This summer the streets of famous tourist spots are empty with no tourists.
Srinagar: Mohammad Hussain has been working in a well-known hotel at Pahalgam for last 18 years, but he has never witnessed such a low tourist footfall. Even in the peak years of militancy, Hussain says, considerable number of tourists would visit the famous tourist resort in south Kashmir. Come 2017 and Hussain is sitting idle with little or no work at all.
“It is difficult to survive in the hotel business now. We had 60 people working as staff in our hotel but due to unprecedented cancellations of bookings after July 2016 the occupancy rate came down sharply due to which we had to cut down our staff. We now have just 20 people working with us,” says Hussain.
Tourism sector is one of the largest employment providers in the valley, but it suffered a body blow in the unrest of 2016. Last year, the tourist inflow was good till July 8 when popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani was killed.
Ajaz Ahmad Shah, PG history and B.Ed graduate who hails from district Kupwara, works as a security guard at a Srinagar-based hotel and earned Rs 7000 per month was forced to work on half pay as there was no other alternative left for him to earn money.
“I had applied for various jobs, but nothing has happened yet. I needed money urgently for my wife’s medical treatment so I had no other option.”
President of Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant Association, Mushtaq Chaiya said “We are not the lone victims of this catastrophic loss; the Shikara Walas, Houseboat Walas and the pony riding community have been equally hit and there has been a 60-70 percent staff cut post the 2016 unrest.
“If we have tourists or not, we still have to pay the hotel maintenance charges. We are bound to pay the electricity bill even if we have zero percent occupancy; these are small issues for which we wanted the government to compensate us. It seems that the Indian government is not serious about reviving tourism in the valley.”
Sarfaraz Ahmad, pony rider said who works at Sonmarg said, “The rush of tourists was large until 2016, we didn’t have time to catch a break but now if we spot a tourist, a group of pony riders would surround it like a prey.”
As many as 13 lakh tourists visited the valley in 2013-14, according to official figures. In 2015, this number came down to 9.3 lakh following the September 2014 floods. But in 2016 the figures touched the record low of slightly more four lakh marking a 55 percent drop in tourist arrivals. As per reports, tourism sector suffered Rs 4000 cr loss last year also resulting in 60 percent staff cut in the hospitality sector. This year as per official records there has been a further dip of 56 percent in tourist arrivals.
Director Tourism, Mahmood Ahmad Shah said, “There has been a decline in tourist arrivals this year as compared to last year and clearly losses would be more this year.”
Ghulam Rasool, an employee of Wildlife Department Pahalgam, used to call for reinforcements as it would be difficult for them to cater to the huge rush of visitors during the peak tourist season.
“During the peak season, we used to have a huge rush of people. Sometimes it became difficult to control the crowd as people would climb over the fence to get into the park. We need reinforcements from wildlife department to control the crowd. But now just one person is enough to manage the visitors,” said Ghulam Rasool.
A number of retail shops in the famous hill stations of Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg remain closed as people are not willing to rent a shop or a structure for doing business.
Shikaras are quite popular among tourists visiting the world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar. However, with drastic fall in tourist arrivals the Shikara walas are struggling to make the two ends meet.
Waseem Ahmad, a Shikara wala, said he used to save 1-2 lakh every season, but presently I am happy if I am even able to feed my family well.
“We used to earn 500-1000 in the evening hours as tourists would love to move around at twilight.”
Waseem, who lives at Ishber Nishat near Dal Lake, said he used to earn at least 1500 rupees per day but now he considers himself lucky if he can manage even Rs 300.
There are thousands like Hussain, Waseem and Ajaz who have been badly affected by disastrous tourist season this year.
When it all started
Burhan Wani’s killing was the turning point for the decline of rising tourism sector in the valley.
Post his killing there were intense protests by locals in the valley which led to massive cancellations by tourists.
Government was forced to impose curfew for 3 months without a break for a day resulting in zero percent tourist arrival.
Among other factors, the low tourist influx is attributed to negative media portrayal of situation in Kashmir. Stakeholders blame the mainstream electronic and print media for creating a perception of war-like situation in the valley.
In order to counterbalance the negative portrayal of events by media, Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday said that her government will launch an intense promotional campaign to attract more tourists as the negative portrayal was hurting the tourism industry and soon after released a 5 minute promotional video called “The Warmest Place on Earth” showing the hospitality of Kashmiri people. Interestingly, it was her first tweet after she had been on twitter for a while. She tweeted, “Kashmir, our home” with a video link.
By: Qazi wasif