KASHMIR looks forward to a renewed tourist inflow following a drastic decline in the number of fresh Covid-19 infections across the country. From a peak of over four lakh cases, the daily infections are now under 50,000. The caseload has come down in the Valley too. And to this end, the administration is taking steps to project the Valley as a safe destination. This involves a two-pronged strategy: one, vaccination of the people associated with the tourism. Second, strict enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedure to ensure the safety of the tourists during their stay in the Valley.
The administration has already carried out vaccination drives at tourist destinations. However, it would be sometime before the tourist arrivals get to the levels before the second wave. Tourism in the Valley has been battered by the turmoil of the last two years – albeit, the tourists had started arriving in increasing numbers by November last, helped largely by the ban on international travel due to the pandemic which still continues. Another factor that worked in favour of Kashmir tourism is snow, a novelty for most Indians. The union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel had then said in a statement in Rajya Sabha that the tourist footfall in the union territory this year had broken the record of the last 16 years. In January all the 1800 hotel rooms in Gulmarg, Kashmir’s winter wonderland, were booked till the end of March.
But following the winter’s uptick, the fresh tourist arrivals petered out as the second wave reared its head and soon overwhelmed the country and J&K. Since the latter part of March, there have hardly been any tourists, cutting the nascent recovery of the sector in its bud. This has once again led to the loss of livelihoods. Hardest hit have been the low-wage workers like ponywallas, tourist guides, cab drivers, hotel staff, boatmen etc.
The government has now been doing its best to push tourism recovery. In J&K budget 2021-2022, Rs 1,000 crore shall be taken up for development of tourism infrastructure. Officials said the budget for tourism and culture was Rs 283 crore in 2020-2021 it is Rs 780 crore this financial year.
Going forward, the government wants to make tourism a holistic experience by combining it with art, culture and cuisine. This will, however, only be possible if the pandemic gets out of the way. As things stand, the number of fresh Covid-19 cases has drastically reduced. The government has already cancelled the Amarnath pilgrimage, lest it spread infections in Kashmir and across the country. If the infections continue to decline at the current rate, the situation could become normal soon. This would automatically lead to the return of tourists to the Valley.