good response. We hope we can turn the tables this fall.”