Srinagar: With tourism in Kashmir taking a severe hit following the abrogation of Article 370, the sector’s hopes pinned on winter arrivals were also dashed as number of travelers to the region ebbed to a decade-low.
Taking a deep plunge as compared to previous years, only 4,99,584 tourists visited Kashmir in 2019 including 4,66,599 domestic and 32,985 foreigners—most of them before the special status of region was revoked and a severe clampdown was enforced by the government in the region.
According to the data available with the regional tourism department, in the months of June and July, as many as 1,64,759 and 1,52,525 tourists visited Kashmir in 2019. The numbers fell dramatically after August 5, as the region plunged into a crisis following the abrogation of 370. In August, the number of tourists in Kashmir were a little over 10,000 visitors. In October, however, the numbers fell further to a staggering low of 4,562.
In the last decade, the number of tourists visiting Kashmir has crossed 10 lakh except in years 2010, 2015 and 2018. The years witnessed a little over 7 lakh, 9 lakh and 8 lakh visitors respectively.
The tourists also stayed away from Kashmir due to a travel ban imposed by the government ahead of the August 5 decision which was revoked later in the month of October.
The months of October and November are considered as part of a lean period; nevertheless, many book their travel during this time as well. In 2019, a little over 12,000 tourists visited Kashmir in November including 1,140 foreigners as compared to 39,050 visitors in 2018. In 2017, the arrivals were much higher at 1,12,301.
Following the crisis, tourism sector had pinned their hopes on winter arrivals expected by the month of December during which many foreigners visit the region, especially popular ski-resorts like Gulmarg.
The number of arrivals, however, did not go up.
In the month of December, only 6,954 travelers visited Kashmir including 5,780 domestic and only 1,174 foreigners, much less than the arrivals witnessed in the past decade. In 2018, over 38,000 tourists traveled to the region and 66,760 tourists arrived in December in 2017.
Key players in tourism claim the sector continues to remain affected as prepaid mobile services and internet services continue to remain shut. “Most travelers feel insecure when they come to know that the communication blockade is still in place. It is not a good sign for anyone who wants to visit Kashmir for a holiday,” a member of the travel association of Kashmir told NewsClick.
The arrivals following the clampdown in August are much lower than the numbers in 2016, the year in which Kashmir witnessed a massive agitation for months against the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July. That year in December, as many as 32,606 tourists visited Kashmir. With no information on the restoration of the communication services, a recovery is still unexpected.
Even as the ski-resort of Gulmarg witnessed a significant footfall on the New Year’s Eve, hoteliers say, the bookings were mostly done by local visitors. “We had many bookings, but many are cancelling future bookings as well due to the uncertainty about the restoration of communication services,” Abid Khan who works at a local hotel says.
Also watch: Kashmir: Tourism After Abrogation of Article 370