The Legitimate: Tourism
Last week the Tulip garden which is largest in Asia was thrown open by Jammu and Kashmir government for the tourists. Spreading over 30 hectares of scenic land on the foothills of Zabarwan forests, the tulips here are in full bloom.
Normally when the garden is thrown open every year in the first week of April, it sets the beginning of summer in Kashmir. In the past the valley was known for its mesmerizing and enchanting beauty, waterfalls, forests and the splendid meadows.
For India it was known as Switzerland and was the first and only destination for bollywood to shoot here. Dozens of films have been shot here by bollywood that has not only reduced their huge expenditures of travelling to Europe, however, that had also left the window open for economic opportunities for the local people. But after the insurgency that wreaked havoc in Kashmir valley in 1990’s, the situation turned upside down.
Not only bollywood abandoned its idea of visiting Kashmir, the tourists have also stopped coming to this mountainous region. It crippled the state’s economy and left thousands of people jobless. The mighty 31 per cent contribution to local GDP has come down to meagre five per cent in the initial years of insurgency.
Meanwhile, with the onset of normalcy in late 2000, the tourism has started reviving in Kashmir and its economic contribution again scaled up to 10 percent. Right now five lakh people are directly associated with the industry and are sustaining on this economic sector the second biggest after horticulture.
However, due to again situation turning cumbersome in Kashmir politically, the means of livelihood for all those associated with this industry is at risk.
Shikaras, hotels stay empty. Gardens and meadows which otherwise would witness huge footfall of tourists look desolated. Many foreign countries have already issued the advisory to their citizens against visiting Kashmir, following the Lethpora terrible suicide attack on February 14 this year. The poor and mismanagement of tourism department in campaigning across India to woo tourists to Kashmir fails on ground.
Malicious and anti Kashmir campaigning by National media successfully keeps tourists away from Kashmir. The tourism department which ahs budget worth crores for promotional and advertising campaign doesn’t show any results on ground. Instead the officer’s apparently seem busy in filling their own coffers. People associated with the industry have gone into depression.
Given to figures of last few years, there is a dramatic and substantial decline in tourist footfall in the valley. If the figures of Pilgrimage tourism are removed from the general data, there is a complete dismal figure of normal tourists visiting valley.
According to official figures in 2013, the number of tourists including both domestic/foreign who visited Kashmir was 11.71 lakh. In 2014, due to heavy floods that resulted into 1 lakh crore losses, that year the number of tourists visiting Kashmir was 11.67 lakh.
Similarly, in 2015 the number was 9.27 lakh, while in 2016 the number of tourists was 12.12 lakh which is higher than 2018, despite the fact that Valley remained closed for over four months after killing of Hizb commander, Burhan Wani and subsequent civilian killings.
Given to this data, there seems a sustainable and gradual process that shows the declining trend of tourist footfall in valley. It warrants a prompt and robust action by the local government to revive the sector. The poor road shows, events may not serve the purpose if the strong and sustainable mechanism is not devised to save this sector from failing.