Srinagar: Tourists are now welcome in Kashmir. An advisory issued by the government on August 2 that asked tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to leave Kashmir immediately due to ‘prevailing security concerns’ has come to an end.
It is the first time that the government issued such an advisory in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370. Even at the peak of militancy, the government had not dissuaded tourists from visiting the valley.
Tourism is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy and a source of livelihood for lakhs of people. A mass exodus of tourists hit the tourism industry in a big way.
“It is good news if tourists are returning. We had never seen such a slump in the tourism sector in Kashmir, even at the worst of times, like the three-month-long agitation following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the situation was not this bad”, said Hilal Ahmad, who runs a shikhara and owns a houseboat on the Dal Lake.
Prior to that advisory, more than 521000 tourists and 340000 pilgrims visited Kashmir. July witnessed maximum arrival with aroud170000 tourists. Following the government advisory, more than 20,000 tourists left the valley in under 24hours. Those remaining also left in batches eventually.
Most hotels in Kashmir closed operations or retrenched their staff.
“Our hotel has been shut for the last 45 days, we did it after the hotel occupancy came down to zero, initially we tried to run our operation with the hope that things would improve, but that did not happen”, said Mohammad Akbar, a hotel owner in upscale Rajbagh Srinagar. “Lifting of the advisory is not enough, we will have to wait for tourist arrivals to start our operations”.
While tourists are being recalled, a communication blockade continues to remain enforced in Kashmir. Mobile phone services remain blocked and the internet suspended. Earlier the government opened landline phone connections in a phased manner.
Besides this, Kashmiris open their shops only for a few hours in the morning and evenings and keep them closed for the rest of the day to protest the abrogation of Article 370. This may just not be a welcoming sight for tourists. For tourism to flourish the return of normalcy is paramount. Clearly lifting the advisory is not enough, concrete steps need to be taken on the ground to improve the situation so that tourists get a sense of security and confidence to return to the valley.