Despite Covid-19 and the security situation, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a bumper tourist season with an inflow of nearly six lakh tourists in 2021.
The highest number of 1.27 lakh, including 155 foreigners, visited in November.
“Compared to the previous two years, the tourist season in Kashmir this year was tremendous. It was definitely a bumper season,” Ghulam Nabi Itoo, the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Director said.
Itoo said Kashmir had a good tourist season in 2016 and 2018 and in the initial months of 2019. He said to increase the tourist footfall after the pandemic, the department had conducted promotional campaigns across the country and used digital platforms to attract more tourists.
The biggest confidence-building measure was the 100 per cent vaccination of tourism stakeholders and service providers. “That is what Kashmir has done. Now tourism in the valley is going well,” he said.
He said the traditional lean months of October, November and December witnessed an outstanding footfall, helping the annual tally to cross 6.5 lakh.
“This became possible also because of the iconic festivals held for tourism promotion across the Valley for the entertainment of tourists.”
The Director said Christmas festivities were held at Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg this year. “These would be followed by New Year celebrations.”
As foreign flights had remained suspended since the pandemic last year, many Bollywood celebrities, cricketers and TV stars visited the Valley for their holidays.
In the past two years, many celebrities have visited Kashmir, especially the Gulmarg ski resort, which remains an overall favourite among tourists due to its landscape and the snow-covered slopes.
Gulmarg is booked to capacity till March 2022, bringing cheer to hoteliers and tourism stakeholders.
As many as 3.38 lakh domestic tourists visited Gulmarg till December 19. The highest number of 53,000 thronged in November.
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Abdul Rashid, General Secretary of the Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association, said the tourist season this year was one of the best compared to the past two years. “The tourist influx this year has increased by 60 to 70 per cent.”
Rashid, however, said the tourists mostly chose to stay in the 422 deluxe houseboats on the Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake and the Jhelum. “The A, B, C and D category houseboats, which are 540 in total, did little business and we need to look into that.
“We miss the foreign tourists who have not been able to come due to Covid restrictions. Omicron has again stalled their visit. They used to stay in the houseboats for weeks and would go trekking. They used to purchase Kashmiri carpets from which many people earned their livelihood. All these people have been affected,” he said.
“The domestic tourists stay in the houseboat for a night or two and move to other places of the Valley unlike foreigners.”
One of the major stakeholders, Rouf Tramboo, President of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), said November and December this year had turned the tables for the tourism industry.
“The 2020 winter games ‘Khelo India Khelo’ held at Gulmarg came to our rescue and boosted the tourist industry. But other tourist spots such as Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Srinagar were severely hit,” he said.
He said Kashmir was currently doing good tourism business despite a rise in Covid-19 cases as compared to other states, which were badly affected by non-arrival of tourists.
He praised the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department and the stakeholders for their efforts and dedication to bring back Kashmir tourism on track.