When Article 370 was announced to be abrogated followed by a lockdown which was extended by the pandemic, it caused a huge loss to the tourism sector of Kashmir. Winter snow has brought those tourists back to Kashmir after a more than a year.
Tourism has contributed a lot to the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) calculated losses around Rs 40,000 crore for the year through August 2020 and estimated around 1.5 lakh job losses.
Nasir Shah, chairman of Kashmir Leisure and Pilgrimage Tour Operators tells that the biggest contributing factor for sudden mass tourists entry is the early snow, particularly in the famous health resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, which is drawing tourists back to the Valley.
The ski resort at Gulmarg is witnessing a huge rush of tourists which has persuaded the tourism department to open both phases of the Gulmarg Gandola — from Gulmarg to Kongdoor and from Kongdoori to Apharwat. Since there is hardly any international travelling for tourism because of the pandemic, this has caused Kashmir full of domestic tourists. New COVID-19 cases in Kashmir has also slowed down from around 1,000 cases to around 200 cases now. Moreover, vaccine headlines have also boosted people’s confidence.
The hospitality industry is asked by the government to be on alert. They have been asked to exercise standard operating procedures and to ensure that their seat occupancy remains below capacity to maintain distancing norms.
From August to December 2019, around 43,000 tourists visited the Valley. The COVID-19 lockdown took a toll on tourism globally not only Kashmir. The tourism industry had no numbers in the first quarter of the current financial year. In July there were 186 tourists, which rose to 284 in August, 848 in September, 2,697 in October and 6,327 in November — including 56 foreigners.
Around 8.5 lakh tourists visited the Valley in 2018, around 5 lakh in 2019 and only 28 thousand so far this year.
The government is now actively trying to increase tourism into the region. Film director Imtiaz Ali is promoting local art and culture. Winter games have also been announced in Gulmarg for February 2021.