‘Indian media has played a very negative role’
Tourism players in the valley place the tourist footfall this season, at a mere 15 percent. The Indian mainstream media, according to them, has played a spoilsport, by portraying Kashmir in a very negative light.
Talking to Free Press Kashmir, Nasir Shah, Chairman, Pilgrimage and Leisure Tour Operators, and a representative of the travel trade bodies of Kashmir said, “Presently the tourism sector in the state is at its lowest, with just 15% of tourist arrival as compared to the last few years.”
Shah says that previously the footfall was around 25000, out of which nearly 20% preferred air travel, and the rest chose road travel.
The 80% road travelers however are now choosing, or being forced to choose different destinations.
Mushtaq Chaya, Chairman of the Hoteliers Club of Kashmir, a body of elite hoteliers, talks about tourists being deferred on purpose.
“On the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, inbound traffic of tourists coming towards Srinagar via road are being stopped at Nagrotta. They are then sent to Himachal Pradesh instead of Kashmir. This is so negative,” he said.
He added that there is about 10% hotel occupancy in Kashmir. He believes that the uprising and negative politics are responsible for a total collapse of the tourism sector in Kashmir.
Others believe that peace is imperative for business, and the government is not doing much to achieve that.
“Peace is the ultimate prerequisite to work effectively, followed by proper connectivity and infrastructure,” said Hamid Wangnoo, President, Domestic Tour Operators Association of Kashmir.
“The Government should facilitate tourism stake holders and fulfill their requirements, by providing them with publicity material, allowing houseboat owners and hoteliers to renovate their establishments which are in deteriorating conditions, and give required compensation.”
The Chairman of Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association, G.R Siah said that post 2016 everything has changed. “From 90 percent occupancy, we are almost empty now,” he said.
Despite huge losses, the tourism sector is optimistic and appreciates small government efforts like organising road shows.
Director Tourism, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad shah, in a very subdued tone admits that tourism is badly hit. He however keeps the figure ambiguous and says that the inflow is below 50%.
“I believe that the revival of tourism is only possible when peace and normalcy will be restored,” he told FPK.
Mushtaq Wani, President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, while talking to FPK regarding the decline of tourism in the state said, ” Besides the unrest, untimely Lok Sabha elections and its aftereffects in the state, were also a reason for the decline of tourism in the state.”
“We are working on it, as soon we will set some new strategy you will come to know,” he said when asked how they plan to solve the problem.
Nasir Shah firmly believes that Indian media has added fuel to fire. “Right now we are receiving only foreign tourists who prefer 4-5 star accommodations for their stay. So there are very few low budget tourists in Kashmir, which has almost destroyed the livelihoods of those working in the sector, whether a houseboat or a hotel owning businessman,” Shah said.
“Whenever any tourist plans to visit Kashmir, the misinformation about the ground reality dissuades him,” says Shah. He added that losses turned into termination of employees and people are losing their jobs.
“This is what happens due to negative coverage. Employees associated with the sector face termination,” Shah said.
Maleeha Wani contributed to this story.