This year’s season of tourism in the Valley is almost over. Media reports quoting prominent tour and hospitality firms reveal that tourist footfall has not touched even half the last year’s figures. In fact, hotels have been offering 40 to 50 per cent discounts on room tariffs and still registering low occupancy. Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who is also the state’s tourism minister, had attempted to woo Bollywood, hoping tourists would follow and a message go out that Kashmir was not about strife and guns only. Tourism authorities also organised road-shows in several Indian cities to attract Indian tourists, but in vain.
Travel operators blame persistent bad weather during peak tourist season, which accentuated the flood threat, negative media publicity triggered off by the controversy over Masarat Alam’s release, and a surge in militancy for low tourist arrivals. Needless to say, declining tourist traffic means economic loss. But, if tourism were the backbone of Kashmir economy, as relentless propaganda wants the world and Kashmir to believe, the state’s power corridors should have witnessed at least a couple of cardiac arrests by now. Business and trade organisations, which have called for a state-wide strike against the government failing flood-hit people, should ideally have been hitting the streets for a bad tourism year rather than demanding promised financial assistance The silver lining, however, is that the government doesn’t seem to believe its own propaganda. It has, very wisely, chosen silence. But as history shows, it will revert to parroting the same greater-number-of-tourists-means-peace tagline if the Valley sees a higher number of visitors next year.
Tourism, like other economic activities, is dependent on myriad factors. If a million tourists can be lured by presenting an untrue picture of the region, they can very well be dissuaded by a realistic representation. A 700,000-strong force of soldiers and policemen can create “peace” in which the arrival of 2 million tourists becomes a possibility. But as events in the past have proven, the slightest trouble can easily cause their exodus. In the process, it needlessly militarises a harmless economic activity. Tourism was perhaps the first sector that governments had selected to impose their idea of ‘peace’ in the state. Such imposition can now be witnessed in several other spheres: sports tournaments, cultural events, academic seminars, etc. The biggest lesson the state government can draw from the disappointing tourist season is to gradually stop weighing Kashmir’s political mood by the number of tourist arrivals and other such flawed parameters.