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J&K tourism industry still reeling from aftermath of 2016 unrest: Hoteliers

Despite last year's unrest, we had 1.1 mn tourist arrivals till the end of July 2016: Hotel owners

IANS  |  Srinagar 

A picture taken from the mountainous Srinagar-Leh highway shows snow-covered mountain peaks at Zojila, 108 km (67 miles) east of Srinagar October 4, 2012. A foundation stone laying ceremony for a tunnel on 443-km-long highway connecting Kashmir with

With more than half of this year's season over, alarm bells are already ringing for those associated with the in

"If you thought 2016 was the worst that could hit us, you are wrong. Tourism-wise, 2017 has been worse than last year. Another year like this and it is shutters down for hoteliers of the Valley," said Aijaz Ahmad Chaya, a well-known hotel owner who has establishments in the resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg.

The story of the average restaurant owner, tea-stall owner and those associated with directly and indirectly in the is little different from that of the big hoteliers.

"We would have a huge rush of tourists coming to our place for Punjabi breakfast before starting their day. That story is over for the last two years now," said Ramesh Sharma, the owner of a dhaba (roadside eatery) in Srinagar city.

sellers and taxi drivers here said they are already thinking of alternate livelihoods, at least for their

"Papier mâche has been in our blood. We have been making papier mâche products and selling these for over four generations now.

"But mine is going to be last generation in this craft. Come what may, my son will not take to the family profession," said Showkat Ali, a craftsman living in Srinagar's Zadibal area.

The steady decline in and the devastating blow it has dealt to those associated with the sector in is confirmed by official figures.

"Despite last year's unrest, we had 1.1 million arrivals till the end of July 2016. This year, as July draws to a close, we have less than 50 per cent of that number till now," said a senior official of the state's Tourism Department.

He gave a series of reasons for the alarming drop in tourist arrivals in this spring and summer.

"Our major spring season attraction has been the Tulip Garden. This year the flowering period in the garden was cut short by rains, followed by the flood scare due to heavy spring rains.

"Most of our expected spring arrivals were cancelled because of the media, especially the electronic media, over-playing the flood scare," said the official.

"We then had a series of events that dealt a serious blow to the There was this killing of a militant commander, Sabzar. Then we had the gondola accident in Gulmarg and finally the terror attack on the Amarnath Yatris.

"These had such a depressing effect on tourists and operators that once, during that period, our arrivals by road dropped to zero for some time," the official disclosed.

He said tourist arrivals by air have, however, remained unaffected.

"But the issue is that more than 90 per cent of tourists who come to Kashmir do so by road, and the uncertainty in south Kashmir areas adversely affected the road arrival of visitors," he said.

One silver lining in the dark cloud has been that the number of has already crossed last year's figure.

"We had 230,000 yatris last year and, till now, this figure has already crossed 250,000 and there are still 12 days remaining before the concludes," the official said.

The Tourism Department has also been critical of social on which, officials say, a campaign has been under way to discourage tourism in Kashmir.

"We are trying to effectively counter this by projecting interviews of tourists who narrate their first-hand experiences while visiting the Valley," the official said.

He also spoke of to woo tourists and conferences organised by the to negate the against visiting Kashmir.

But, for Abdul Salam who has been trying hard to plug the leaks in his shikara (boat), this is going to be another day when he returns home to tell his wife there were no tourists at the Dal Lake.

The shikarawallah has been repeating the bad news to his family for nearly a forthright now.

First Published: Thu, July 27 2017. 16:14 IST