All hopes to bring some life to Kashmir tourism depends on West Bengal now. With efforts of the state government and private tour operators to promote tourism not yielding substantial results, worried trade bodies of Kashmir tourism believe West Bengal to be the only hope.
“This year we were expecting the tourist influx to cross a million. The government did its job and the chief minister also went to several places, including Bollywood, for the promotion of the tourism sector. But we have got only 25 per cent tourists this year, with majority being high-end tourists,” says Musadiq Shah, general secretary, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI). At present, Shah says, there is only 20 per cent occupancy in hotels. “It is strange when you see tourists not visiting Kashmir,” he said.
Nasir Shah, who is with Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Alliance and is also the director of CNE luxury holidays, says that this year the frequent threat of floods has forced prospective tourists to cancel bookings. “Some cancelled their bookings due to flood warnings issued by the government from time to time,” he said. He blamed the frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway as one of the main reasons leading to the dip in tourism. “Our only hope is now West Bengal. We expect around 1.5 lakh tourists from the state,” Shah said.
In a meeting with Kashmir Tourism Trade Bodies’ Coordination Committee, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed directed tourism stakeholders to organise promotional drives in Kolkata, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, from where the state receives maximum visitors.
He said he will take the matter up with the Union Railways Minister, Suresh Prabhu and discuss the issue of running special train services during the festival season of Dilwali to facilitate tourists intending to visit the Valley. Sayeed has asked tourism bodies to participate in the upcoming tourism fair in Kolkata starting from July 31 and prepare in advance special packages for attracting visitors.
“Being principal stakeholders, your presence at Kolkata will send a positive signal in building tourist confidence,” he said. He asked the Tourism Department to install billboards in Kolkata to provide visibility to the department’s family packages for prospective tourists.
Peerzada Zahoor, deputy director, Tourism Department, told that this year around 4.37 lakh tourists including 18,000 foreigners visited the Valley. “Since Kashmir has around 60,000 hotel rooms available, tourism players expect large number of middle class tourists. There was some dip in middle class tourists but we are hopeful things will improve in coming days,” he said.