Srinagar: After a lull of nearly one-and-a-half years, Kashmir was again abuzz with tourists as thousands of people from different parts of the country descended on the picturesque Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other areas of the valley for the New Year.
As tourist arrivals spiked, the region witnessed huge traffic jams. The situation was such in the popular skiing destination Gulmarg that some tourists had to ring in the New Year from their vehicles stuck in traffic.
“One needs to understand that global destinations are ruled out due to the pandemic and Kashmir became an obvious choice for domestic travellers,” says Nighat Shah, the reservation manager with a prominent hotel chain in Srinagar and Gulmarg.
Hotels and resorts organised various events on the New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers illuminated the sky and musical shows enthralled the tourists.
The tourism department too organised an event in Gulmarg that drew a large number of visitors. Kashmir Divisional Commissioner P K Pole was the chief guest at the event.
“After all, people have undergone a lot of stress during 2020. Our effort was to help them de-stress,” says Masroor Hussain, the general manager of a hotel in Srinagar.
Managing Director of Ahad Group of Hotels Asif Burza says that after many years the tourism industry in the valley has seen such a busy December.
“Not only in Gulmarg, occupancy of hotels in Pahalgam and Srinagar too increased. There is a feel good factor in the tourism industry and we are looking forward to a great season ahead,” he said.
He thanked the Kashmir administration for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. “Of course the COVID crisis was well managed…. It encouraged tourists to visit,” he said.
With the pandemic upsetting plans of travel to Europe, Kashmir emerged as the most preferred destination for tourists, he said.
Hussain feels that efforts made by hoteliers to woo domestic tourists by launching a programme, ‘Unlock Kashmir’, helped.
“It is a tough fight ahead. But, the aim of this programme was to garner support as Kashmir’s tourism can go to higher places if supported together by private and government players,” he said.
The tourism industry in Kashmir has suffered in the past few years for various reasons, particularly after the government imposed restrictions following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nighat Shah said that every tourist is well informed about the COVID-19 protocols and at the hotels “we follow all the COVID norms religiously. We undertake regular cleanliness drives and maintain quality and hygiene. We are committed to provide the best experience to the guests, but we also take extra precautions in view of the pandemic.”
In Pahalgam, Rattan Shah from Gujarat said that he chose the destination after studying the impact of COVID-19 in Kashmir on a regular basis. “It was perfectly fine to be at a place where the impact is not so serious,” he said.
Summi Gupta and her husband Bimal feel that the decision to come to Kashmir was right. “Initially we were sceptical but after we came here, the hospitality of the people was amazing,” said Bimal. His wife nodded in agreement and added, “Work from home has its own stress. I guess it was a much-needed break.” PTI