Srinagar: The arrival of foreign tourists in Kashmir plummeted to a record low of 3,856 arrivals in 2020 as the region was marred by both political turmoil and the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
In the past five years, over 1.78 lakh foreign tourists have travelled to the Himalayan region, the highest being in 2018 when 55,814 foreign visitors arrived in Kashmir.
According to Jammu and Kashmir’s department of tourism, the region reported only 41,223 visitors during the year 2020 and the footfall picked up only after October, in which over 2,500 tourists visited Kashmir as the lockdown and subsequent travel restrictions eased since March in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Between the month of March and May last year, as the lockdown was enforced across the country, no visitor was allowed to travel to Kashmir, and in June, nearly 200 tourists were in the region.
In 2019, a months-long clampdown was enforced in the region during the peak tourist season in August in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. In that year, the valley witnessed over 5 lakh visitors including as many as 33,779 foreign tourists. However, three days before the abrogation of Article 370, on August 2, the administration had issued an advisory urging tourists and Hindu pilgrims taking part in the annual Amarnath Yatra to leave the region as soon as possible claiming there was a “terror threat.”
The travel ban was revoked in October 2019, but the hospitality sector, which is a Rs 5000-crore industry, has not been able to revive itself since then. The losses, according to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), was estimated in thousands of crores and thousands of job losses were reported as well.
In the month of December 2020, the region witnessed the highest number of tourists since August 2019. As many as 13,327 tourist arrivals were reported by the regional department of tourism as the region received fresh snowfall in both the upper reaches and plain areas, prompting domestic footfall to the travel destination. The footfall has helped revive the winter tourist destination of Gulmarg, a haven for skiing enthusiasts.
Last year, only 6,954 travellers visited Kashmir including 1,174 foreigners. These visits are significantly lower as compared to the previous years. In 2018, over 38,000 tourists had visited the region in December and as many as 66,760 tourist arrivals were reported in December in 2017.
The year 2020, in which a global lockdown was imposed impacting travel and tourism worldwide, reported a record low footfall in the Kashmir valley further plunging the already hit tourism sector of the region. In the past decade, the number of tourists visiting Kashmir crossed 10 lakhs except in years 2010, 2015, 2018 and 2019, which witnessed a little over 7 lakh, 9 lakh, 8 lakh and 5 lakh visitors respectively.
The tourism players say the sector continues to remain impacted in the wake of several administrative measures, such as the continued ban on the high-speed internet services across the valley since August 2019.
“I don’t see any reason to continue the ban on 4G internet as the situation has changed a lot since it was enforced. This only acts as a dampener as many travellers suspect bad situation due to the ban,” owner of a hotel in Srinagar, Zahoor Ahmad told NewsClick.
The traders and businessmen associated with the sector, however, are eyeing a better season this year as they expect the return of travel and tourism with countries approving vaccines against the novel coronavirus.