Uptick in Violence, Killings: Setback for Tourism in Kashmir
Image for representational purpose. Credit: Sunday Guardian
Srinagar: The recent uptick in killings has had an impact on the Valley's tourism industry, as most hoteliers and houseboat owners continue to report cancellation of several bookings.
October has been the deadliest month of the year for the Valley with 44 killings, including those of 19 militants, 13 civilians, and 12 members of the armed forces. At least 11 civilians, including non-local migrant workers, were killed in a series of attacks this month, prompting many to flee Kashmir. A civilian was killed in a CRPF firing when a car allegedly "jumped" a checkpoint in Anantnag, South Kashmir, while another was "caught in a crossfire" and died near a CRPF camp in Shopian.
The uptick in the killings, as per tour operators, is weighing heavily on the minds of potential tourists. “Around 15-20% of the bookings have been cancelled as tourists are concerned about their safety. We are getting inquiries about the situation in Kashmir and no matter how much we assure them, they make their decisions based on the overall situation on the ground here,” said Mir Anwar, a tour operator, while speaking to NewsClick. He added that tourism was just slowly picking up pace, but the killings have dealt a big blow to the tourism industry.
Although tourist footfall had been high in recent months, only a segment of the industry has benefited, as only high-end hotels received a bulk of these bookings. "It is only in the last month that the budget hotel occupancy saw an upswing, which was a tremendous comfort to the businesses. Tourism has suffered quite a lot in the last three years," said Mir.
He estimated that around 10,000 of the Valley's 60,000 rooms, including houseboats, were occupied, and that other hotels were still struggling. "The middle segment is still struggling, but things were improving last month and we were anticipating a good winter season. Now, everything depends on what the situation remains like in the next few months,” he said.
The president of the Tourist Taxi Association, Abdul Rasheed, who agreed with Mir, told NewsClick that the civilian killings had induced panic in the home market and that "while visitors who were already here did not feel scared, fresh arrivals have been deterred”. “Visitors’ families are also calling to inquire about their safety," he added.
Some tour operators blamed the media for the drop in tourists’ numbers, claiming the coverage tends to imply that everyone visiting the Valley is being slaughtered.
"The tourists are confused about the situation," a hotelier from Rajbagh told NewsClick. "At least ten bookings have been canceled in the last week, and the rest of the season is plagued with uncertainty. I have personally reassured the tourists who had come here. I am hoping there won’t be any more killings here," he said.
The loss of special status and the lockdown due to COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on the tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir for the past two-three years, resulting in massive job losses. The tourism department has launched a number of initiatives aimed at bringing visitors back to the Valley, but the recent spate of killings has put these initiatives in jeopardy.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department, approximately 1 lakh tourists visited valley locations such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Sonamarg in July and August, this year. Approximately 80,000 travelers arrived in the 2021 winter tourist season, which ran from January to March. "We have vaccinated almost 95% of service providers, including hoteliers, guides, travel agents, and ponnywallas. Such efforts have benefited in strengthening visitors’ confidence," an official in the tourism department said.
However, the anxiety following the recent killings seems to be dimming many small hawkers’ hopes. "The number of tourists is low, but we are making some money. We have had three difficult years. We cannot afford another jolt. We hope the numbers do not decrease in the coming days so that we can lessen the losses that we have faced so far," a hawker, Muhammad Shafi, told NewsClick.
“Tourists had finally arrived, which was wonderful news for everyone," Mushtaq Ahmad, a hotelier at Pahalgam, said. He, however, added that the recent killings have instilled anxiety in tourists, and tour companies are keeping their fingers crossed that the situation remains under control.
(The writer is an independent journalist.)
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