The tourism sector, which is considered as a major contributor to the economy of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, has been the worst hit this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak along with shutdown in parts of the Union Territories after the variation of 370.
The sector has suffered a huge loss of around Rs 600 crore. The hotels are closed, markets are empty, and hardly any taxi is seen on the roads due to the fear of Covid-19. The hotel owners, taxi drivers, hawkers all are facing an existential crisis. Due to the several restrictions imposed in the country on travel, people chose not to travel.
The face-off between India and China has also contributed to the low tourism in the UTs. After the shutdown and the Corona outbreak, the face-off has left no expectations that the tourists will visit the UTs at least for this season. Till now the government has not done anything to revive the sector and loans have not been waived. The tourist visits J&K and Ladakh from May to July and then from November to January but from the past 6 months, hardly any tourist has come to any UT.
According to Opal George, who owns the Sapwoo Resorts hotel in Leh it is not only Covid-19 has hit the sector, “we have problems with Chinese also. The situation is very bad for the UTs and there is no possibility of tourism in the coming months”.
According to the Ministry of Tourism data till June 2020, 25.04 lakh visitors had visited J&K out of which 25 lakh tourists were domestic and 5,056 tourists were foreigners. In Ladakh, around 6.079 tourists have come in which 5,019 we’re domestic tourists and 1,060 were foreign tourists. According to the provisional data, in 2019 1.62 crore visitors came to J&K and more than 2.79 lakh tourists visited Ladakh. Among this 1.61 crore people were domestic tourists and 57, 920 people were foreigners. These figures were relatively less than 2018 where the tourist numbers were 1.72 crores of which 1.70 crores were domestic tourists and 1.39 lakh foreign tourists.
According to a taxi driver in Leh, “there are no tourists at all. Last year there were good numbers of tourists but this year the markets are empty and we taxi drivers are sitting ideal and wait for any tourist to come and ride our taxi. He said that we come daily at the taxi stand with the hope of getting tourists. In the tourism season, one can hardly find a taxi at a taxi stand but this year the picture is totally different due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.
On the other hand, the travel agents are all set to open the tourism sector after the drought witnessed by the sector due to Covid-19. Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) and other stakeholders held a meeting at the Nigeen club in Srinagar after 2 years. The meeting was held to elect a new governing body for the association and to revive the tourism sector in the Union Territories.
Sarmad Hafeez, Commissioner Secretary Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir said that “we are hopeful that the tourism industry which is the main source of livelihood in J&K will get back its former glory soon”.
“The hotel owners and travel agents told me that they are getting inquiries for hotel bookings and many more things” he said. Adding further he said that “the local people of J&K will focus on the strategies to increase the tourism in the UT and by March 2021, we will see a rise in the tourism sector in J&K.
The sudden departure of tourism from the UTs due to COVID-19 has resulted in a huge loss for hotel owners, tour and travel operators, shop owners, and taxi drivers. Human Khan, an entrepreneur said that “she is hopeful that this meeting will surely help the tourism industry to get back on track with the help of administration”. Another member of TAAK said that “the UTs are ready to host tourists with all the COVID protocols as issued by the Government of India”.
The Covid-19 pandemic, the constant shutdowns, and the engagement at the border have all contributed to the downfall of the tourism sector in J&K and Ladakh. Not only in these UTs but the tourism industry is affected globally. The locals are trying hard to increase tourism and looking for the opportunity to improve their skills so that they can provide the best services to visitors next year.