More than 4 lakh visitors arrive in Valley so far
Srinagar: Fears that Covid-19 will stop the flow of tourists to Kashmir Valley have not come true at all, with the number of tourist arrivals this year exceeding the estimated numbers. As per officials, more than 4 lakh visitors landed in spring, summer and autumn seasons, even when the Covid cases in Kashmir had gone up to the extent that the health care system was finding it difficult to handle patients.
Farooq Ahmad Kuthoo, a representative of more than 1,000 tourism agencies and travel operators, told Kashmir Reader that tourists this year were more than expected given the situation of the economy and the pandemic scare.
The number began to swell for the first time in January when winter was the prime attraction. Gulmarg was packed till June, but the Covid lockdown spoiled the bookings. Jammu and Kashmir remained under lockdown for more than two months, and then there were restrictions on public movement. Still, the tourists began to return, in high numbers.
As per figures of the tourism department, in July 2019, a month before the abrogation of J&K’s special status, Kashmir received 152,525 tourists, but August 2019 saw only 10,130 arrivals, most of them in the first few days of the month. This number further fell to 4,562 in September 2019, and grew to 12,086 in November 2019. In 2018, between August and December, a decline of 86% was seen in the tourist footfall compared to the previous year.
One measure of the tourist flow to Kashmir is the month of October, which is considered a lean month for the tourism sector. But nearly one lakh tourists visited Kashmir in the month this year.
Restrictions on foreign travel made Kashmir the natural option for high-end tourists to journey here. But preparations done by the tourism department also helped. Amid the raging second wave of Covid-19 in Kashmir Valley, the Tourism department had trained all the tourism players in how to operate in Covid times.
The department had trained tourism players by organising courses and webinars for them. The courses taught them how to prevent the spread of infection while at the same time continuing their business, which was badly hit since August 2019. Tourism players were also given first preference in vaccination.
For the promotion of tourism, this year, the department had also invited business tycoons and foreign ambassadors to play golf in Pahalgam in the month of October.
“We are working to make Kashmir a 12-month tourist destination,” Secretary, Tourism, Sarmad Hafeez told Kashmir Reader.