By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, July 27: With more than half of this year’s tourist season over, alarm bells are already ringing for those associated with the tourism industry in Kashmir.
“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 tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg.
The story of the average restaurant owner, tea-stall owner and those associated with tourism directly and indirectly in the Valley 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.
Handicraft sellers and taxi drivers here said they are already thinking of alternate livelihoods, at least for their children.
“Papier mâché has been in our blood. We have been making papier mâché 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 tourism and the devastating blow it has dealt to those associated with the sector in Kashmir is confirmed by official figures.
“Despite last year’s unrest, we had 1.1 million tourist 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 Kashmir 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.