‘Internet blockade affecting booking’; Operators mulling to write to ECI

The decision to hold deferred by polls of the Anantnag parliamentary seat on May 25 is going to hit Kashmir’s peak tourism season, tour and travel operators here believe.
Election Commission of India on Monday announced that by-polls for the Anantnag seat would be re-scheduled for May 25 after violence marked the voting for Srinagar by-polls on April 9. At least 8 people were killed and scores got injured in forces firing on the Election Day Sunday.
Tour and travel operators’ bodies, who held a meeting today to discuss the issue, told Kashmir Post that holding elections amid peak tourist season will prove to be a “complete dampener” as tourists planning to visit Kashmir would become wary about law and order problems that could occur during polls here.
President, Travel Agents Society of Kashmir (TASK), Muhammad Ibrahim Siah said tourism players will write a joint letter to ECI appealing for further postponement of elections.
“What we witnessed during the polls recently has left a damaging effect on tourism. Tourism will be further hit badly if elections are held in May since we are aware that situation can become volatile during elections. We also appeal the state government to persuade ECI for further postponement of polls,” Siah said.
General Secretary, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Farooq Kuthoo said tourism sector which is yet to overcome the losses suffered during 2016 unrest has been taken aback by this decision to hold by-polls in May. Kuthoo said elections should be held only after September so that tourism industry does not lose valuable summer period when most tourists prefer visiting Kashmir.
There is lot of negative perception about Kashmir already and tourists are not confident about visiting Kashmir, and if the situation further escalates, another tourism season could be lost, operators say.
“Whatever ground the tourism industry had gained due to efforts such as road shows and participating in travel marts has been lost due to the recent incidents. We were hoping that tourist inquiries would increase now since peak tourist season has kickstarted but instead we are facing the worst,” Kuthoo said.
Kuthoo said suspension of broadband and internet services by the authorities during and after the poll day recently has also hit the travel trade.
“Internet is the most basic facility required by tour and travel trade players and in absence of connectivity, tour trade takes a further blow. This seems to be a deliberate attempt to derail tourism and trade in Kashmir,” Kuthoo said.
President, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, Javed Burza said room occupancy which has been abysmal since unrest had started showing some improvement during last few days. However, he said holding polls in May will hit the hospitality industry further.
“Tourism industry has been keenly awaiting the tourist season for last 9 months but we are quite disappointed now. We will lose tourists for several weeks of May incase the polls are held during this month. It is our appeal to ECI to further delay elections,” Burza said.