The surge in cases of COVID19 across the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, has proved to be a damp squib for the tourism sector in the Valley. What was looking like a promising winter tourism season on the eve of New Year’s, has lost momentum, with a sharp decrease of more than 1 lakh tourists registered in January so far.
As per official figures collected by this newspaper, 1.42 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in December 2021. However, as the Omicron-led Third Wave started to peak from the first week of January, tourist influx to Kashmir has taken a body blow. As a result of the COVID scare, only 35000 tourists have visited Kashmir in January so far. As per officials, this is the “sharpest month on month loss in terms of tourist arrivals, witnessed in the last almost one decade.”
“We had seen a mass tourist exodus prior to August 5, 2019, and even several other times. The cancellations this time around have been much much more. Considering the fact that several overseas destinations have been out of bounds for tourists, domestic tourists across India had definitely a one-stop destination and that was Kashmir. Unfortunately, the latest wave of COVID has unleashed gloom and doom on the tourism sector” said an official, wishing not to be named.
Valentine Festival In Kashmir
04 Nights & 05 Days (03 Star – Couple)
Offer Price Rs. 25000.00
* Hotel & Houseboat Accommodation
* Complete Sightseeing (Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, etc)
* Meals (Breakfast & Dinner)
* Dedicated Vehicle (Inclusive of Toll, Parking, Driver Allowance)
NOTE: Couple Price – No CAP / No Strings Attached. Freebie For EarlyBird Bookings.
For Booking / Information Call : +91 88033 24 365 / 97960 24 365 Or Mail at Sales@KashmirTravels.in
Popular ski-resort Gulmarg in north Kashmir has been the biggest loser, in terms of the damage the uptick in COVID cases has caused to tourism, followed by health resort Pahalgam in south Kashmir, which has also witnessed major cancellation of tour and hotel bookings. President JK Hoteliers Club, Mushtaq Chaya says COVID has “broken the back of tourism in Kashmir yet again”. Chaya says after the last two years of slump, the tourism sector, especially winter tourism, seemed to be quite promising to the tourist trade and hospitality stakeholders. However, large-scale cancellations have spoiled the entire winter tourism season, he says. “We had pre-booked hotels with 100 percent occupancy till almost February. The hopes of the tourism industry have been hit badly with almost room occupancy in Gulmarg, Srinagar, and Pahalgam reaching the lowest demand of the recent months,” says Chaya.
President Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Farooq Kuthoo says the trend of tour cancellations, owing to the COVID surge, is different from that of how the fragile situation in Kashmir used to impact tourism earlier. Kuthoo says, unlike past seasons of a slump, the cancellations this time around by tourists are “out of compulsion”. “ The situation is such that holidaymakers who at the last moment cancel their plan to visit Kashmir don’t have a backup destination in mind. The fate we have met due to this deadly virus is the same as that of other tourism destinations across the globe” says Kuthoo.
However, the TAAK president, while sounding cautiously optimistic, says after massive tour cancellations and hotel bookings in the first two weeks of January, the momentum has again gone to the more positive side, with a marginal improvement in the travel queries for the past 3 to 4 days. “As medical experts and epidemiologists have come clear on the intensity of the Omicron variant, calling it milder than the Delta wave, people have got some sort of an assurance. The UK and other European countries have diluted COVID guidelines which are quite encouraging. Despite all these doctors here are of the opinion that the third Wave is yet to peak, so we are just waiting and watching” said Kuthoo.
Secretary Tourism Sarmad Hafeez says while it is a bit discouraging that tour cancellations have taken place due to COVID but is hopeful that the Third Wave doesn’t last too long. “We are hoping that destination Kashmir bounces back sooner than later and we can have fun and frolic activities in both leisure and adventure tourism in the coming season. There would be many tourist attractions lined up for the people visiting Kashmir lined up” said Hafeez. The Secretary of Tourism says whatever limited tourist footfalls are being received at the moment, are handled in a way that COVID guidelines don’t get violated. “Despite the pandemic, we have people from across the country visiting us. At all the resorts and hotels we have strictly asked the hospitality operators to ensure that SOPs don’t get violated” said Hafeez.